Welcome back to Stock Watch, a regular feature where we’ll check in on which Clippers are playing well, not so hot, or just can’t crack the rotation.
At the start of the season, the Clippers’ weakest position was easily starting center. Despite the excellent play of the bench unit, LA was consistently at a disadvantage in the starting lineup, no matter whether Marcin Gortat or Boban Marjanovic suited up. Now, not only have the Clippers upgraded that position, but they’ve done so with a 21-year-old who could be the team’s center of the future in Ivica Zubac.
Zubac, acquired from the Lakers at the trade deadline for Mike Muscala, who had been acquired from Philadelphia just days before in the Tobias Harris deal, has a plus-2.8 net rating as a member of the Clippers, easily better than either of the players he replaced. At 7-foot-1, Zubac is long, and able to finish with authority over opposing centers. He is still relatively lithe, which gives him the ability to defend in space, and he rolls hard to the rim, which is exactly what Doc Rivers has always wanted from his centers.
Since he was acquired, Zubac has the best defensive rating of any LA rotation player (98.7) and a defensive rebound rate of 25.9 percent, which would be top-20 in the league. Defensive rebounding had been a shortcoming for the Clippers, but they have jumped from being a bottom-10 team before the trade deadline to a top-10 team with Zubac in tow.
And to really endear himself to his new fan base, Zubac hasn’t been shy about throwing some (entirely deserved) shade at his former team.
Zubac after the Clips took care of business vs. the Knicks: "That's how we gotta be. When I was with the Lakers, we didn't have nights like this. Every game was a close game for us, but now with the Clippers, this team is really locked in, every possession against every team."— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) March 3, 2019
Unfortunately for the Clippers, as their starting lineup as taken shape, Montrezl Harrell has seen a decline in his productivity recently, posting the lowest net rating of any rotation player (minus-1.6) this week. That’s still fine, but the way Harrell has looked in a couple recent games, namely against the Nuggets and the Kings, was a little bit concerning.
Harrell’s performance in Denver is interesting to focus on because that could be the matchup for LA’s first playoff series. Harrell was getting outworked on the boards by the much longer Mason Plumlee, making it harder for the Clippers to close out possessions. He also had difficulty finishing at the rim, leading to a poor shooting night and too many turnovers. Bigger centers have traditionally given Harrell some difficulty — even bigs that are long can be outmuscled by Harrell because his motor is second to none, but Plumlee has been a challenge throughout the season.
Harrell was also a little out of sorts against Sacramento and New York. He didn’t adjust for the length of the some of the bigs on those two teams and found himself forcing a little too much action on offense. It was probably just a blip on the radar of what has been a remarkably successful season, but looking ahead to the postseason, Harrell needs to be at his best for the Clippers to be at theirs.
Keep an eye on:
At this point, it’s time to keep an eye on the Clippers’ record books, because Shamet, also acquired in the Tobias Harris trade, is prepared to rewrite all of them. In LA’s dominant win over the Knicks, he tied a franchise record for three-pointers in a half, broke the team’s rookie record for the threes in a game, and hit the most threes in a half for any NBA rookie since the 2002-03 season.
Shamet is among league leaders in shooting percentage on catch-and-shoot threes at 41.9 percent and leads rookies among points in those situations. Most of his teammates don’t seek out threes as readily, but Shamet adds an entirely new dimension to the Clippers offense with his quick trigger, not only on catch-and-shoot, but also pull-up threes. Partly because of his floor spacing, Shamet has the best net rating of any LA player since he joined the team. Even though he is a rookie one month into his Clipper tenure, Shamet and his skill set have already become indispensable to this team.