The New Year — a time to say goodbye and a time to say hello.
The Clippers will say goodbye to what was a historic run in the playoffs and hopefully say hello to a postseason just as hair-raising as last year’s.
The path to the promised land looks not any less troubling and challenging, though.
Amidst recent struggles, the L.A. team has fallen to the ninth seed with a losing record (19-21). Certainly, we can point fingers at injuries and COVID protocols. But, there are more things aside from missing players that need to be addressed for the team to make a strong push at the title. And there isn’t quite a better time to make improvements and adjustments than in January of a brand new year.
On that note, here are the New Year’s resolutions for the Los Angeles Clippers and their key players.
The Team: Step up the offense
The 213 has not had as much fun as last year on the offensive end. Their offensive rating has plummeted from 116.7 (third in league) last season to just 105.8 this season (27th in league). Their three-point shooting is partly to blame: after shooting the league’s best percentage (41.1) from downtown last season, the Clippers are not as great from long range, shooting 35.8 percent.
Admittedly, missing a high-scoring Kawhi Leonard is a large reason behind this season’s scoring struggles. Still, the Clippers could be racking up more points from running set offenses that exploit opposing defenses’ weaknesses or magnify the team’s offensive strengths — perhaps like the triangle offense sets Ty Lue put in place for Leonard — or better executing Lue’s firm belief in giving up the good shot for the better shot.
Kawhi Leonard: Take your time
Kawhi Leonard, we miss you. As much as we’d love to see No. 2 dunking over players again, the occasion can wait until he’s fully ready to go.
Paul George: Have ‘Playoff P’ ready for June
Paul George is having yet another All-Star year (vote Paul George to the All-Star game, by the way!), putting up 24.7 points, 5.5 assists, and 7.1 rebounds per game. To be frank, there’s not much more he can do for his hometown team — maybe other than continuing to light it up even in the playoffs.
Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr.: Shoot the three better
Jackson and Morris have been great for the Clippers this season — it’s their scoring that has kept the L.A. boat afloat during the season’s hardest stretches. ‘Mr. June’ is riding on adrenaline from last year’s unforgettable post-season run, scoring 16.9 points and dishing out 3.9 dimes per contest. As for Morris, he’s also stuffed the stat sheet with averages of 16.5 points on 44.4 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.
There is, however, one thing holding back their stellar season: shooting from behind the arc. Jackson isn’t quite the sharp-shooter he was last season, converting on only 33.3 percent of his threes. The same goes for the Clippers forward — Morris’ three-point percentage took a deep dive from last season’s 47.3 percent (career-best) to a not-as-pretty 36.7. The two Clippers, both ten-year veterans, should be able to get closer to how well they shot last year and continue to find the bottom of the net from any spot on the hardwood.
Luke Kennard: Be more aggressive
Kennard is one of the most skilled and crafty players on the roster: he can shoot lights out, comfortably run plays, and even create for himself when needed.
And we want to see more of ‘Cool Hand Luke’ being aggressive and selfish with the ball. Despite playing close to 10 more minutes per contest from last season, he’s taking nearly three fewer shots than his 2019-20 campaign with the Pistons when he had his best season, averaging 15.8 points and 4.1 assists (although he only played 28 games). Not to mention, only 7.2 percent of his three-pointers are unassisted.
If Kennard can be more aggressive on the ball, he will make the most of his magician-like prowess with the basketball, giving the Clippers another legitimate offensive threat. Coach Lue even shared in a post-game interview following Kennard’s 23-point scoring outburst, “[He] can’t turn down shots... He’s playing great, but still, he’s never had a coach that wants him to get more shots. I mean, I don’t know, I don’t understand. Shoot it more, you don’t like that?”
Nicolas Batum: Continue to defend
It was the Frenchman’s defense that decorated the French national team’s silver medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It also could be the veteran’s defense that changes the team’s trajectory in this year’s playoffs.
Despite plating 13 exhausting years in the league and suffering a sprained ankle injury, his defense is as intimidating as it always has been — he has a career-best defensive rating of 102.9. Using his seven-foot wingspan, he’s doing it all on the defensive end: denying good looks, stuffing shots, and making big-time steals.
More of that in the new year, we hope.
The start of 2022 means the writing of the first blank pages of a 365-page book. And while we don’t know the stories and players that will fill those pages, we do know how we want to end: NBA Champions.
These resolutions are only some of the many things the Clippers have on their agenda towards that end.