Housekeeping time, once again: The first time we checked in on the Clippers this season, they were 6-4. Through their next 10, they went 5-5; a middling stretch, good for an 11-9 overall record. They then went 5-6 in their next 11 games, which brought them to 16-15. I wish I had better news this time around.
In their last 10 since that check-in, the Clippers have gone 4-6. These 10-or-11-game stints continue to see worsening records. I’d say there’s no better time for a check-up than when a team is trending downward at the midseason mark. Let’s take a look at the 10 things we can take away from the last 10 Los Angeles outings.
1. On both ends, this team seems to be stuck running in place.
Although there was a time early on this season when the Clippers seemed unable to crack 100 on a back-to-back basis, there was also a time when they were keeping their opponents to similarly low totals. Those days are gone, and while the Clippers are scoring at a more consistent rate, they’re also making a habit of allowing their opponents to score in the high triple digits, night after night.
Over their last 10, the Clippers are 26th in the NBA in offensive rating, a lowly 106.3. The teams below them? In order: the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
So, in summary, the Los Angeles Clippers are on par with the tanking elite — save New York — in terms of their offensive proficiency. There’s absolutely zero doubt that the Clippers are better than each of those four teams, but as a team that is supposed to be a championship contender, the same conversation as those squads is simply not a place you want to be.
Defensively, Los Angeles hovers around the middle of the pack; its 109.7 defensive rating is 13th in the league, similar to teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat. The difference? Each of those three contenders is nine or so points better on offense than the Clippers are. At the beginning of the season, this group had at least one thing it could rely on. Now, it seems as though they’re grasping at straws, without an answer on either end.
2. Paul George has been missed.
Part of what’s plaguing the Clippers on both sides of the ball is the absence of Paul George. (I’ll take “Obvious Things” for $800, Alex.”) With Kawhi Leonard still sidelined — more on that a bit later — he’s been the team’s leader and best player. And before officially being shelved with an elbow injury, he was enjoying what was arguably the best season of his career, and certainly his best in Los Angeles. 25 points, seven assists, and five boards; his MVP case was hardly falling on deaf ears.
Yet while the on/off stats yielded by George don’t exactly paint the picture of a team that’s desperate for a reprieve when he sits, the overall effort Los Angeles puts forth sees a significant shift when George is out. The offensive responsibilities dumped on players like Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson are not what they should have to bring to the table on a nightly basis. They aren’t 1A players on a title team. They’re barely even second or third options on great teams, and if they are, it’s on a great night (which they’ve had plenty of this season). But without a de facto number-one option to get the ball to late in games, the Clippers just feel like a mish-mash of role players all metaphorically fighting for that final shot. They work well together, guys like Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, but neither is bound to carry a team to the promised land.
George can be that guy. And without him, this team lacks a single capital-G guy.
3. That being said, it’s nice to have you back, Mook.
In another life — perhaps in another timeline — Marcus Morris is most definitely a capital-G guy. In his own world, he is the only capital-G guy who has ever lived. LeBron James? Forget it. Wilt Chamberlain? A capital-B bum. Tim Duncan? Sorry, who? These all-world talents, in Morris’ kingdom, are lowly serfs; Morris is the king, the dragons, and the giants dwelling about the forests.
Since returning from a stint in the league’s health and safety protocols, Morris has been playing on a level that, if consistent, would likely turn this medieval analogy into a reality. In his last seven outings, he’s averaged 21.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists, and he’s shot the ball rather well, maintaining 46-41-97(!!!) shooting splits over that stretch. He exploded for 55 combined points over the course of two losses against the Suns and Grizzlies last week. He’s been the team’s best offensive player of late, and it’s not particularly close.
Is that a good thing? Not necessarily. Morris is best in a secondary scoring role, if that. On a championship team, he’s the third or fourth player you draw up a game-winner for. And the team hasn’t exactly won during the best stretch we’ve seen from Morris in years; L.A. is 2-5 in his last seven.
Nevertheless, it's nice to know that Mook has returned with a vengeance, both from his time out with COVID-19 and from the injuries that plagued his beginning of this season. The god amongst men was in need of a confidence boost, and ideally, he can turn this boom into something habitual as the season goes on.
4. Some flashes (and one big bang) from Amir Coffey.
Allow Amir Coffey to properly introduce himself, seeing that his first two seasons with the Clippers hardly felt like he had ever arrived.
On Sunday night, while the world was rooting for a tie in a football game — seriously, what has the human race come to? Do we not recall the immortal words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game?” — the Coffey was breeewwwwwinggggg. He dropped a career-high 21 points in a win over the Atlanta Hawks, knocking down eight of his 12 shots, and nailing five of his eight triples. He was electric in 33 minutes, starting for his second-straight game. Actually, he was the best player on the floor.
Last night was the highlight, but Coffey has been a consistent contributor over his last 10 games, one who the Clippers are lucky to be able to rely on. He’s a savvy individual playmaker, one whose first step is more explosive than it lets on at first blush, an advantage he can use to blow by competent defenders and rise up for a jumper. Too many of his attempts are off-balance, but they’re going in. Who’s complaining about that? Maybe this 10-game run of 10.7 points per game on 50-43-86 shooting splits doesn’t last once George and Leonard return to the lineup. But this is a league built on opportunities. Coffey has run with his, and should see more in the future because of it.
5. The remaking of Eric Bledsoe is going quite smoothly.
I don’t take back everything I said about Bledsoe not warranting a spot in the starting lineup, but I do partially regret being so harsh. Bledsoe hasn’t been starting near as often as he was back at the beginning of the season — I win! — but throughout the team’s last 10, he’s been balling at a capable level. 12.5 points, 5.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.5 steals aren’t blowing off any doors, but it’s consistent with the numbers he was putting forth at our last check-in. He’s filling the role that the Clippers need him to fill — that of a floor-spreader and a distributor; he doesn’t need to chuck up half a dozen threes, nor lazily stand 36 feet from the basket watching his four teammates play 4-on-5.
We do need a little less of this, though.
6. Brandon Boston Jr. was the steal of the draft... But he needs a bit of a reality check.
Yes, I’m familiar with the name Ayo Dosunmu, and I’m perfectly okay with calling him the Eastern Conference’s steal of the draft. He’s been dynamic as all hell in Chicago this season, as has his team. But in the West, at the very least, Brandon Boston has been this season’s best surprise.
Boston entered the league as a lanky, streaky, unproven athlete out of Kentucky, and felt like another run-of-the-mill Wildcat; if you’ve seen one Calipari product, chances are, you’ve seen them all. But the Clippers' final pick in the 2021 draft has proven to be much more capable than his scouting report let on. He’s effective in transition, scoring 0.89 points per possession on two such attempts per game, and he flashes elite scoring talent when given the shot attempts to do.
However... he’s making just 3.5 shot attempts out of the 11.3 he’s attempting over the last 6 games he’s played; that’s 31 percent, folks! Recalibration is in order for the rook. On the bright side, at least he’s confident enough to launch it at such a nasty clip. He just needs to dial it back a bit.
7. I fear that we’re witnessing Terance Mann’s ceiling.
I read Law Murray’s writing on The Athletic quite often; if you’re a Clippers fan or an NBA enthusiast and you’re not, it’s time to start. Perhaps I’m a fan of his work because I often feel like he’s putting words and numbers to the observations I have and fail to jot down. In a recent piece, he brought up Terance Mann, perhaps my favorite player to cover, and perfectly summarized the gut feeling I’ve been having over the last few weeks: that maybe Mann isn’t all I’ve made him out to be, or dream the can become. He wrote:
Mann has shown the versatility to fit in almost every position for the Clippers, but that is more valuable either in the second unit or next to George as a starter. Mann hasn’t scored 20 points in a game since he closed out the Jazz with 39 points in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals in June, and that includes the preseason. In back-to-back losses against the Denver Nuggets and Brooklyn Nets, Mann only attempted 18 field goals combined — with no free throws.
I’ve been anything but quiet about the fact that I feel as though Terance Mann can be a primary defensive stopper for this Clippers team in the long run. I’ve also mused that, if fully maximized, his offensive talent can be the perfect complement to that of George, Leonard, and whoever else comes along in the later years of Mann’s rather young career. But I’m starting to worry that we may be witnessing the best of Mann’s abilities, not just shades of what he could potentially become with more time and more shots.
He’s played 31.8 minutes per game over his last 10, and has been on the floor for 33+ in six of those 10; for context, he’s averaged 29.6 minutes per game this season. Over the course of this regular season’s first 31 games, Mann put up double-digit shot attempts seven times. During the last 10 games, he did it six times. Yet his highest-scoring output this season is just 19 points, and he’s managed to score 10 or fewer in each of his last four outings (he’s 15-of-35 during that stretch, a fine percentage, but a shoddy clip for a player who should be contributing with some sort of fervor now that his opportunity has really arrived.
Instead, it has been the Marcus Morris show. When does Mann plan on it being his turn? Or is he content to remain sequestered in his role as a background role player who performs prolifically on defense, but leaves everything to be desired on the other end?
8. There’s some reason for optimism.
In case you missed it, Kawhi Leonard’s recovery is ahead of schedule. Per Yahoo and TNT’s Chris Haynes, league sources have said that “Leonard is actually ahead of schedule in his rehab and that a return this season is a strong possibility. Speaking with multiple Clippers players, they say he won’t be concerned with their playoff slotting believing that if fully healthy, they’ll be favorites over most in the West.”
Of course, this is naturally a “believe it when you see it” situation, but should Leonard return and be at full strength, the Clippers will immediately be vaulted into serious contention in the Western Conference. There are significant shortcomings that need addressing in order for it to be a seamless leap, but the Leonard-George combo is often enough to hide those blemishes, at least for a period of time.
9. I sure hope Kristina Pink is okay.
If you ask me, this was absolutely a blocking foul. But what matters most is that Pink is OK and back — perhaps staying far away from the postgame water cup shower zone — on Tuesday when the Clippers take on the Nuggets.
Clippers reporter Kristina Pink slips and falls during the postgame interview pic.twitter.com/2rL5PElHPA— hoops bot (@hoops_bot) January 9, 2022
10. Bob Saget, forever our coach.
Presented without comment, and with appreciation everlasting. Rest easy, Bob. Hope you’re giving everyone a good laugh up there.