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Clippings: Filling in the backcourt gaps

The Clippers have to replace Paul George and Patrick Beverley by committee.

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Los Angeles Clippers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Clippers played their second consecutive contest without both Paul George and Patrick Beverley, and the timeline for the return of their two starting guards remains nebulous. George has missed the last two games with a bone edema in his toe, and Beverley has been out for 8.5 games with right knee soreness. The team is 4-4 over its last eight games, including losses in each of the last two.

There’s no way to replicate the production of George; he’s one of the top 10 players in the game, and there simply aren’t players of his size who combine his shooting, scoring, and playmaking. Similarly, the Clippers don’t have an adequate replacement for Beverley who can bring both his shooting and defense.

But the Clippers have to keep trying. So how can the Clippers tap into their backcourt depth to find some amalgamation of what they’re missing?

First, the shooting. Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Lou Williams have been shooting 37.8, 43.8, and 43.5 percent, respectively, from 3-point range since Beverley went out. That means that Clippers have credible shooters as outlets when they drive and kick, and all three of them have increased their volume over this stretch. Given their success rate thus far, they probably should be shooting more and being more aggressive instead of letting the offense get later in the shot clock.

The playmaking should ideally come from Williams and Kennard. The Clippers sixth man has done his part, raising his assist percentage from 20.1 before the road trip to 27.4 over the last eight games. Kennard, unfortunately, hasn’t done the same. His assist percentage has gone up from 11.3 to 12.7, but even the latter number isn’t good enough for an on-ball guard. The first-year Clipper has to be more decisive with the ball in his hands.

One player who has been plenty decisive — even aggressive, one might say — is Terance Mann, who supplies some of the paint pressure the Clippers have been missing. Mann has been attacking the cup relentlessly, and though he can’t yet shoot from the perimeter, his true shooting percentage is steadily rising since he’s getting better shots at the basket. The second-year guard’s play earned some praise from Kawhi Leonard after the team’s latest game against the Kings.

“Just active, playing to win,” Leonard said about Mann Sunday. “Crashing offensive rebounds, playing good defense, getting downhill. As a ballhandler, passing it out, just playing a complete game.”

As Leonard noted, that complete game involves the defensive end of the floor, where Mann was the only guard who had a hope and prayer of matching up with Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox. Here, he stays with Fox reasonably well on his drive to the basket and forces an off-balance banker.

Another way for the Clippers to compensate for the absences of their offensive caretakers is also to push the pace. They’ve increased their transition frequency from 13.1 percent of possessions to 14.7, which doesn’t seem like a dramatic increase, but when the team’s last three losses have come by 11 points total, even those minuscule differences can impact the final score.

There’s no way for the Clippers to be the same team without Beverley and George, but the players still on the court have to take advantage of the extra opportunities. It’s their best chance to grow as players in the interim, and it’s the only way the Clippers can still collect wins in what promises to be a crowded race atop the Western Conference standings. There is sufficient talent there to fill in the gaps; some of the Clippers just have to be better.

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