The season is still incredibly young for the Los Angeles Clippers, who will be in the feeling out process with new addition James Harden for quite some time. Introducing a star into your system (who also might think of himself as a system) is going to be a worthy challenge for Ty Lue, who will have to find ways to infuse the core of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden with enough athleticism, defense and rebounding to overcome some of the challenges an older, slower, more offensive-minded group is going to naturally be afflicted with.
The early season has played out right about as you'd expect for the Clippers, except in the win-loss column. Through seven games the Clippers have a great net differential (+5.7), but still sit at 3-4. The old axiom of, “you are what your record says you are” doesn't ring all that true just a fraction of the way into a season, especially with James Harden only playing in two games thus far.
But it's hard to blame anyone unwilling to be patient for this to work. The Clippers are in Year 5 of the great 213 experiment of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and the window to win a championship is rapidly closing. The Clippers have the oldest roster in the league, with no real long-term commitments for any of their stars in place yet. The Clippers can't afford to burn a year getting to know each other.
The biggest disappointment for the Clippers thus far
Seeing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George actually share the floor together for an extended stretch of games has been a breath of fresh air, and both have been efficient offensive hubs together. The Clippers have defended pretty well to start the season, turning their opponents over at a high rate.
The problem has mostly been the things veterans shy away from in the early stages of the season — a lack of physical play both on the defensive glass and when getting to the rim.
That should probably be expected for an older team with a long history of health issues, but it's an issue that's going to cause the Clippers to lose a good chunk of games they should easily win. Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard combined for 29 field goal attempts without a single free throw in a loss to the Knicks where the Clippers let up 18 offensive rebounds and collected only seven. The loss to Brooklyn in the next game featured much of the same, as Paul George was the only Clipper to go to the free-throw line more than once, with a few defensive possessions that looked like this.
Not uncommon to see Leonard show frustration, but definitely understandable why he was annoyed at the end of this clip due to the lack of box outs on the perimeter. Leonard was hustling his tail off around screens. Lot of tired effort from the guards. pic.twitter.com/oq30hfrShG
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 9, 2023
The reason to sound the alarm for the Clippers has very little to do with the talent level, or how the pieces can fit. It's more about the lack of a sense of urgency, which is harder for veterans to manufacture during November basketball. The return of spark plug Terrance Mann will help a lot in that regard, and the sample size is so small that it's hard to panic too much yet. Losing Mason Plumlee for an extended period of time hurts, but the Clippers should take the opportunity to inject some more physical youth into the lineup to cover up for the weaknesses the core group has exhibited so far.