Searching for the Los Angeles Clippers’ Weaknesses
The NBA is back in full swing. Each team has only played a few games. If you haven’t caught yourself overreacting, you’re simply lying to yourself. The Los Angeles Clippers were the preseason favorite to win the championship by a slim margin. Two games were enough to convince people they are the clear cut favorites.
They are a monster of a unit in perimeter defense, bench depth, and three-point shooting capped off by arguably the NBA’s best player in Kawhi Leonard. They have convinced the world they’re the best without even seeing Paul George in uniform. However, they are not perfect. The list isn’t long, but there are a few ways for opponents to capitalize on the Clippers’ weaknesses.
Finding the Clippers’ Weaknesses
Big Man Depth
Their most obvious flaw is their big man depth. Montrezl Harrell has proven himself to be a high-level pick and roll partner with Lou Williams in addition to being a great cleanup man. He can punish teams on the roll and even find teammates for open looks out of the short roll. Harrell absolutely punished the Los Angeles Lakers with his pick and roll partner to the tune of 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block in a game-high 37 minutes of action.
Harrell was spectacular for the Clippers. His fellow big men didn’t stand out on the stat sheet though. Ivica Zubac tallied eight points and one rebound, while Patrick Patterson collected four points and three rebounds. JaMychal Green was overall solid with a 12 point, six rebound performance.
On nights where Harrell can’t play or when he simply doesn’t have it, the Clippers will need their other big men to step up. The first in line would be Green. The veteran power forward from the University of Alabama is a capable floor-stretcher and can even slide in at center if his team needs it. He did so in last season’s playoffs averaging 11 points and 5.3 rebounds in 23.5 minutes. Those numbers might be all the Clippers need with Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and shooters in tow. However, if teams find a way to significantly hinder the Clippers’ main scorers in Leonard, George, and Williams, they can put pressure on the big men to be the ones who beat them.
Defending Size Versus The Lakers
The Clippers as a whole threw defended Anthony Davis well to hold him off a monster opening night performance. According to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, coach Doc Rivers told his team he’d personally pay them if they prevented Davis from landing any spin-out lobs, in which he profited heavily from in the preseason. Rivers has some paying up to do now.
The big men and guards did an excellent job collectively. But, the Laker’s schematic ineptitude needs to be accounted for as well. LeBron James and head coach Frank Vogel decided that predictable Davis isolation plays were going to be the winning ticket against the Clippers. They did that in order to attack the mismatch and create fouls but, it didn’t work consistently. The result might’ve been different if only James and Davis capitalized on their pick and roll prowess in the first half, and made an effort to give more minutes to shooters like Danny Green (who finished with 28 points while playing excellent defense on Leonard).
James and Davis combined for only 43 points in the evening. Don’t count on that result happening when they meet again on Christmas day though. If everyone stays healthy, the James-Davis dynamic and the team as a whole will be further developed. They will have a better idea of how to capitalize on their strengths and mask their weaknesses.
How Will They Fare Against Other Big Teams?
The same goes for other teams with powerful frontcourts in the NBA. Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and Milwaukee Bucks all sport powerful big men. They also all and have a chance at running into the Clippers in the playoffs. The Clippers are hoping that their perimeter defenders will put less pressure on their guys to defend size.
Guys like Maurice Harkless do a great job of causing deflections and preventing the ball from entering comfortably into the paint. They also defend incredibly aggressively at full court and the point of attack with Patrick Beverley. This is all done to take energy away from teams before they even get into the paint.
Harrell is clearly their best big man, but he’s undersized at 6’8. Zubac is their only big close to seven feet tall, but he still has a ways to go to be a consistent, playoff-worthy defender. Zubac is also slow-footed, which is why he was pulled along with Mason Plumlee doing damage against him in their preseason game.
Winning The Rebound and Three-Point Battle
Everyone knows that the Clippers offer some of the best perimeter defenders in the league. But sometimes, great offense just beats great defense. The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Clippers in the preseason 102-87. The Mavericks won the rebound battle (58 to 39) and were from three-point land (38.5 percent vs. 24.5 percent). It is worth noting that Kawhi Leonard played three quarters and the Clippers never led. Kristaps Porzingis helped by punishing them down low (18 points, 13 rebounds, +20), but their shooters gave him room to operate. Winning the battle of the boards and three-point shooting were the two deciding factors.
The sample size is incredibly small (two games). Other factors will inevitably surface that shed light on the Clippers’ weaknesses. For now, a mixture of size and competent three-point shooting looks like the formula for challenging the NBA title favorites. You need talented big men to punish their lack of size on the interior. They will do damage through scoring and rebounding, but you also need viable three-point threats to give them space to work.
The Lakers had Davis, but they failed to defeat the Clippers because Leonard and company did an amazing job defending him. Plus, the Clippers shot a significantly better field goal percentage (43.5 percent vs. 51.9 percent). James and the Lakers won the three-point battle (39.4 percent vs. 35.5 percent), but they needed to be better to give Davis room to operate. How they defend against other bigs like Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo be telling of their true defensive ability. The Clippers’ weaknesses could haunt them as the season progresses.
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