In the era of NBA super teams, the schedule is littered with tough opponents. An Eastern Conference swing, for example, could feature dates with Pascal Siakam’s Toronto Raptors and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks; the Western Conference, on the other hand, boasts the explosive Houston Rockets and a star-studded Lakers squad. One team could be especially scary, though: the Los Angeles Clippers.
While everyone knew that the Clippers would be good this season, the club is only starting to fire on all cylinders. In fact, there’s one specific reason that the rest of the NBA should be wary of what Doc Rivers is building.
The Los Angeles Clippers aggressive offseason
While the Clippers might not have the Hollywood reputation of the Lakers, the franchise is definitely trending in the right direction. They’ve made the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons, but haven’t been able to get over the hump. This summer, though, they took some major steps to try to change that reality.
In July, the Clippers shipped Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, five first-round picks, and the rights to swap two additional picks to the Oklahoma City in exchange for Paul George. Los Angeles wasn’t done there, however. The Clippers also signed Kawhi Leonard, who helped the Toronto Raptors capture their first even NBA title, in free agency.
At first glance, George and Leonard seemed like a perfect duo for the modern NBA. Both players have an elite defensive skill set and the ability to score on the offensive end; despite lining up as small forwards, either player can handle the ball or drop into the post as required. In reality, things were a bit different. Given George’s offseason shoulder surgery and Leonard’s nagging knee issues, the pair didn’t play together until late November.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George put the NBA on notice
This season, the Los Angeles Clippers have played 21 games. Despite that, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are yet to practice together.
“I don’t know how many years I’ve coached, 20 maybe, but I’ve never had it where my best two players going into Game 21 have yet to have a practice together on the floor — not one,” Doc Rivers explained. “They’ve had one practice where they’re opposing [each other in practice], but they have yet to be in the same lineup and have a practice. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of that. And yet that’s us right now. I think we’ve had three shootarounds with this group.”
That doesn’t seem to be slowing down the pair in games, though. On Sunday, the Clippers posted a dominant victory over the Washington Wizards, winning 150-125. Unsurprisingly, Leonard and George led the way with 34 points and 31 points, respectively. After the game, however, the team noticed plenty of room for improvement.
“I [still] think it’s going to take time, just learning each other, playing in these games,” Leonard said. “We’re still up-and-down, sometimes our offense is stagnant … or doing early quick shots without moving the ball. But we can be special.”
Just how good can the Los Angeles Clippers be?
Coming into the season, everyone knew that the Los Angeles Clippers would be dangerous. The fact that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are playing this well without chemistry, however, is downright scary.
Having two dynamic wing players allows the Clippers to thrive in almost every situation. While they’re perfectly comfortable playing an up-tempo game, they’re equally dangerous in a set offense. When Leonard or George handles the ball, defenses have to pick their poison; both players can beat their man off the dribble, but doubling one forward will leave the other open.
As of now, the Clippers are a virtual guarantee to make the playoffs; they also have the fourth-best chance of lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Once Paul George and Kawhi Leonard get a chance to develop some chemistry, though, they’ll be even scarier.