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A Longer-term look at the LA Clippers

Natty examines the present and future of the LA franchise.

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The LA Clippers, sans Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are almost assuredly playoff-bound. Prior to Tuesday’s games the Clippers were in 8th place in the Western Conference at 34-32 (three fewer wins than the sixth seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the East). They have more wins than the Los Angeles Lakers, who’ve had LeBron James and Sergeant Russell Westbrook for most of the season, and Anthony Davis for some of it. That’s astonishing, and a testament to the Clippers coach, Ty Lue. I’ve had my doubts about Lue as a coach, but this season puts that skepticism to rest: he’s been magnificent and he’s managed the Clips without their stars to a better record than their, uh, co-arena “rival,” the Lakeshow. Lue, in my opinion, has to be on the shortlist for Coach of the Year, along with Monty Williams, Spo, Taylor Jenkins, JKidd, and Tom Thibodeau (just kidding).

The Clippers have the 7th best Defensive Rating as a team; again, without their two star players, who are also ferocious defenders. Their elite defense has made up for their sub-mediocre offense: LA’s 26th in Offensive Rating (the Houston Rockets are 27th, to put that in context). They’re 21st in field goal percentage overall. BUT! The Clips have the fourth BEST team 3-point percentage, in between the Hawks and the Suns. They have the BEST overall 3PT% on catch-and-shoot threes. So, as a team, they’re basically equivalent to an elite 3&D player, but without two of the best 3&D two-way players in the NBA! That impresses the hell out of me. Six Clippers are averaging at least 4 3-point attempts per game this season, and four of them shoot threes at an above-average rate; only Paul George and Reggie Jackson have sub-standard 3PT percentages.

It’s not all good news. The Clippers aren’t a great rebounding team, and they’re bottom 10 in drives per game, which is perhaps a glaring indication that, again, they’re missing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but they’re middle of the pack in their FG% on drives. LA has the 19th best team True Shooting percentage (the Rockets are 18th), but I’d bet dollars to donuts that number improves when Kawhi, PG13, and Norm Powell are back on the court next season. (Remember, Norm Powell’s on this team now! He’s just injured. Rob Bob Covington is also on the Clippers). The Clippers’ issues as a team WILL be improved by getting their stars back, which seems obvious, but in the context of what the non-stars have been able to do this season, the returns of two All-NBA talents should terrify the rest of the NBA.

Even though the Clippers will most likely make the playoffs this season, it’s next year that really matters for them. The trio of Kawhi, PG13, and Norm is set in stone, I should think. If Ivica Zubac is still on the team, then he’s the starting big man. What happens with the fifth spot, though? Will they start RJax after Reggie’s most impressive season (former Piston, by the way), or will the Clippers extend Robert Bob Covington, and start him, instead? Or, will Ty Lue do Ty Lue stuff and change the lineups based on matchups?

Here’s who’s on the Clippers roster next season, from largest salary down:

Paul George

Kawhi Leonard

Norman Powell

Marcus Morris, Sr.

Luke Kennard (another former Piston)

Reggie Jackson

Ivica Zubac

Nic Batum (player option)

Terence Mann

Amir Coffey

The Clips can extend Rob Bob and Isaiah Hartenstein (who I like, but is limited by foul trouble). That’s 12 players right there, and they have Jay Scrubb, BJ Boston, and Jason Preston under contract, as well, but those three guys are all moveable/cheap. Is that a roster than can be upgraded, either at the point guard position, or at center? Probably. But, is such an upgrade possible without sending out too much talent? Unless the Clips can get another elite playmaker (who doesn’t need to shoot) or rim protector (who doesn’t need to shoot), then I think it’ll be tough to find an upgrade that really moves the needle while NOT taking shots away from Kawhi and Paul George. So, the roster we see today may look remarkably similar to the one we see next October when the season begins. We’ll see if LA can move some of their less important players to augment the roster, but they’ll be pretty goddamn good and instant title contenders once the stars are playing.

In fantasy, both Kawhi and PG13 will be high draft picks, of course. What about the Clippers who’ve actually played this year, though?

Los Angeles Clippers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Here are the seven Clippers who’ve played at least 1000 minutes this season, in descending order (we’re not counting the traded Eric Bledsoe), and their fantasy values so far this season:

Reggie Jackson, #97 on the Player Rater for the season

Terence Mann, #113 PR

Luke Kennard, #134 PR

Ivica Zubac, #77 PR

Marcus Morris, Sr., #185 PR

Amir Coffey, #190 PR

Nic Batum, #182 PR

I kinda doubt Terence Mann’s role will be as large next season as this season, but he’ll be a nice (cheap) option off the bench. Ditto Coffey. Zubac (who’s only 24 years old!) should benefit enormously, and will probably maintain top 75 value. RJax on the other hand will fall outside the top 100, I think, whether he’s a starter or coming off the bench.

Then, of course, there are the two ex-Trail Blazers. Rob Covington is #53 on the player rater (!) this season (he’s a stocks guy, averaging 1+ 3PM, 1+ steal per game, and 1+ block per game since joining LA), and Norm Powell is #129 on the season (he only played 3 games for the Clippers before getting injured). I think Norm will be a top 100 player, but his scoring volume may vary a lot from game to game. Covington is tougher to predict, because he’s not a fantasy player that gives you points. If he can’t keep up his stocks, then his fantasy value will plummet. It’s difficult to invest a lot in a fantasy player like that (just ask all the Matisse Thybulle owners), but it can absotively posilutely work out if those players can give you volume in peripheral stats. Rob Bob is a player who’s done just that in his career, so here’s hoping he can keep it up next season.

And, let’s not forget Hartenstein, who’s up to #153 on the player rater this season! I kinda love the duo of him and Zubac, two young bigs with tons of energy and talent.

Kennard’s and Morris’s roles are almost certain to diminish, but they could still be good bench guys for your fantasy squad, capable of having big games from time to time, especially since we must assume that both Kawhi and PG13 will take games off for load management (especially Kawhi). Dukie Lukie Kennard and Morris, Sr., are streamers at best, I think.

The Clippers, and especially Ty Lue and Reggie Jackson, are a success story this season. Not only are they a better team than the Lakers, they’re a playoff team, perhaps one that gives a first round opponent a seven-game series (to be fair, a healthy Lakers squad could do that, too—and, really, never bet against LeBron). AND the Clippers are primed to improve this offseason, no matter what they do, which is a credit to their front office. The roster is full of capable, competent professional basketballers, and they’re coached by a guy who’s basically seen it all, as a player and with the clipboard. There are few more creative coaches in the NBA than Lue. If you give him a roster, he’ll find it’s optimum (eventually). Much like LeBron, his former star in Cleveland, Ty Lue’s willing to take the time to feel out the season/series, and take calculated risks with lineups. The Clippers will have the least elite talent on their roster out of all the playoff teams, but they won’t be the worst team. Like I said before, that’s hella impressive. The Clips aren’t a legit threat this year, but they may just be the most dangerous team in the NBA next season.