It’s a time-honored cliche for NBA teams to claim that they’ll move the ball more during the upcoming regular season. It’s right up there with players being in the best shape of their lives or that they’ve just put on 15 pounds of muscle.
As such, it came as little surprise during the offseason when Ty Lue made ball movement part of his platform as the new head coach of the Clippers. Some of the criticism levied at the team was due to their isolation-heavy style of play, so passing more could be a natural antidote. That also went in line with Kawhi Leonard’s plea that the team develop a better basketball IQ after their playoff loss; part of the reason they weren’t moving the ball was because they weren’t making the right reads.
It’s only been one game, but it seems as of now that the Clippers are actually taking this idea seriously. Part of the solution was introducing Nicolas Batum, a natural passer, into the starting lineup. Check out the very first set of the second half that Batum initiates, which pings the ball from Leonard to Patrick Beverley to Serge Ibaka, who eventually knocks down the 3-pointer.
First offensive set for the Clippers in the second half, and it's something that Ty Lue used to run in Cleveland. Beverley sets the screen for Kawhi, who then dives to the rim, receives and kicks. But Beverley does a fantastic job of attacking closeout and finding Ibaka. pic.twitter.com/C6E0F8D7ty— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) December 23, 2020
Batum led the team with six assists, providing plenty of value even though he only scored three points. On the night, the Clippers only finished with 22 assists, but they did complete 314 passes. For reference, they averaged 271 per game last season. Passes per game aren’t the mark of a successful offense — the Warriors led the league in passes completed with 333 per game but had the worst offensive rating. But the Clippers realized they needed more motion to be more difficult to guard, and ball movement leads to player movement.
Leonard was happy with the team’s modified style of play in the opener, as he told the media afterwards.
“I felt the movement,” Leonard said. “We got to a couple of isolations when we needed to, but for the most part everybody is trying to play the right way. When you see that on the floor, the ball is hopping, guys are getting their shots, getting shots that they want, it’s great. It builds team camaraderie from there. We still want to improve. At times it did get stuck, but it is the first game, it was a quick summer for everyone. Just keep going and staying focused.”
There were several other positive changes in the Clippers’ offense Tuesday to keep an eye on moving forward. For now, this was the most noticeable. The Clippers will keep repeating their ball movement mantra; they just have to keep putting it into practice on the court.