Now that the big three era in Los Angeles is officially over, where are the Clippers headed in 2018?
Since the departure of DeAndre Jordan this offseason, the big three era in Los Angeles is officially over with nothing to show for it besides some first-round playoff wins. However, with plenty of veterans on the roster, Doc Rivers still at the helm, and a potential Jimmy Butler trade on the way, the Clippers don’t look to be in full rebuilding mode anytime soon.
With the team appearing to be in conference purgatory right between tanking and contending for the playoffs, what can we expect from this enigmatic squad for the upcoming season?
Although they were in the spotlight for large parts of the season due to dramatic storylines, the Clippers couldn’t translate this erratic attention to success on the basketball court. They did manage a winning record of 42-40, but placed tenth in a tightly-packed Western Conference. On offense, the team landed in the top ten, headlined by the Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, but couldn’t get things together on the other side of the ball, finishing 24th in the league on defense.
One of the biggest headlines for the Clippers’ tumultuous season was the departure of former number one overall pick Blake Griffin. Griffin, who signed a max contract during the offseason, was expecting to “finish his career” in LA. But six months after signing the deal, the Clippers decided to send their homegrown talent to the Pistons in exchange for a package centered around Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and a first-round pick. That trade sent shockwaves through the NBA and ultimately put the Clippers’ loyalty to its players in question.
The Clippers held their free agent meeting with Griffin at Staples. They lowered the lights in the arena and raised his jersey to the rafters as a choir sang. The PA announcer said: “Tonight, we’re honoring a lifelong Clipper.”— Lee Jenkins (@ByLeeJenkins) January 29, 2018
However, the Clippers’ main core outside of Griffin did perform well last year. The aforementioned Williams was the team’s brightest spot, as he averaged career highs of 23 points and five assists per game while coming off the bench. Also, the Griffin trade gave them a player to build around in Tobias Harris, who scored 19 points per game on extremely efficient shooting (41% from three and a 53% effective field goal percentage).
The team made some important strides to solidify their future this offseason, despite not yet fully committing to a rebuild. With the 11th and 13th picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Clippers selected guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, respectively.
Gilgeous-Alexander, a point guard, is expected to be an athletic scorer in their offense with solid passing and rebounding abilities for his position, as he averaged 13 points per game, along with five assists and four rebounds per game. Also, despite the Clippers’ substantial need for a big man heading into the Draft, they still got solid value in the Kentucky prospect, who was probably the best player available at the time of the selection and will fill the hole left by the departures of Chris Paul and Austin Rivers.
With Robinson, the Clippers get another guard who can score in bunches, although he may not be as athletic as Gilgeous-Alexander. Robinson averaged about 21 points per game last year at Boston College and increased his scoring totals each season he played for them. The pair can be expected to score efficiently too, as each player shot at least 40% from three and 48% overall at the collegiate level last year.
In hopes of remaining competitive, the Clippers added two veterans in center Marcin Gortat and forward Luc Mbah a Moute. Gortat, who was traded from the Wizards, will provide a decent interior presence to lessen the blow of losing one of the best centers in the league in Jordan. Mbah a Moute should add a defensive aptitude that’s lacking in the Clippers’ main forwards, Harris and Danilo Gallinari, as he averaged over one steal per game last season and made shooters miss about 1.2% more shots than they normally would.
Upcoming Season Preview
Having a roster of mostly veterans and a head coach who expects to win, the Clippers may face a reality shock next year. With the closest thing to star power in Jordan leaving the organization this summer, they have, at best, a decent chance to make the playoffs next year, barring a trade for Butler or another superstar. Additionally, the Clippers have some questions surrounding their roster because of its ridiculous number of guards.
For the shooting guard position specifically, the team will likely have Williams come off the bench again this year because of his ascendancy in that role in 2017. However, they have to make room for Bradley, who has proven to be a capable starting shooting guard throughout his career, along with Robinson. While having too much talent at a given position is not necessarily a bad thing, it becomes a concern when the team isn’t competing and has holes on other areas of the roster, which is the case with the Clippers.
Another important part of the team to look out for is the potential chemistry between Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson. While both shot well in college, neither is a pass-first player, and the two could have trouble sharing the ball with one another.
Also, with Patrick Beverley on the roster, it will be interesting to see whether he or Gilgeous-Alexander starts, as this decision could be an indicator of the Clippers’ willingness to develop its prospects, or lack thereof.
European passing aficionado Milos Teodosic will have to fit in this compact rotation as well, considering he played about 25 minutes per game last year.
It will also be intriguing to see how the team incorporates small forward Danilo Gallinari into the offense, as he is one of the Clippers’ most talented scorers. Gallinari missed about 75% of the season in his debut with the Clippers last year and only shot 40% from the field. However, Gallinari was a near 20-point-per-game scorer in Denver just two years ago and could form a solid scoring tandem with his front court partner in Harris.
The Clippers do have another potential bright spot that they may have not even seen coming in seven-footer Boban Marjanovic. The towering center was an extra piece in the Griffin trade but has performed admirably since being on the squad, albeit in limited playing time. During this preseason, Marjanovic led the Clippers to an undefeated record, scoring 1.18 points per minute played while making an incredible 77% of his shots. With Jordan leaving the squad this summer and plenty of minutes up for grabs, it could be Marjanovic’s time to shine.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Clippers look to be in one of the most perplexing positions in the NBA. They have a veteran roster with plenty of scoring talent, but lack depth at the center and have minimal star power on their roster at the moment. If anything, the Clippers should figure out what direction they want to go in during the coming season because they almost certainly won’t be competing for a championship. Unless they solidify their plans for the future, they won’t shed the label of “LA’s second team” anytime soon.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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