A Sort-of-Healthy Kawhi Won’t Solve All of the Clippers’ Problems


It has been a volatile month for every NBA organization associated with the Crypto.com Arena. Stadium sponsor and Staples replacement might be in trouble. The Lakers are 5-11, closer to last place in the West than to the play-in. And the Clippers haven’t made too much noise either, starting the season 2-4 with star Kawhi Leonard missing even more time with an injury.

Since then, the Clips have evened things out (sorry), winning all three games since Leonard’s return last week and going up 11-7. Ahead of Wednesday’s national televised game against the Warriors, they are fourth in the West and are one of the favorites – along with those under .500 Warriors – to win the Western Conference, according to the latest FanDuel odds.

But a relatively healthy Leonard, who accidentally misses Wednesday’s exhibition game along with star teammate Paul George, won’t solve all the problems for a team expected to be ahead in the title race. Even after winning three games in a row, their points difference plus 0.3 points per game is still underwhelming, ranking eighth in the West. And this despite one of the NBA’s easiest schedules to date; more than half of their wins come from the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs, the bottom three teams in the Western Conference.

The problems are centered on one side of the ball: while the Clippers are second in NBA defense, according to Cleaning the Glass, they are only 28th in offense. This imbalance is worrisome for two reasons. The first concerns their company in 2022-2023: no one else at the bottom of the attacking rankings looks like a contender.

Least Effective NBA Violations, 2022-2023

TeamOffensive rankWrite down
TeamOffensive rankWrite down

The second reason is related to history: from 2009-10. only one team made it to the finals but did not finish in the top ten in offense, according to Cleaning the Glass. Of course, that team was the 2021–22 Warriors, who had just won the title with a 17th-seed offensive lineup, but that’s still not enough precedent for a team to succeed with such an underperforming offensive play. Defense can win championships, as the cliché goes, but offense in the top 10 is also critical.

While the Clippers extended their winning streak after Leonard’s return, they did so against the Pistons (29th in defense), the Spurs (30th), and the Jazz (24th). ). They still have a long way to go to prove they can score at championship level.

The problem isn’t what happens when the Clippers throw the ball. They have the worst shot quality in the league but second in shot quality. manufacturing (or how their actual throw percentage compares to their expected percentage based on factors such as the location of the shot and the distance to the defender). Only the up-and-coming Kings this season are better at shooting because George, Norman Powell, fired up from a terrible start, and the rest of the Clippers who make up Leonard’s supporting roster can transform complex looks. These Clippers are a perfect example of a phenomenon I explored last season where the quality of the shot doesn’t really matter anymore.

The 2022-2023 Clippers’ shooting distribution is very similar to what it was during the Leonard-George era: they barely reach the rim but make up for it with solid midrange and three-point shooting. In fact, they’re faring worse this season than they’ve been in any of the past seasons.

Clippers 3-Point Percentage

2022-23 (so far)36.0%15th

— but we should expect that score to improve as the season progresses given the quality of the shooters on the LA roster. The Clippers made 12 fewer three-pointers than we expected based on their shooting history, the second biggest deficit in the NBA. (Only the Lakers are worse at minus 15.)

But even with a lag in three-point shooting, the Clippers are still in the top 10 in field goal percentage. The problem, on the contrary, is that everything that happens before and after the shot goes up. Basketball statistician Dean Oliver “Four Success Factors in Basketball” are shooting, turnovers, rebounds and free throws, and the Clippers offense does not fit into the three non-shooting categories of this quartet.

The Clippers are ranked 27th in turnover, according to CtG, ahead of only reckless youth from Houston, Orlando, and San Antonio. It’s a disaster for a team with so many experienced defenders and wingers whose biggest moves of the past year have been the addition of Powell and John Wall; this is the franchise’s worst turnover since 2010-11, which was their final season before being traded for Chris Paul.

They also rank 27th in offensive rebounding against CtG, which makes more sense given the roster structure. Ivica Zubac is the only center in the rotation as the team opted to fill their frontcourt with interchangeable strikers like Robert Covington instead. But when Zubac is off the court and the team is playing little, the Clippers record only 19.2 percent of their misses. For context, that’s worse than the full season figure for any team in the CtG database that goes back to 2003-04.

The combination of more assists and fewer offensive rebounds means the Clippers are winning. fewer rolls per 100 possessions than any other team in the league. And while other teams at the bottom of this list, like the 76ers, Kings and Trail Blazers, make up for their lack of field goal attempts by getting to the line with a good margin, the Clippers are only 19 Ranked in free throws. Hot shooting isn’t enough when the Clippers lose the opportunity to fight every game.

Leonard’s return to the starting lineup after missing 13 of the team’s first 15 games should help stabilize the situation. Two-time Finals MVP – low turnover player. He can draw fouls. And, perhaps most importantly, he should provide a huge boost when George isn’t playing because the Clippers have failed so far without their stars.

And yet, despite the fact that any NBA team would struggle without their best player, not all problems are the result of Leonard’s absence. Much of the hope for the Clippers is that the biggest roster in the NBA will back the Clippers, even when Leonard and/or George, who now suffers from day-to-day hamstring strain, is running out of time.

This aspiration was not realized. Lead guards Powell, Reggie Jackson and Wall were involved in an accident. (Back on the court after missing all of last season, Wall looks great as a passer but ranks 122nd in true shooting percentage out of 132 players with at least 140 field goals.) Tooth has never been less effective. in Clippers uniform. And the Clippers have a dismal 99.2 points per 100 possessions when Leonard and George are on the sidelines for CtG.

The big question for coach Tyrone Liu with Leonard back is how much you can rely on centerless five-out configurations. By playing with an even smaller ball, two goals could be achieved. First, it would help find playing time for all the capable perimeter players on the lineup; already, even in Leonard’s absence, Covington had fallen out of the regular rotation, and Nicholas Batum had seen his minutes dwindle. (Covington and Batum are better on defense but limited on offense, so it’s a hopeful sign that the defense has been so tight no matter what.)

Second, a five-out approach can directly boost offense, as was the case with the Clippers in the Conference Finals in the 2021 postseason. The Clippers have fared better this season playing smaller players, ranking in the 59th percentile on CtG without Tooth compared to the ninth percentile when he’s on the floor.

However, a defensive compromise, if Zubac plays less, could be costly. Zubac leads the defense, Clippers…

Source: www.theringer.com