After dropping four straight games, the LA Clippers are back over .500. Many thought they should have a far better record than they have. And they aren’t wrong. Of their five wins, only one came against a team over .500. But considering how they looked prior to their three-game winning streak, any win is big. The Clippers currently boast the worst offense in the league, even with the third-ranked defense. Although their offense has been putrid, a significant key to their success is their superstar wing’s return to form. And everyone should be excited that Paul George is back.
Paul George is Back
“We got you.” Those were the words that George said to Kawhi Leonard while he rehabs his knee. And so far, he has backed it up. The Clippers were in a strange place when the season started. Leonard had been coming off the bench due to his minutes’ restriction so that he could play normal second-half minutes. With a team that was already trying to find their place in each role, their best player changing the usual rotation threw a wrench in the process.
Following their two wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, the Clippers dropped four straight, two to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Something was up. The offense was one of the worst in the league. Attributed to players not being efficient, Leonard being out, and George struggling. But in their last three games, George has started to find his footing. The two-way forward is averaging 31.7 points, 6.3 assists, and five rebounds. On an efficient 58.1% from the field, 50% from three, and a plus-15 when on the court.
It’s not just the numbers that tell the story of the superstar coming into form, but the eye test from his play. George had not been looking like himself at to start of the season. Apart from his 40-point performance against the Sacramento Kings, his shot appetite was not there. It could be attributed to his recent respiratory illness or even his adjusting to playing with a plethora of talent. But as of late, he is realizing that he must be the superstar of this team with Leonard out.
George has looked more aggressive and efficient in the team’s last three wins. Specifically when he operates in the mid-post and in pick-and-roll situations with center Ivica Zubac. A telling instance of his improved play was a sequence against the Houston Rockets. George caught the ball in the mid-post and felt out of the defense until he felt he could get his shot up. On the next possession, he ripped the baseline and forced help to collapse. Simultaneously, Terance Mann recognized his defender focused on George and cut to the basket. George instinctively found him which led to a score.
Another instance of George’s offensive impact is his improved chemistry with Zubac. Against Houston, five of Zubac’s six field goals were assisted by George out of their two-man game. And against the San Antonio Spurs, the team held off a San Antonio comeback by playing through George. He initially set up the offense in the last few possessions. Finding teammates after operating out of small-small pick-and-rolls, scoring from off-ball sets, and reading the defense to find open shooters. George put on a masterclass to close that game. Which has become the norm as of late. If George can keep up this play, the Clippers should be able to do more than tread water with Leonard rehabbing his knee.