Los Angeles Clippers: Five Factors to Monitor

Championship contention is always expected when a team has top-end talent and previous playoff success. The Los Angeles Clippers are coming off their best postseason in franchise history. The team retained most of their roster and upgraded backcourt depth this offseason. However, the absence of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard reduces the team’s margin for error. For them to succeed, everyone on the roster and staff will need to step up.

Los Angeles Clippers: Five Factors to Monitor

1. Health

The injury bug has haunted Clipper basketball for numerous years. Fans were traumatized after witnessing Chris Paul‘s hamstring in 2015, Blake Griffin‘s toe in 2017, and Kawhi Leonard’s knee in 2021. It is imperative that they efficiently manage overall health so that they are ready once the postseason arrives.

Apart from Leonard, fans should be encouraged that center Serge Ibaka has progressed to five-on-five. The second-year Clipper got some run at the team’s Open Practice at USC’s Galen Center as well. Ibaka has reportedly ramped up his workouts after recovering from season-ending back surgery. The injury left the Clippers without an experienced big with championship experience for nearly the entire postseason. 

Ibaka’s inevitable return will enhance the team’s depth and spacing. An additional subplot to monitor is the play of Isaiah Hartenstein. The newly signed big man became a fan favorite by displaying his unselfishness and feel for the game during the preseason. 

While Ibaka lacks the playmaking that Hartenstein offers, his shot-blocking, shooting, and leadership deem him a more valuable asset for the Clippers’ overall ceiling.

2. Shooting

The desire for Luke Kennard to be more aggressive showed positive progression in the preseason. It was reported that Ty Lue pulled Kennard from their scrimmage in training camp for turning down an open shot. A sign indicating that the green light for Kennard is in full effect. Expect Kennard to put up double-digit scoring numbers with his newfound playstyle and the team’s need for additional playmaking.

Though a tough task, the Clippers aspire to maintain their historic hot shooting from last year. The team shot a league-leading 41.1% from behind the arc during the 2020-21 season. They will need another stellar season from Reggie Jackson, who was electric during playoffs averaging 17.8 points including 40.4% from three. Another major factor will be Marcus Morris Sr., who shot 47.3% from three last season (2nd in the league). 

The biggest question marks on the roster surround Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, and Ivica Zubac. With Zubac unlikely to take threes, the combination with Bledsoe creates spacing issues. Because of this, George and Jackson will have less room to operate in the lane. 

New pickup Winslow, offers playmaking, downhill driving, and versatile defense. Unfortunately, his shooting continues to be a major concern, as it has been his whole career. A career 32.4% three-point shooter, the Clippers will need better marksmanship from the Duke alum. Look for Ty Lue to mix and match lineups to offset the poor shooting as the season begins to unfold.

3. Development

Most Improved? Sixth Man of the Year? Those two accolades are in reach for Terance Mann this upcoming season. After signing a two-year $22 million extension with the team, Mann guaranteed his presence with the Clippers through the 2024-2025 season. A season that would be the first at the new IntuitDome in Inglewood. 

Mann’s 39-point performance against the Utah Jazz lives forever within Clipper Nation. But the time is now to build upon that and become the player that he is capable of being. With the increased ball-handling responsibility and confidence in his jumper, Mann aims to take the next step in his growth as a player.

Two interesting players that have the potential to see offensive development are Ivica Zubac and Brandon Boston Jr. Zubac is skilled enough to get fed five to eight post touches on the block per game. The Croatian has a solid jump hook and mid-range jumper that the team should utilize to add a wrinkle to their offensive attack. 

Brandon Boston Jr. showed that he can score at the highest level. With his off-the-dribble shooting, ball handling, and wiry athleticism, the rookie can contribute spot minutes to be a scoring spark off the bench. Boston Jr. is an interesting prospect to monitor as the season goes on, especially if injuries arise.

4. Age

The amount of basketball miles the Clippers accumulated over the past few months is no small feat. Paul George led the playoffs in minutes and Nicolas Batum essentially had no offseason due to playing in the Olympics for France. The team may feel the effects of the shortened NBA season and offseason later on. They must also consider the fact that Batum and Morris Sr. played a multitude of minutes at the five. Thus subjecting them to more banging, bumps, and box-outs versus bigger players than they are accustomed to defending. 

Although the Clippers added youth in the offseason in Keon Johnson, Brandon Boston Jr., and Jason Preston, none are expected to be a part of the rotation soon. Apart from Zubac, Kennard, and Mann, the Clippers’ main rotation players are no spring chickens. With George (31), Batum (32), Morris Sr. (32), Bledsoe (31), and Ibaka (32) approaching the later years of their career, the Clipper youth need to be able to spark the team defensively. 

Transition defense was a major concern for Ty Lue this preseason. To mitigate this issue, the Clippers must focus on taking care of the basketball to prevent leak-outs. Paul George led the team in turnovers last season, with 3.3 a game. He needs to keep that number down heading into this season.

5. Playmaking

Hartenstein’s production without Ibaka will be highlighted with the backup center recovering. Hartenstein displayed his playmaking chops in the preseason by hitting backdoor cutters, executing dribble hand-offs, and rolling hard as a lob threat. Adding this dynamic to the bench unit alleviates the playmaking responsibility primarily carried by George. 

The acquisition of Bledsoe has shown promise as he has efficiently operated out of the pick and roll with Ivica Zubac. Reggie Jackson must maintain his hot shooting and dynamic isolation offense displayed in the postseason. Marcus Morris Sr. will likely not have a second consecutive year of 47.3% from three. But shooting at least 40%, while being able to operate efficiently in the mid-post will be essential to open up the offense. Lastly, Terance Mann and Luke Kennard must come in with an attacking mindset to get their own offense. 

The Clipper role players are the key to how far the team goes this season. George is a bona fide star and will produce on a nightly basis. Ultimately, it is up to the supporting cast to perform when he rests or has an off night.

It will be a tough task to thrive without Leonard, but this squad has been battle-tested and inhibits the offensive pieces to be a juggernaut on that end of the floor.

 

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