We have reached July, which means the NBA is set to return this month. Can you believe it?
It has been quite some time since the Clippers last took the floor during the 2019-20 NBA season. This is Day 113, if you’re keeping track. But we’re theoretically nearing the end of the hiatus, so it’s time recap how the Clippers were doing before the league shut down.
Here are nine things to know about the Clippers heading into the league restart:
- The team was really hitting its stride. The Clippers were 7-1 in their last eight games before the league suspended play, with a plus-14.0 net rating during that stretch, twice as good as the second-best team (the Lakers at +7.0). That included blowout wins over the Nuggets and the Rockets, two fellow contenders in the Western Conference.
- Kawhi Leonard is still capable of being the best player on the planet. The reigning Finals MVP eased into things at the start of the season, at least on the defensive end, after being unable to work out much during the offseason while he rehabbed a knee injury. He still has the second-best RPM among small forwards and the second-best plus-minus in the league among non-Bucks after LeBron James. He’s expanded his game so that he has the highest usage rate, assist percentage, and offensive rating of his career, and he’s back to covering the opposing team’s best player and being an all-around defensive menace. Don’t mess with the Fun Guy.
- Paul George is finally healthy. George revealed on a podcast last week that he was only able to stop rehabbing his shoulders within the last month after having surgeries on both shoulders over the summer. George has been unable to get into a rhythm this year after missing out on training camp and preseason and then suffering additional injuries over the course of the season, but he was shooting at his highest clip of the season (64.4% true shooting) during March. If he’s healthy, watch out.
- The Clippers signed Reggie Jackson in the buyout market. Don’t worry, a lot of people have forgotten about this. Jackson, who happens to be best friends with George, was bought out by Detroit at the end of February so that the Pistons could proceed with their youth movement and Jackson could join a contender. Jackson was settling in rather nicely before the shutdown, as his presence allowed Lou Williams to move off the ball.
- They also picked up Marcus Morris at the trade deadline and Joakim Noah in free agency. Jackson wasn’t the only addition the Clippers made to bolster their roster for the stretch run. They sent Moe Harkless to New York for Marcus Morris and added Joakim Noah (with the option for next season!) to add a little physicality in the frontcourt.
- Ivica Zubac is one of the best young centers in the league. Of course, the Clippers could just play their starting center more if physicality is a concern. Zubac isn’t just on a value contract, he’s a damn good center who has become increasingly important on the defensive end. Among centers, he ranks third in defensive RPM among centers and is sixth in total RAPTOR. A pivotal moment for Zubac this season came against the Rockets in March, when he didn’t just survive against their center-less lineup, but bullied them in the Clippers rout.
- Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are both in the running for Sixth Man of the Year. Williams has won the award in back-to-back seasons to collect three total trophies, but he might be trailing his frontcourt teammate in the race this season. Harrell has been the model of consistency (his energy was sorely missing in the one game he sat out against Utah), and his improved efficiency and defensive effort have been integral to the Clippers.
- The Clippers have the best lineup (that has played at least 50 minutes together) in the NBA since the All-Star break. The Clippers’ bench extends beyond just Williams and Harrell. The best five-man unit in the league (+35.7 net rating over 60 minutes) since the All-Star break belongs to the Clippers reserves: Jackson, Williams, Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, and Harrell. The Clippers starters come in seventh at +19.4.
- But we still have no idea what the closing lineup will be. The team’s most-used fourth-quarter lineup is Williams, Patrick Beverley, George, Leonard, and Harrell. That lineup has some defensive deficiencies, and the Clippers legitimately have five other players with an argument to close games. How Doc Rivers balances the rotation could be the key for this team.
The Clippers have essentially been as good as advertised this season, considering they were a popular preseason pick to win the title. Those expectations haven’t changed. The Clippers were rolling when the league paused, and they plan to do the same when the season starts back up.