The Clippers went 5-5 over the last 10 games and sit in fifth place in the Western Conference. Here’s what we have learned about the team during this last stretch.
- The defense is for real. The Clippers have stayed in every game this season (for the most part) because of their ability to be disruptive and get stops. They have the second-best defense in the league — allowing 102.2 points per 100 possessions — and are especially good in the halfcourt. Any worries about this group losing a step without Kawhi Leonard and replacing Patrick Beverley with Eric Bledsoe have been for naught.
- Paul George is carrying a heavy load. The Clippers star hasn’t missed a game yet this season and has played the fifth-most minutes in the NBA over the last 10 games. None of the players in front of him (Tyrese Maxey, CJ McCollum, Russell Westbrook, James Harden) is a no. 1 option like PG. George keeps saying that this is his job, and he has to do whatever it takes for the Clippers to win, but the wear is showing up in his efficiency. His handle is all over the place; he’s shooting 45.7 percent on twos and 30.2 on threes in this stretch. George needs some consistent help to ease his burden.
- It looked as though Luke Kennard could be a reliable source of offensive production next to George, but defenses have keyed in on what Kennard does in recent games. His 3-point percentage has dropped from 47.5 to 33.9, and he’s added an additional turnover per game. “Teams are really locked into him and guys are not leaving him,” Ty Lue said before the Clippers played Detroit Friday. “They’re aware coming out of timeouts, you can see they’re glued to him. So with that being said, there should be driving lanes, guys should be able to get to the basket and get down hill if they’re going to guard him like that. Him on the floor does really increase our spacing, the movement causes confusion so we’ve just got to be better at making the right play.”
- Even with his relative struggles, the Clippers have outscored opponents by 27 with Kennard on the floor over the past 10 games. The team’s actual plus-minus king? Amir Coffey. The Clippers are plus-38 in his 135 minutes over this stretch, mostly because of Coffey’s defensive gusto. The Clippers envisioned him as a two-guard when he joined the team in 2019, and now he’s moonlighting as a power forward, and he’s using that versatility to guard multiple positions. Coffey just works hard, and even if his shot is inconsistent, he’s in the 92nd percentile among forwards in getting to the foul line.
- It’s a good thing Coffey is delivering, because the forward rotation is a bit tattered right now. Nicolas Batum is out due to health and safety protocols, Brandon Boston Jr. isn’t quite ready, and Justise Winslow has been a disappointment. He’s averaging 4.5 minutes per game since returning from paternity, and the Clippers went with a two-big lineup rather than use Winslow against the hapless Pistons. The team needs Batum back in a big way.
- When Batum returns, the Clippers still might consider changing their starting lineup. Of the seven lineups that have played at least 25 minutes together, all of them are overwhelmingly positive (plus-11.3 net rating or better) other than the two starting lineups: Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, George, Marcus Morris Sr. or Batum, and Ivica Zubac. Those two groups are minus-10.3 and minus-9.3, respectively, per 100 possessions.
- Lue also has some decisions to make in his second unit, specifically the backup center battle between Serge Ibaka and Isaiah Hartenstein. Hartenstein has outplayed Ibaka thus far, with the necessary caveat that Ibaka just returned from back surgery, but at what point does Lue stop waiting for Ibaka to catch up?
- The Clippers are in the midst of their second 5-in-7 stretch of the season, which still includes contests against the Pelicans, Kings, Lakers, and Kings again. After that, the pace of games slows down with only three each of the next two weeks. Ideally, that allows for some practice time.
- G-League check-in: Keon Johnson looks great, despite the brief absence with a sprained ankle. He is shooting 62 percent from the field and adding four rebounds and assists per game. Brandon Boston Jr. hasn’t been nearly as efficient, making jus 37.5 percent of his twos but 45.5 percent of his threes; Agua Caliente coach Paul Hewitt adores Boston, though, and raved about his maturity and willingness to take feedback and get better.
- The Clippers are 2-0 in the City Edition jerseys. They should wear them more (or just play Minnesota and Detroit more often).
More news for Monday:
- Something clicked for Paul George during last year’s postseason. Andrew Greif dives in.
- Former Clipper DeMarcus Cousins is joining the Milwaukee Bucks on a non-guaranteed deal.
- John Hollinger takes stock of next summer’s top free agents.
- Marc Stein has some thoughts about the John Wall situation in Houston. I can’t help but wonder how Wall would look with the Clippers.
- Speaking of guards joining the Clippers, LaVar Ball would like to see his son LiAngelo make his way on to the team.
- Ethan Fuller uses some non-traditional methods to determine the league’s best passers. This is a really interesting perspective.
- Why are this year’s rookies doing so well on defense?