What Were the Los Angeles Clippers? - SolidRumor.com

What Were the Los Angeles Clippers?

 What Were the Los Angeles Clippers?

Every basketball team worth its salt has an identity. They know exactly what they are and how they want to play every time they step on the court. You can name their style whenever they come up in conversation.

The Rockets switch everything, launch three-pointers,and isolate with James Harden; the Los Angeles Lakers are LeBron James doing LeBron James things; the Toronto Raptors are a bottomless defensive pit of arms, intelligence, and adaptability to the schemes of Professor Nick Nurse.

But it has been impossible to summarize the Los Angeles Clippers all season long, other than maybe “we have Kawhi Leonard.” The reigning Finals MVP and arguable best player alive hand-picked Paul George, who had just received more MVP votes than every player except Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, to join an endearingly scrappy supporting cast that succeeded without star power in 2018-19. That team’s identity was Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell crunch-time pick-and-rolls and underdog attitude, but all that had to go out the window when Leonard and George arrived.

And so, despite their supreme talent on and off the bench, it was fair to wonder at the beginning of the season what this team would be. With endless possibilities on offense and defense at their disposal, how would they play? Fast? Slow? Big? Versatile? Would they launch a ton of threes, develop a lethal two-man game with Leonard and George, blitz ball-handlers, switch everything?

All season long, I assumed the answer was “all of the above.” Leonard and George kept missing time due to load management and shoulder surgery, but the Clippers finished with the NBA’s second-best offense and fifth-best defense, healthy marks of a championship favorite. George, Leonard, and Williams ran an effective screen-and-roll game with Ivica Zubac and Harrell. Beverley harassed the opponent’s point guard without having to assume those responsibilities on the offensive end. All the pieces fit. Nothing looked “wrong,” per se. If times got tough in the playoffs, one assumed they’d just put the ball in Leonard’s exceptional hands and watch him take the game over—a reasonable conclusion, given how incredible L.A.’s crunchtime offense was all year long.

Now that the Denver Nuggets have not only come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Clippers, but done so in humiliating fashion—the Clippers gave up 15-plus point third quarter leads in two games, and lost the decider by 20 points—that has obviously turned out to be wrong. As it turns out, Leonard can’t do everything by himself, and when he went historically cold in the second half of Game 7, the entire team self-combusted.

And now that the Clippers’ season is officially over, I struggle to think of any identifiable qualities that stretch beyond the enormous talent they assembled. Why is it so hard to come up with a two-sentence elevator pitch for a team that was supposed to be the best in the league?

When you look at how and from where they scored this season, the Clippers took very little to the extreme. They were 12th in fastbreak points, 13th in points off turnovers, 24th in points in the paint, and 16th in three-point rate. They didn’t assist each other’s baskets at a high frequency, and their volume of pick-and-rolls and isolation plays were about in line with any other quality offense. They limited opposing opportunities around the basket very well, but forfeited a bunch of threes. They played pretty fast but didn’t attack all that often in transition.

Taken together, it’s the profile of a team that might not have ever really been a team. The Clippers had four five-man units that logged at least 75 minutes during the regular season. That number is normal, but then you look at the players involved and it’s almost like four different rosters are mashed together.

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