Finally, Los Angeles has a rivalry that should set the NBA alight. For too long the Lakers have dominated but now the Clippers are a genuine powerhouse.
When Kawhi Leonard signed for the LA Clippers and not the LA Lakers, there was a genuine shock in the world of the NBA. It was the equivalent to a casino bonus for the Los Angeles underdogs.
However, such is the star power of one player, the confidence of the whole franchise has risen to new heights. Much as should have been the case for a long time, the Clippers are now a genuine possibility for the championship title.
Wondering why the Clippers are suddenly a standout team in the NBA? Here’s our assessment.
1. Kawhi Leonard Has Lived Up To The Hype
It is not new for a basketball franchise to be built around one or two-star players. However, what is new with the Clippers is that they haven’t before attracted someone in the All-Star bracket like Kawhi Leonard. Therefore, there was every possibility that he would arrive but not show up and the season would fall flat. However, he has proven to be one of the greats of the games as anticipated, if not the best player ever in defense.
His stats for the season are spectacular - with a 27.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.3 APG and 1.8 SPG. He has played an average of more than 32 minutes per game. Not only has this matched expectations, but his three-ball shooting has exceeded the work in other seasons. He has also converted 90% of attempts from the free-throw line.
2. Paul George Was A Great Signing Too
The Clippers went all into to acquire both Leonard and George last summer and it has definitely paid off for the franchise. The new superstar duo are definitely leading the way. What couldn’t have been guaranteed was how well the two work together, gelling well to maximize the potential of each other.
The pair need to play together more to leverage this talent, but that will come with time and more thoughtful coaching. They have only played in 32 of the 64 regular game season. You may think this is wise spreading of resources but they should be able to double up on star power more than this. Just look across at the Lakers and the amount of court time shared by James and Davis, and this should be the model.
Leonard and George are arguably two of the top 10 players in the whole NBA. When you have this sort of talent on your side, you are in with a shot of the championship.
3. A Deep Bench
However, it would be a fragile team if it completely revolved around star power. Some of the stand out teams from history have been such because they had strength and depth from the bench. The starting unit for the Clippers is awesome, with Beverley, Morris and Zubac complementing each other and the star men.
But then there is Williams, Harrell, Shamet and more who can all step up and play a part. Shamet scores the fifth most points for the Clippers and is highly effective when the clock is ticking down and you need a three-pointer from nowhere. He scores 39.2% of his points as three-pointers. You also have to mention the work ethic of guys like Reggie Jackson and JaMychal Green - who can come from deep and offer some potency in attack. This pool of talent betters anything else in the NMA both in terms of points scored per possession and attitude.
4. An Outstanding Team Culture
The last point, that the attitude of this bench exceeds that of all others, is an essential ingredient in what has heightened the value of the team. But, this mostly comes from the Clippers belief, probably for the first time ever, that they could win the championship. It is easy to stay motivated when you feel you are in with a chance of ultimate success - and it is clear it is this ethos that has driven the team to new levels of success.
Why is this the case? Well, there was a change in owner and therefore a change in attitude. Ballmer, unlike Sterling, is willing to pay out for the talent needed to be a title-contending franchise. Since 2014, Ballmer has been investing in the franchise - first in the front office and the coaching staff and now on the court. Getting the foundations and structure in place means that the hope of nurturing genuine talent is a realistic goal. Without this, the Clippers would have struggled to pitch the move to the likes of Leonard and George.
As Ballmer pointed out himself, there is “championship DNA” in the coaching staff and now the same “DNA” in the locker room- and with this comes the excitement of possible victory. Therefore, the Clippers are the real deal now, with a winning mindset, a strong roster and a sprinkle of stardust is likely just what the team needs to bring home the championship. Oh, and a massive dose of luck along the way too.