The buzzer rang as the Los Angeles Clippers fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 111-92 in the Moda Center. Paul George dropped 42 points in a dazzling display. Unfortunately, the effort was not enough as the team was unable to provide help for the seven-time All-Star. The team is off to a disappointing 1-4 record, but what is attributable to this slow start? Here are some takeaways from the slow start.
Takeaways from the Los Angeles Clippers Slow Start
Paul George Needs Help
It comes as no surprise that George is leading the team with Kawhi Leonard still sidelined with his ACL injury recovery. In the first five games, George is averaging 27.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.4 assists on 50% shooting. Consequently, the All-Star forward put up performances worthy of an MVP campaign. This includes 42 points against Portland, 41 points against Memphis, and 29 points against Golden State. However, all those games resulted in losses.
The question remains, who will be the Clippers’ second option? The non-George minutes are one of the main challenges the team faced to start. When George sits, the team struggles to generate solid shot quality and creation.
Reggie Jackson, who was a major factor in the Clippers’ playoff run, struggled to start the season. Jackson is averaging 14 points per game, good for second in the team. However, he is only shooting 31.3% from the field and 29.2% from three. The efficiency is not ideal and needs to improve for the Clippers to win games.
Luke Kennard is the third leading scorer at 12.4 points a game on 44-43-100 shooting splits. Kennard’s aggressiveness is proving to be a plus for the Clippers. But, it is not enough as the rest of the team needs to assist in carrying the offensive load.
After Eric Bledsoe‘s impressive performance in the season opener, he has since regressed. On the season, Bledsoe is averaging 10.0 points, 4.0 assists, and 3.4 rebounds. But the horrific 37.3% from the field and 18.8% from three are unacceptable for a starting guard. There were times in which Bledsoe’s shot selection was questionable, as the guard seems to settle for too many threes rather than driving to the line.
Consistency and efficiency are needed for the Clippers this season. Wearing down Paul George asks for trouble once the postseason arrives. The supporting cast needs to get it together so that George can rest and avoid straining himself to prevent burnout or potentially future injury.
Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris Sr.’s Returns are Required
Missing two key rotation pieces with playoff experience certainly does not help the Clippers’ postseason aspirations. The absence of Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris Sr. forced head coach Ty Lue to tinker with the rotations. Lue stated that both players are day-to-day which should give Clipper fans some optimism.
In his media availability, Lue stated that Ibaka is “feeling pretty good”. The addition of Ibaka’s shot-blocking should improve the team’s defense and add another veteran voice to lead. His floor spacing also allows George to operate and gives other players lanes to drive. His pick and pop presence adds another wrinkle to the offense.
Morris Sr.’s knee continues to be a concern. He fought pain throughout the 2021 playoffs and struggled to regain his regular-season form. This season, Morris Sr. faced the same struggles as his shooting and defense were not up to par.
“He tried to do it for the team in the first couple games, just tried to play and try to play through it but he wasn’t really ready”, Lue stated. At this point, the team needs to focus on getting Morris Sr. healthy and not rush him back to protect himself and the team.
The Bledsoe-Jackson Pairing Isn’t Working
Although Bledsoe and Jackson’s contrasting playstyles complement each other, it is not the case this season. The duo is posting a -7.2 net rating in their time shared on the court. It appears that Ty Lue wanted this pairing to maximize the playmaking around George. In addition, pairing Bledsoe with Jackson allows Jackson to operate mainly as a shooting guard. Unfortunately, Jackson has not shot the ball well.
Not only does Jackson’s poor shooting restrict the potential of the backcourt, but their lack of size also creates issues on the defensive end. Jackson has not been ideal defensively and the team needs to step up on that end to create stability in the starting lineup.
Bledsoe does not escape any flak. His offense since opening night has fallen off a bit. A change in a rotation may be able to rejuvenate his numbers and production, whether that be a new guard beside him or coming off the bench.
Los Angeles Clippers Transition Defense Disappoints
The Clippers looked lost in transition against the Grizzlies during their home opener. Players not getting back, lack of basket protection, and overall hustle hurt the team. Ja Morant was able to get in the lane with ease with little to no resistance. As a veteran team, that kind of performance is unacceptable.
Against the Cavaliers, the Clippers were outclassed the entire night. There was an instance in which the Clippers were able to get back in time, but Eric Bledsoe lost focus of Collin Sexton who cut inside for a layup.
Another occurrence was when Sexton outworked the entire team, seemingly portraying the story for the whole game. Sexton had the ball in a full sprint to the basket but missed the layup. However, the Clippers struggled to retrieve a rebound as they fought with Evan Mobley and Lamar Stevens. Eventually, Sexton ended up out-hustling everyone, including his teammates, to get a put-back layup.
Whether it is focus, effort, or complacency, the Clippers need to fix this issue to give them a better chance to win games.
Rotations are Still a Work In Progress
Ty Lue continues to play with the rotations as he attempts to discover the winning recipe for success. While many anticipated a different starting lineup, Lue rolled out Bledsoe-Jackson-George-Morris Sr.-Zubac to begin the season. The lineup is off to a decent start, but decent is not good enough. Morris Sr.’s knee injury has resulted in inserting Nicolas Batum into the starting power forward spot. Batum’s shooting, ball movement, and defensive versatility make him a great fit as a glue guy for the starters. One would argue that he should keep that spot even when Morris Sr. returns.
The major concern is the starting backcourt of Jackson and Bledsoe. The two guards have not gotten off to the hottest of starts. After five games, both their shooting splits have been poor and the shot selection has been questionable at times. But the question is, who should come off the bench?
So far, Lue plays Jackson with the second unit to be their main scorer. Moving him or Bledsoe to the bench can still accomplish that goal. Lue can start Jackson, then sub him out early to bring in Bledsoe to run with the starters, then bring back Jackson to lead the second unit.
Terance Mann Deserves to Start for the Los Angeles Clippers
With one of the starting guards moving to the bench, Terance Mann should be inserted into the lineup. Mann rounds out the starting lineup with his length and energy on defense to go along with his improved shooting and driving ability.
Mann is also willing to go in the trenches to battle for defensive and offensive rebounds. The added grit will bring an energy that the team lacks with the departure of Patrick Beverley. The Jackson-Mann-George-Batum-Zubac lineup also has chemistry together as they played together in last year’s postseason.
While the addition of Mann in the starting lineup will not be the cure for all the Clippers’ problems, it will provide a spark and stability that the team desperately needs to get back on track.
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