The Clippers have played 44 games so far, a smidge past the halfway point of the season, and are about to embark on an eight-game road trip that could reveal a lot about the team going forward.
That’s why it felt like a good time — on one of the NBA’s marquee days of the regular season — to take stock of what has gone well for the Clippers so far and what needs to change going forward. Here’s what our staff had to say.
What has gone better than you expected for the Clippers so far?
Will Bjarnar: I feared for the worst when Jason Preston went down with his foot injury early this season. Not because I expected him to start or even to play often, but because I knew he represented the closest thing to a true point guard as the Clippers have on their roster. He’s been out since October and that’s STILL true, but fear not, for this squad has found a way to mix in a variety of distributors and take on a point guard by committee approach to the season. Although it hasn’t exactly brought direct nor instant results — particularly in the win column — it’s certainly a pleasant surprise to behold. Paul George leads the team in assists; second is Eric Bledsoe, and third is Reggie Jackson. Those guys are typically, if not always a shooting guard or forward. But to see that they can distribute as such a high level, against type, no less, is promising and exciting.
Sabreena Merchant: The defense. The Clippers are missing their best defensive player, and have been without Paul George and Isaiah Hartenstein for extended stretches, but have remained a top-five defense in spite of those personnel challenges. They have been remarkably creative on that end of the floor, deploying zones, traps, switches, and standard coverages; the players can adapt to different schemes within the course of a game, and the ability to get stops is one of the few factors that has propelled the Clippers offense this season.
Matthew Scammahorn: I was never too sure of how Amir Coffey would pan out, but his growth as a player this season definitely exceeded my expectations. He’s really established himself as a reliable two-way type of player, almost in the mold of his teammate Nico Batum. He can hit the open jump shot, make plays (especially in the pick and roll), and make an impact on the defensive end. Most of all, it’s as if he makes no mistakes on the court, so it’s no wonder why he’s been a favorite of Ty Lue’s to employ in important moments. Coffey didn’t just step up in Paul George’s absence, he’s proven himself as a legitimate basketball player with plenty of room to improve. It’s clear he deserves a full-fledged NBA deal, and it’s hard not to be excited to see the growth of the young talent on the Clippers.
Brent Yoo: Amir Coffey’s development. After his first two seasons as a Clipper, he didn’t make much of an impression on me: he didn’t play much, couldn’t make plays, and often didn’t take the best shots. So, I naturally didn’t expect too much from him this season. To my surprise, however, he’s been quite the player off the bench, and now, as a starter for the Clippers. His ability to blow by defenders and finish at the rim or consistently drain three-pointers has been one of the much-needed coffee-like refreshing energizers for the Clippers in 2022.
What do you want to see change over the rest of the season?
Will: Consistency and a true sense of identity for a squad that seems, far too often, like it’s searching mid-contest. You can’t lose to the Pelicans and Spurs in back to back games and tell me that every Clippers game features the same team. It’s like purchasing tickets for Spider-Man and entering a theater only to discover that my film of choice is American Underdog. There has to be a wake up call of some kind coming, if it hasn’t already.
Sabreena: I’d like to see the Clippers go small more often. So far, they’ve played 15 percent of their possessions, per Cleaning the Glass, without one of Ivica Zubac, Serge Ibaka, or Isaiah Hartenstein on the court. Although their centers seem key to their defensive success, the rangy, all-wing lineups that can switch 1 through 5 were the Clippers’ secret sauce during the playoffs. It would be good for the Clippers to get some reps with those units and hopefully unlock their offense a bit in the process.
Matthew: One thing I really want to see changed is the Clippers’ luck with injuries. From the start, being without Kawhi Leonard for presumably the whole season nearly eliminated the team’s finals chances. Not having players like Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., and Isaiah Hartenstein for sizable chunks of the season just adds to the challenges that the team will have to face. With the recent news about Leonard’s potential return juxtaposed with the news of George’s injury severity, it seems as if the Clippers and their fans can’t catch a break. Of course, there are opportunities for other players to make a name for themselves (which we have undoubtedly witnessed this season), but the window for a championship won’t always stay open. With two superstars in their prime, time is of the essence, and throwing serious injuries into the mix just makes the clock tick even faster.
Brent: When Luke Kennard makes his way back to the hardwood, I want to see more plays to play up his talent on the offensive end. Although not the most athletic or physical, Kennard can find the bottom of the net at will — he can finish with both hands near the rim, shoot lights out from mid-range, and make it rain from deep (he’s shooting 44.1 percent from behind the arc this season). But ‘Cool Hand Luke’ can be so much bigger of an offensive weapon when he’s taking more and better shots. So, I want to see more plays where the sharpshooter is able to run off a screen for an open shot or an easier take to the rim. It’s when Kennard can get loose and be more aggressive on and off the ball that the Clippers play a more dynamic and exhilarating type of basketball.