“Although we’re down a couple guys, we’re still extremely talented. I won’t let no excuses creep into our minds. We’re good enough with what we got for right now.”
Those were the words of L.A. Clippers leader and Western Conference player of the week Paul George after the team’s fifth straight win, as he continued to acknowledge the collective effort that has seen a tough start to the season completely flipped on its head.
The quote sums up the mentality this squad has shown since Ty Lue took the job as head coach, as they looked to bounce back from being written off after the disappointment of the NBA bubble. There have been no excuses, and there has been a belief that they are good enough to beat anybody on their day, even when they are a couple of guys down.
However, it isn’t simply talent that has seen the Clippers experience such highs under Coach Lue’s tenure. In fact, you could argue that an overreliance on talent alone was what got them in the mess they were in during the summer of 2020 under Doc Rivers. There wasn’t enough heart in that team, not enough effort and energy. Now the opposite is true.
It was also true of the team in the 2018-19 season, before George joined forces with Kawhi Leonard in L.A. That was a roster that had a decent level of talent but was defined by its heart and belief that they could take anybody down on a given night — including Kevin Durant and the Warriors.
One of the biggest strengths that team had was its bench, led by the two-man game of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, and once again the Clippers can look to their bench to make a difference for them in games. These days though, they can make the argument that their bench unit is much more balanced.
Across the past two games, the bench five has been made up of Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Isaiah Hartenstein, Serge Ibaka and Justise Winslow — though the latter two have been operating on limited minutes, as Ibaka furthers his recovery from back surgery and Winslow attempts to carve out his role. The trio of Mann, Kennard and Hartenstein have been getting it done on both ends of the floor though, and have provided a necessary lift during the Clippers’ recent run.
Mann continues his upward trajectory from his breakout 2020-21 year as his average minutes have jumped above 30, and he’s chipping in 10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. More than that though, he has continued to bring his usual energy levels and then some, with more of the explosive dunks, hustle plays, and energetic defence that have punctuated his rise to this point.
“OH MY! HOW HIGH CAN YOU FLY?!”— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 6, 2021
The announcer’s reaction to this Terance Mann dunk is priceless pic.twitter.com/8QHeM0oKTv
Before the season started, I questioned whether he could find himself in Most Improved Player conversations and though it’s unlikely he’ll take enough of a scoring leap, he’s a player who brings so many intangibles for the Clippers. Mann has a personality and spirit that aligns with the supporters inside STAPLES Center and has firmly made himself a fan favourite. The best bit is that the only way is up for him still.
Kennard is another player who has used last year as a base to build on this time around, though admittedly he’s starting from a slightly lower base than Mann in terms of impact. Yet the Duke Blue Devil has been able to show us everything we knew he had and more, and has been a crucial cog in some of the performances coming out of the gate.
Luke Hunter Kennard shot 6-of-11 from deep tonight. This one put the game away. He's a sniper pic.twitter.com/5ITJjtbYMQ— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) November 8, 2021
In just shy of 27 minutes per game, Kennard has averaged 11 points on 44.2 percent shooting from the field and 47.5 percent from deep. The former Piston has come out much more aggressively this campaign, showing that the pressure placed on his shoulders by his coaches in preseason is paying off. In terms of timely buckets, there are few players who can hold a candle up to Kennard, and he’ll continue to be a big part of this team’s success.
Of course, we can’t talk about energy and effort off the bench without mentioning the name Isaiah Hartenstein, the player I recently voted as my most positive surprise so far this season. I was something of a sceptic before getting the chance to see him alongside his new teammates in training camp, but I came around quickly after those videos emerged of him throwing dimes in San Diego. I’m now a full convert after his early displays.
Hartenstein is averaging seven points, almost five rebounds, more than one assist and almost a block and a steal in his 15.6 minutes a game. During the broadcast of the most recent win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Clippers commentator Brian Sieman referenced a conversation with the team’s equipment manager about the German center constantly ripping his compression pants diving to the floor, and that anecdote just about sums up our new big. His passes have us heart-eyed and the hope now is that he can keep his minutes even as Ibaka’s grow.
While the starters have started to find their feet just at the right time, it’s once again the bench that is giving this team that extra knockout punch. As PG says, they’re still a couple guys down, which makes this current run all the more exciting. With the bench guys giving an extra boost, they can continue to have that belief that they can beat just about anybody.