If you told me I’d be sitting here writing the day after an opening win for the Los Angeles Clippers, I’d have assumed I’d be completely at peace and happy with what I saw in a convincing win over the Lakers. There were, of course, positives within the performance; Kawhi Leonard was hitting his shots, John Wall still has his explosiveness, Luke Kennard was hitting his shots and Ivica Zubac had himself a night.
However, there was a lot within the game that the coaching staff will need to put some serious thought into if this team is to meet or exceed expectations.
While Leonard started exactly where he left off in the preseason by coming into the game and hitting his first few shots, what happens with his minutes and the process ramping him up is going to be a puzzle to piece together for Ty Lue. The Clippers’ star man was very open about where he’s at with his recovery and the thought that had gone into his playing time on Thursday night, but it will be interesting to see the reaction to him working his way back into the fold – from both his own body and his teammates.
But while the Clippers are without the most healthy version of their star, they’ll be glad to know that Wall can still get it going on the offensive side of the ball. The North Carolina native rolled back the years by displaying his ability to run the floor at lightning speed and hitting his mid-range jump shots. He was, however, 0-3 from deep, and that’s where the staff may still see Reggie Jackson as having the edge over his counterpart.
Jackson was clearly carrying some pain last night, and never looked quite himself, but the process of naming a starting point guard won’t come down to one game obviously. It seems it is still Jackson’s job to lose indefinitely, but if Wall can keep that same energy going then he may well be too good to overlook.
The one spot is not the only position carrying question marks, though. Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann found themselves playing very limited minutes against the Lakers, and both struggled to really get into the game as a result. The two will certainly still have their roles to play this season, and the coaching staff will be under absolutely no illusions that they can still bring so much to this squad, but finding a place for them will require a lot of working out. I certainly don’t envy the jobs Lue and company have ahead of them, but that’s the problem when you’re so stacked with talent.
Ty Lue said he doesn't know who will/won't travel to face the Kings in the first half of a back-to-back Saturday.— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) October 21, 2022
Just after the presser, I asked Ty Lue if he actually didn't know or if he's keeping it internal. His response:
"Man, ask Chris Haynes."
One area that the Clippers don’t find themselves to be quite as stacked is at center. It seems strange to highlight this given Zubac’s huge display and the defensive poise they got out of Robert Covington when he slid across, but Moses Brown getting signed to a two-way means they could find themselves short on seven-foot-plus players when it comes down to crunch time. There are a number of veteran centers still on the market, including Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside and Derrick Favors to name a few, but whether the franchise still has one more ace up their sleeve remains to be seen.
They’ll certainly need a few more tricks on the court than they displayed last night. The Lakers put up a great fight and have built a core that is willing to grind, and a slightly better shooting night – albeit from an uninspiring team from deep – could have easily seen the result go the other way. It will take time for the Clippers’ old and new pieces to gel together again, and to establish their best offensive sets, so they may find themselves scraping through some games until that point.
Ultimately, while opening night left us with very few answers to the biggest questions, the Clippers still have all the tools and one of the best possible coaches to figure all of this out. Lue’s penchant for on-the-fly adjustments is going to be more needed than ever as the squad finds their rhythm, but there still promises to be a lot of excitement this season if they can find a way to make their many moving parts work together.