The Clippers are now 8-5 after their glorious win over the Hawks last night, and Clippers fans have had their spirits restored. Here’s a look at some of the best and worst developments for the Clippers over the first month of the NBA season.
It’s almost impossible to overstate how well Ivica Zubac has been playing this season. He made an immediate impact last year after the Lakers laughably traded him for Mike Muscala, as his defense was a notable step upwards from Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic, but there were plenty of concerns about whether he was a legitimate starting center. Those questions have already been greatly reduced. Zu is a menace defensively, utilizing his bulk to smother shots around the rim while defending straight up. He’s not the quickest presence on the perimeter, but he moves his feet well enough, and rotates hard and with purpose. Nobody is mistaking him for prime Kevin Garnett or Ben Wallace, yet he’s clearly a very good defensive big man, and is posting an incredible 8.5% block rate (2.5 times his rate last year). He’s been just as effective on the boards, putting up career highs in offensive and rebound rate, and very rarely losing out on attainable rebounds. Offensively, he’s catching balls more cleanly than last year (having healthy fingers helps), and is finishing stronger at the rim. He sets good screens, rolls hard, and is not afraid of contact. Really, he’s been excellent almost across the board, and he deserves far more than 15.4 minutes per game.
Paul George’s silky scoring:
Per 36 minutes, Paul George is averaging 57.3 points per game. No, that’s not a typo. George has absolutely scorched the nets, making 58.8% of his field goals, 56.3% of his threes, and all of his 21 free throws. He’s not going to shoot at those percentages forever, but it’s the distribution of shots which has been most impressive. George has launched eight long balls per game in just 22 minutes, a continuation of his averaging nearly 10 last season. However, he also gets to the line – he’s already 5th on the Clippers in attempts despite playing a mere two games – and converts at a high rate once he gets there. George has said that his shoulders feel better than they’ve felt in a long time, and he’s playing like it. PG is also a boon on the glass, where his size enables him to snag rebounds like a big man, and his securing rebounds also initiates fast breaks. George has been deadly in transition, and has his defense returns and he picks up more stops, his opportunities should increase. He looks every bit like a top 5 player in the NBA right now, and while that shooting won’t last, the spacing, creation, and free-throw drawing will. George is a monster, and watching him alongside Kawhi Leonard should be an absolute treat.
Lou Williams’ defense:
Lou Williams has been fantastic offensively this season. There have been many games already where he’s been the Clippers only spark on that end, and has carried them from looking out of a game to right back into it. He’s not shooting well from three, but that will come, and he’s getting to the line more than ever while maintaining an assist to turnover ratio of over 2:1. As great on offense as he’s been, he’s been just as awful defensively. Lou has never been good defensively, but this year he’s seemed particularly rough on that end, closing out slow to shooters, making incorrect rotations, and losing his man consistently off-ball. The Clippers don’t need him to be good defensively, or even average. However, they need his effort to be up just a bit, because they’re consistently bleeding points with him on the court. Lou’s defense could improve as his minutes load and offensive burdens decrease, and hopefully that will be the case as soon as Kawhi and George can begin sharing the court.
Terance Mann’s willingness to shoot:
Terance Mann has been a pleasant surprise thus far. He’s coming off the best professional performance of his career, in which he excelled on both ends of the court against the Hawks. Mann’s defense needs work, like all rookies, but his size and length are clear positives there, and he’s shown the lateral quickness to hang with much smaller players on the perimeter. Offensively, he’s a solid passer and ball-handler, if not exceptional at either, and generally gets the Clippers into their sets quickly. However, he has been reluctant to shoot, passing up open three-point shots as well as numerous looks from midrange. Mann is adjusting to the point guard position and wants to work on setting up his teammates – that much makes sense. On the other hand, teams are leaving him open because they know he doesn’t want to shoot, and that constricts the offense. Mann needs to let it fly a bit more to keep defenses honest, and to avoid getting too deep into the shot clock. He’s a highly unselfish basketball player, which is great, but if he’s to play big minutes this year, he will need to shoot it when open.
If there’s been a downer to the Clippers season so far, it’s been injuries. The injury to Paul George, of course, kept him out of the Clippers first 11 games, and while he looks fantastic now, the Clippers might have more wins and greater chemistry if he’d been available from the start of the season. Kawhi Leonard and Pat Beverley have missed the past two games with injury as well, meaning they have not yet had the chance to play with George at all yet either. On top of it all, starting guard Landry Shamet will be out for weeks (presumably) with a high ankle sprain, taking a crucial offensive weapon away from the Clippers’ attack. Essentially, the Clippers won’t have their full complement of players (barring further injuries) until well into December, and while that does give plenty of time to develop chemistry before the playoffs, every game matters.