It’s been a roller coaster start to the season for the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite overcoming the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings in their first two games, the team went on to lose four in a row, followed that up with three consecutive wins, lost to the rebuilding Utah Jazz and then beat an emerging contender in the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kawhi Leonard remains out while some of his other teammates have suffered from niggling issues of their own, and even those who have been healthy have had on-court struggles with shooting and taking care of the ball to contend with.
Despite signs of recovery within the last five games, it’s an interesting time to look at the biggest frustrations still facing the Clippers, what or who have been the biggest positives, and assess whether expectations have changed.
What’s been the most frustrating thing about the Clippers?
Josh Sexton: Without a doubt, it has to be Kawhi’s health. All the noises coming out of the franchise over the offseason were that our star player was in the shape of his life and was more than ready to go ahead of the new campaign. Yet here we are, 12 games in and our San Diego native has only featured in two of them. Suddenly, his hesitance to spend most of the summer taking part in mostly non-contact sessions looks like it has left him and the team short of where they both would hope to be.
"He’s progressing well. We knew coming off an ACL, it wasn’t going to be a straight line... The biggest thing is he’s progressing well. We're going to follow the lead of our medical staff, we got to be smart about the situation, but he’s progressing."— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) November 7, 2022
Ty Lue on Kawhi Leonard pic.twitter.com/Pp5k2klbsn
Honourable mentions should go to the early-season form of Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell, who would both be expected to carry extra weight offensively during these times, yet both have struggled to find their shooting stroke. There’s plenty of time for it all to come together, but the struggles of that trio have caused some doubts to creep into the fan base.
Will Bjarnar: Nothing is more frustrating than your star player spending a year and change rehabbing from a torn ACL, only to immediately end up back on the injury report mere days into his first action since June of 2021. Kawhi Leonard is one or two 50-game seasons from being that guy who was this close to being the face of the league, but never got there due to his inability to stay healthy. His trophy case is decorated to the nines, and his Hall of Fame case is written in permanent marker. But he’s 31, injury-prone and at risk of becoming a fringe “what could have been” tale, regardless of how brilliant he’s been when he has been able to play.
A close second, though, is Reggie Jackson’s failure to rebound from a down year in 2021-2022. He was brutally inefficient last season, despite being one of L.A.’s primary offensive options while Leonard and Paul George dealt with injuries, and it doesn’t seem like anything has changed. Even with John Wall’s presence in the rotation, Jackson still plays 29.5 minutes per contest, which would be tied for the third-most minutes he’s played in a season in his 12-year career. In those minutes, he’s jacking up almost 10 shots and making just 39 percent of them. This season, his three-point shooting percentage of 27.7 ranks 159th out of 181 players to shoot three or more triples per game; Jackson is in Isaiah Stewart and Giannis Antetokounmpo territory, and in this particular discipline, that’s not necessarily company you want to keep.
He has to turn this around. He’ll be out of a starting guard job otherwise.
What/who has been the biggest positive so far?
Josh: In a wider team sense, there hasn’t been much consistency to hang our hats on but, again, there are three names that stick out — this time in a positive sense. That obviously starts with Paul George, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, who is averaging 30.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.8 steals through his last six games — the fifth-highest scorer in the league during that same spell.
Behind the Clippers’ current number one (sorry Paul, it’s just a fact) Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris Sr. have shown they’ve been more than able to carry their weight on both ends of the floor. Mook is the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.9 points per game and has pulled in the third most rebounds, while Zu is currently averaging a double-double with 10.2 points and 10.8 rebounds.
If all three can continue to carry the offensive load, the Clippers are still equipped to enjoy a successful season.
Will: I’ve never been a big Ivica Zubac fan. He strikes me as far too prototypical a big to succeed in the modern NBA, and frankly, I don’t know that he’s all that good at being a prototypical big to be impactful at all. But he’s changing my mind this year by maximizing his otherwise limited skillset and utilizing the tools he does possess for the good of the team.
If the season ended today — that would be a damn shame — he would be averaging a career-high in rebounds (10.8) and blocks (2.4) per game. He’d also be toeing the career-high line in points (10.2) and assists (1.4). He’s playing more minutes per game (30.8) and shooting more (seven attempts) than he ever has in his career; the Clippers trust him, and over their last six games, he’s played a pivotal part in a 5-1 stretch.
Have your expectations for the season changed?
Josh: Changed? No. Tempered? Yes. I didn’t necessarily come into the season thinking we’d bear witness to a great regular season team, it’s never been their way and load management is still a huge factor in that. I thought they’d finish a top four seed and still hold those aspirations. The question is does this team have the durability to go deep into the playoffs, and the early season signs would suggest not. I don’t mind the Clippers being careful around Kawhi’s injury so long as it sets us up for that, but there still seems to be a lot of unknowns surrounding his health.
The starts of other Western Conference contenders gives reassurance, but there’s a couple of teams at the top of the East that look more settled and ready to launch a serious push for a Championship.
Will: Not quite. I never felt that this team would be an NBA Finals shoo-in. Despite how complete they are on paper, the season is long, and this extended iteration of the Clippers has never made it through one fully healthy. Sure, every team deals with injuries — just look at Milwaukee, which is still missing Khris Middleton, or Boston, which remains without Robert Williams III. But not every team deals with nagging, persistent, significant ailments to their two All-NBA caliber players. Leonard is already missing time this season. Hopefully, George doesn't have a similar fate in store.
A slow start is concerning, sure, but the Clippers seem to be righting the ship as we speak. They’ve won five out of six, and are playing more team basketball than they did to start the season. My expectations haven’t changed much — I still don’t think they’ll make the Finals, even with a healthy Kawhi — but I’m certainly not as concerned about their state as I was just one week ago.