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Clippers could embrace ‘Wingstop’ lineups next season

Flushed with talent on the wings, the Clippers have the unique ability to throw out all-wing lineups next season as they chase title dreams

Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

In evaluating and prognosticating the L.A. Clippers for the upcoming 2022-23 NBA season, we must first start with the one clear advantage they might have over the rest of the league: wing depth.

Two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is slated to return after missing the entirety of the 2021-22 season following surgery that repaired a partial tear of his right anterior cruciate ligament, an injury he suffered during Game 4 against the Utah Jazz in June 2021.

When you factor in Paul George missing 52 of the team’s 84 games this season, on top of Leonard’s absence, it makes the Clippers finishing with an 11th consecutive winning season a rather impressive feat. But the team’s run of winning doesn’t appear to be coming to an end anytime soon assuming those two linchpins stay healthy.

Beyond those two, the Clippers have the recently re-signed Robert Covington in tow. Not to mention Marcus Morris Sr. and Terance Mann. Then there’s the matter of Nicolas Batum’s looming decision.

Batum has a player option for next season. The decision date is June 29, which means there’s still a whole month to go before Batum needs to really make his wishes known. However, word is that Batum’s happy with the Clippers, even going so far as to say coach Tyronn Lue “saved” his life.

Assuming that Batum comes back — whether he picks up his player option or re-signs for a two-year deal, the maximum allowable with his Early Bird Rights — it means the Clippers would have six legitimate wing players in their rotation.

That doesn’t account for Norman Powell, a 6-foot-4 swingman that can play spot minutes at small forward should the Clippers absolutely need it. Powell, according to Cleaning The Glass, saw 61% of his minutes with Portland come at small forward last season before it dropped to 15% with the Clippers.

Not to mention Amir Coffey’s integral role with the Clippers this season and what a return to the team next season could mean for him. Coffey spent 58% of his minutes last season at small forward and another 12% at power forward.

In essence, the Clippers could possess up to eight players next season that have seen a worthwhile amount of time as wing players in this league. But the main six are the real talking point because of what each one represents for the team, as well as the flexibility the Clippers will possess when it comes to lineup construction.

During the 2020-21 season, the quartet of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. shared the floor for 100 minutes, according to PBPStats. In that time, they outscored the opposition by 20 points as they amassed a 126.3 Offensive Rating and 118.9 Defensive Rating, good for a 7.4 Net Rating. But it could take on a bigger role next season with the inclusion of Terance Mann.

Mann saw an increased workload in 2021-22, notching career bests in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. On top of that, Mann saw 22% of his minutes come at point guard with the majority coming after the team traded backup ball-handler Eric Bledsoe and installed Mann as the second unit leader.

Two seasons ago, the Clippers only got 10 minutes of Mann with the other four. The Clippers outscored the opposition by three points during that time as they put up a 141.2 Offensive Rating and 110.5 Defensive Rating. Those are high-quality marks for a lineup, but the sample size isn’t anything to write home about.

With Mann taking on more of a role this season, and with the way that Lue has thrust him to the forefront due to Mann’s perimeter defense, it wouldn’t be crazy to see this lineup get trotted out there at times throughout the season.

Due to injuries, trades and guys constantly having to miss time for various reasons, we never really got to see Norman Powell, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr. and Nicolas Batum share the floor for the Clippers in 2021-22. In fact, they had just three total possessions logged — one offensive and two defensive. There’s essentially zero to take from that time.

But what the above lineup can do is something that few other lineups on the Clippers can bring to the table: the spacing they provide at all five positions allows each player to attack downhill or off cuts, or be weapons in catch-and-shoot situations.

Batum, George and Morris each shot at least 37% on catch-and-shoot 3s with the Clippers last season, and they each hit at least 40% back in 2020-21. Leonard joined them that year as he knocked down 47% of his catch-and-shoot triples.

The wildcard is Powell. During a small sample size with the Clippers this season, Powell made seven of the 10 catch-and-shoot 3s that he tried, and he did make 45% of them overall when accounting for his time in Portland. In fact, Powell has made at least 43% of his catch-and-shoot 3s in each of the last four seasons.

That shooting prowess from these five players would give the lineup around a 90th percentile rating when it comes to “Catch and Shoot Talent (Spacing),” according to B-Ball Index. Having said that, shooting ability isn’t the only thing the quintet would bring to the table.

Being able to drive the ball against a defense that’s trying to cover five-out lineups is a must-have, and this lineup would provide that added benefit. In 2021-22, Paul George averaged 13.9 drives per 36 minutes while Norman Powell averaged 14.1 in limited time with the Clippers. Kawhi Leonard averaged 13.2 drives per 36 minutes back in 2020-21.

Neither Marcus Morris Sr. (4.6) nor Nicolas Batum (0.9) were known for their driving ability this season, but the added spacing each guy provides is something that opens up the lanes for the other three, and ultimately is what could make this group so deadly.

The upside with this specific lineup is that all five players can switch onto any position on the floor, and that’s something in which the Clippers have seemingly prioritized over the last two years. Flexibility, versatility and reliability are vastly important traits, and this group here possesses that.

Due to George’s injury, the quartet of Mann, George, Batum and Covington only logged four minutes together this season. They did outscore opponents by five points and held the opposition to a 100.0 Offensive Rating during that time, but the sample size wasn’t healthy enough to discern anything major from it.

Still, the sheer possibilities with this lineup, at least on the defensive end, are endless. According to B-Ball Index and their Defensive Versatility metric, Batum, Covington, Mann and George all ranked pretty favorably and saw plenty of time guarding all five positions on the floor this season. Leonard graded out favorably, as well, in 2020-21, the last full season that he played.

For this lineup, Covington would be the person most often tasked with defending power forwards and centers, something he did 50.6% of the time this season, the most out of anyone in this lineup. George (41.3%) and Batum (40.8%) would also be up to the task, as would Leonard (39.2%).

The point of attack defenders, most likely, would be Mann, George and Leonard, thus allowing Batum and Covington to roam and cause havoc with their length and instincts. This might be the one lineup that we see the most of considering the impact they could have defensively.

One thing that we know coach Tyronn Lue loves to do is stagger his two stars. He did it beautifully back during the 2020-21 season as at least one of George or Leonard was on the floor for 2566 out of the team’s 3456 regular season minutes that year, accounting for 74% of the team’s total court time. The year prior under Doc Rivers, it was 68%.

In the spirit of staggering, this is a lineup we could see. It features either George or Leonard being flanked by four players who could likely be coming off the bench next season.

Powell provides some ball-handling and scoring pop while Mann would be a point of attack irritant that will allow the lone superstar on the floor to not have to expend as much energy on the defensive end. That’s also the added benefit of Batum and Covington as the two vets can protect the rim as a duo and try to disrupt passing lanes while providing catch-and-shoot opportunities on the offensive end.

George and Covington logged 51 minutes together this season, per PBPStats. In that time, the Clippers had a 137.7 Offensive Rating and 98.1 Defensive Rating. George and Batum logged 454 minutes, posting a 107.4 Offensive Rating and 104.2 Defensive Rating. Those defensive marks are elite, so getting this trio floor time seems like a no-brainer.

Add in Mann and Powell, and there’s the chance this bench lineup could see somewhat substantial run this season whether it be George or Leonard thrust in there at times alongside the other four.

OK, the admission must be made here that this lineup that’s being presented is nothing more than a pipe dream of sorts. The odds of this specific group being tossed out on the floor together is probably very slim, but it’s nonetheless exciting to look at.

During the 2020-21 season, the foursome of George, Leonard, Morris and Batum played 100 minutes together and outscored opponents by 20 points. They racked up a 126.3 Offensive Rating and 118.9 Defensive Rating, according to PBPStats. In fact, 74.2% of their total field goal attempts came at the rim or from three as they shot 72.2% at the rim and 39.5% on 3s. That alone makes them a deadly combination.

Toss in the 3-point shooting prowess and cutting chops of Covington, and there’s a chance this lineup could do pretty proficient things on the offensive end. The defense wouldn’t be too bad, either, but offense would be where their bread is buttered.

But any lineup that surrounds George and Leonard will be good for the most part, especially from distance. Last season, the Clippers made 44% of their 3s when both superstars were on the floor. There’s no reason that number shouldn’t hover around 40% or so next season.

It’d be interesting to see a lineup full of players that sit between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9. The Toronto Raptors did it in the postseason after Fred VanVleet suffered an injury in their first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Being able to switch across the board while having players who can fit around each other offensively would be a sight to behold.

When looking at possible lineup machinations that the Clippers can throw out there next season, obviously it should be noted that none of these mean Ivica Zubac and/or Isaiah Hartenstein won’t be back on the team. However, them being on the roster hasn’t stopped Lue from experimenting with various groups in an effort to aid the team as best he can.

These five lineups are ones that are rather intriguing because of the surfeit of wing depth the team has at their disposal, assuming Batum does come back for another season in Los Angeles.

Considering the depth of the Clippers, the star power they’re getting back and the coach they have calling the shots, 2022-23 might be their best season yet.

And some of these lineups might get called upon during crucial points of the season to keep the good times rolling.

You can find Justin Russo’s daily content on the LA Clippers by subscribing to his Patreon feed, and you can also follow him on Twitter at @FlyByKnite.

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