The Clippers set a high bar for what they could achieve without Kawhi Leonard during the 2021 postseason. 21 games into this campaign, it may have been unfair to expect that level of performance over a full regular season.
This group has been dynamite defensively, and that has placed the Clips (slightly) above the play-in fray, which deserves to be celebrated. However, the team that almost won the Western Conference Finals, despite being without their best player, isn’t what we’re seeing on a night-to-night basis. That’s fine, but it does require tempering expectations moving forward. Then again, perhaps a healthier Clippers squad — come back soon, Nicolas Batum — reels off another win streak and dares us to dream again.
Here’s how the national power rankings feel about the Clippers after a 1-2 week.
Note: These rankings were compiled before the loss to New Orleans Monday.
This week: 11th | Last week: 12th
The Clippers are beginning to get a little healthier. Marcus Morris Sr. returned last week, and Serge Ibaka is back, although not a major part of the rotation yet. But the Clippers miss Nic Batum, who has missed the past four games while in the health and safety protocols. The Clippers are 2-2 in that stretch, and a healthy Batum might’ve made the difference in the Clippers’ 112-104 overtime loss to the Mavericks on Tuesday. They played the Warriors tough on Sunday until Steph Curry put them away in the fourth.
We knew there would be a drop-off without Kawhi Leonard. And maybe the Clippers’ 3-point percentage from last season – 41.1%, fourth best in NBA history – was too good to be duplicated. But through Sunday, the Clips have seen the league’s biggest drop in offensive efficiency by a wide margin, having scored 12.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. (The next biggest drop is Denver’s 9.9 per 100.)
Shooting is the most important thing in this league, and the Clips have seen the league’s third biggest drop in effective field goal percentage. But along with that, they’ve seen its fifth biggest drop in offensive rebounding percentage (which matters more when more of their shots are rebound-able) and its sixth biggest jump in turnover rate. They committed an amazing 25 turnovers against the Warriors on Sunday, giving them more games of 20 or more (5) than they had all of last season (4).
The Clips had a good stretch of offense earlier this month, but they’ve scored fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average (107.5) in seven of their last eight games (including each of the last five). And the Warriors were just the second better-than-average defensive team that they faced over that stretch. They won’t face another in their next five games, with four of the five against teams – New Orleans, Sacramento (x2) and Portland – that rank in the bottom five defensively.
This week: 12th | Last week: 8th
Thankful for Paul George, who might be the most underappreciated star in the league—and for that matter, of this entire era. PG is averaging a stout 25.9 points (sixth in the NBA), 7.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists, keeping the Clippers in the hunt while Kawhi Leonard rehabs a torn ACL. And George remains one of the best wing defenders in the league, a big reason why the Clippers rank second in defensive efficiency.
This week: 15th | Last week: 14th
First Quarter Grade: A-
Considering the missing pieces to begin this season, I’m not sure how much more we could have expected out of the LA Clippers. The defense has been stellar without Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka available. The offense has struggled, but Paul George has pulled them through quite a few tight moments. The thing about the Clippers’ start is they aren’t just beating up on bad teams to inflate their record. In fact, they’re just 3-3 against losing teams this season, and they’re 8-6 against teams .500 or better. The Clippers are competing spectacularly, and while the role players do deserve some credit, Tyronn Lue should get credit for coaching his ass off.