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3 takeaways from the Clippers’ 1-3 start without Kawhi Leonard

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The Los Angeles Clippers are off to a 1-3 start without Kawhi Leonard. The two-time NBA Finals MVP is still nursing a minor ACL injury and there’s no specific date for his return. While a ton of Clippers fans are playing the blame game once again, there’s no reason to panic this early on. Yes, 1-3 isn’t an idea start. But there are some still good things we can takeaway from the first four regular season games.

3 Clippers takeaways after 1-3 start

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The Clippers are still a decent defensive team with Eric Bledsoe and Paul George

Without one of the best two-way players in NBA history, one would expect the Clippers to have massive defensive problems. This is true, only up to a certain extent. Let’s not forget that they still have Paul George who’s knowledge of the game and defensive awareness is still top-notch. Apart from doing his own duties, George constantly communicates on defense, telling his teammates to pick up their rotations.

Apart from George, there’s also new addition Eric Bledsoe who’s also a decorated defensive player, having been selected into the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2019 and All-Defensive Second Team in 2020. Bledsoe’s out for vengeance this season. To recall, he was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks for three seasons during its rise to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. After the Bucks let him go via trade, the team suddenly won a title. Some critics quickly identified him as the rotten apple. This chip on his shoulder could just make him the X-factor for the Clippers as they power thru the season without Leonard.

 

Rebounding problems

Another aspect that the Clippers are clearly missing is Kawhi Leonard’s rebounding. The man is averaging 6.4 rebounds for his career. There’s no question that Leonard follows his own adage: “board man gets paid.” Without Leonard, the Clippers are struggling in the rebounding department. Leonard, when not rebounding, is very diligent in boxing out. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, they were massively out-rebounded, 57-36.

One could say that this was inevitable. After all, the Cavaliers are a massive team with a ton of seven-footers headlined by Jarret Allen, Lauri Markannen, and Evan Mobley. Who could forget Kevin Love who’s just an absolute beast in the rebounding category. However, However, in the Clippers’ 115-113 loss to the Golden State Warriors — a team considerably smaller than the Cavaliers — they were also out-rebounded 53 to 39.

The Clippers are not just missing Leonard’s absence, center Serge Ibaka has been out for a while due to back problems. The man is considerably a better rebounder and defender than Ivica Zubac. Apart from which, Ibaka is more versatile on offense. Zubac usually gets his points thru last-second dishes in the paint and second-chance points. Ibaka can do the same exact thing. Plus he can also create his own shots, shoot 3-pointers and mid-range shots.

 

The Clippers are still a good team

This early in the season, it would be foolish to discount the Clippers because of Leonard’s absence. Simply put, they still have tons of weapons who all have the capacity to fill in the void left by Leonard. Luke Kennard has shown glimpses of how good he is as a playmaker. Terrance Mann is continuing to develop as a solid all-around guy. Reggie Jackson might be struggling from the field but this doesn’t take away his potency as an offensive player. Of course, there’s Nicolas Batum who doesn’t just add veteran leadership but is also one heck of a defender.

Let’s not forget that the Clippers might still be solidifying their identity as a team after giving up Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley — two key guards who were part of their core. It would take some time. It’s too early in the season to predict how the team will fare. Once Leonard returns and as the team plays more games, we might see things change for the better.