The Clippers‘ blowout win against the Blazers came as a huge relief to me. I don’t know if I’d just been overthinking the 0-2 start and wondered whether there was more to it, or if I just needed to see the players’ efforts in the first two games rewarded with a result. Maybe it was all of the above.
I have been pleased with most of what I’ve seen from the team so far, though. Paul George’s performances have been particularly impressive, carrying the scoring load while doing his fair share of everything else on the floor. Terance Mann is another player who seems to have picked up where he left off in the postseason, while Isaiah Hartenstein has been a hugely enjoyable surprise package so far.
Give me all of the Isaiah Hartenstein stock pic.twitter.com/kPsAVGBivU— Justin W. (@LAClippersFilm) October 26, 2021
I’ve loved the pace the guys have been playing with too. It’s obviously something that was highlighted throughout preseason, with the emphasis on the drive-kick-swing mantra, and that focus has really translated into the regular season — going from being ranked 28th for pace last campaign to 3rd this time out.
Eric Bledsoe is one of the players who’s best embodied that pace, making it clear that the role he was tipped for once he came over in the trade is one that he’s more than capable of fulfilling for the team. However, I think the higher tempo stood out to me most when I saw Nicolas Batum against Portland.
The Frenchman’s first start of the season saw him flying into on-ball guarding positions, displaying active hands and even feet as he leapt into the air to block passes. He even seemed to run the floor with more of a spring in his step. It likely that Batum sees his role as one of the roster’s vets as crucial in cementing the Clippers’ new identity, and he is making a conscious change to his game. He was previously a player typified for his ability to play at his own speed, sitting within the bottom 12 percent of qualified players last season for pace factor, so it will be interesting to see what impact the new change has on his role.
It will no doubt be something for the franchise to think about when it comes to each of its main guys. While the changes have been made in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, he is one of the best in the league at being able to play at his own tempo, and it may be that they need to adjust accordingly when he comes back. It could be that Lue and his staff have made the decision to really turn up the heat initially before it gets naturally scaled back, as is the case in most NBA seasons, to a level that feels more comfortable. That way, if Leonard gets back before the season wraps, he can still be on the same page as his teammates when push comes to shove.
One potentially big downside of the higher tempo has been the team’s ability from deep. The Clippers were the best 3-point shooting team in the league percentage wise last season, but so far this campaign they only rank 17th. It’s not like they aren’t getting good looks either, but perhaps the extra strain caused by the higher tempo is causing some of those misses. That will be something to iron out and will hopefully improve with more reps and conditioning.
On the flip side, the team still ranks eighth in the league for defensive rating and has done so without their star player, while forcing their opponents into many more turnovers. They rank second in the league for opponent turnover percentage and steals, compared to 18th and 20th last season. It may be that the additional focus on pace this time out helps their defensive scheme without Leonard, as they press quickly and harass ball handlers to force those extra steals, but they’ll need to figure out a way to make it work better on offence if they’re to get themselves in a positive position heading into the postseason — especially if the Klaw has his eyes on a return at that stage.
It may come with time and muscle memory, it may come with more adjustments from Coach Lue. Either way, on the balance of what we’ve seen so far, there can be no doubt that the Clippers are committed to giving us fans an exciting spectacle every single night, and that they’ll do their very best to stay in games until the bitter end. If there’s one thing this team has shown us it’s that they’ll always find a way when they’re down 0-2. This year is no different.