The Clippers were built as a two-star team last year, and when Kawhi Leonard got hurt, that put undue amounts of pressure on Paul George to create offense.
Now that the team has had a full offseason to prepare for life without Leonard, Ty Lue says the Clippers are working on ways to make George’s job easier. Part of that is schematic — playing through the bigs more, moving off ball to get backdoor cuts, scoring in early offense — but part of that change is personnel-based. Essentially, the team brought in Eric Bledsoe to provide another downhill attacking threat in Leonard’s absence. Bledsoe putting pressure on the rim adds a new element to the team’s offense.
All throughout the camp, the Clippers have talked about Bledsoe pushing the team’s pace and getting into the paint. It was one thing to hear it, but another to see it in practice in the team’s first preseason game. And as the Clippers gear up for their next preseason game against the Sacramento Kings, one thing to keep an eye on is what the offense looks like with Bledsoe at the helm.
When: Wednesday, October 6, 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
How to watch/listen: Bally Sports West
Opposing perspective: Sactown Royalty
Keon Johnson (non-Covid illness) — QUESTIONABLE; Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Jason Preston — OUT
Bledsoe’s downhill attacks were as advertised. He and Reggie Jackson split time bringing the ball up, and within the first eight possessions of the game, Bledsoe had gotten into the paint four times. That created scoring opportunities not only for himself — his burst getting to the hoop was impressive for an exhibition — but also for Bledsoe’s teammates, who benefited with open jump-shot opportunities.
Another wrinkle of Bledsoe’s game that created good offense for the Clippers was his pick-and-roll partnership with Ivica Zubac. Bledsoe explained how excited he was for that pairing in San Diego, and the early returns were promising.
“It’s been great man,” Bledsoe said during training camp. “He’s able to catch the ball, especially when I’m driving and getting downhill, making bad passes, so he’s got great hands. And he can finish well at the rim too. So it’s been great being in the pick and roll with him. And he can run the floor. So I think it’s going to be exciting for me.”
Bledsoe and Zubac ran a pick-and-roll on the team’s fifth possession, leading to an alley-oop dunk for Zubac.
A few minutes later, another Zubac high pick got Bledsoe flying all the way to the basket, where he met with some contact that probably would have earned a foul during the regular season. Either way, it was a good look at the rim where Bledsoe has historically converted more than 60 percent of his shots.
In the second quarter, the Clippers went back to the pick-and-roll three straight times. The first instance led to Zubac passing to Luke Kennard on the short roll for an open wing three. Kennard missed, but Justise Winslow cleaned it up for two points as his man Bol Bol went to close out on Kennard. The next possession was less successful as Winslow was horribly off on a short-range jumper. But the following time down, Bledsoe yet again found Zubac rolling for a lob — alas, Bol got a hand on his back, and Zubac missed, but good process once again.
The Kings shouldn’t be a tougher defensive matchup than the Nuggets, though rookie Davion Mitchell is a menace at the point of attack off the bench. That will allow the Clippers another opportunity to work through their new playbook with their old point guard at the helm.