4 things to watch for from Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers in the regular season
LOS ANGELES – On Monday afternoon, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the LA Clippers wrapped up their final practice of training camp and the preseason. The following night will mark opening night of the 2019-20 NBA season, one in which the Clippers will be closely watched all year long.
For the third straight year, the Clippers went to Hawaii for a week to host their training camp in early October. Although they weren’t at 100 percent, Doc Rivers and his team were away from the distractions of Los Angeles and able to teach while also learning about his deep roster.
Leonard then ramped up his work and impressed in his preseason debut against the Denver Nuggets back in Los Angeles. The team continued intense scrimmaging as they tried to play ‘catch-up’ with the some of the other teams in the Western Conference.
All in all, it was a successful preseason for the Clippers. Having been able to travel with the team to Hawaii for training camp and be with them on a day-to-day basis basically throughout the entire preseason, here are my takeaways from Clippers’ training camp and the preseason as well as things to watch for heading into opening night:
1. Rebounding Remains A Big Concern
Over the last couple of years, the one thing that has plagued the Clippers is rebounding. During the 2018-19 season, the Clippers were a middle of the pack rebounding team, averaging 45.5 per game while allowing 45.7 rebounds per game to their opponents.
The most concerning part is the offensive rebounding, or rather their inability to prevent them. During the 2018-19 season, the Clippers allowed third most offensive rebounds per game at 11.3. The only two teams worse than them? The 19-63 Phoenix Suns and 32-50 Washington Wizards.
If you’re thinking those numbers might be skewed by their pre-trade deadline moves that swapped Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Marcin Gortat, and Avery Bradley for Landry Shamet, Ivica Zubac, JaMychal Green, and Garrett Temple, you’re partially right.
The Clippers did improve by allowing 10.8 offensive rebounds after their roster-changing moves (compared to 11.5 by pre-trade deadline roster), but that mark was still eighth worst among the 30 NBA teams.
At least for now, it appears the biggest thing the Clippers are banking on this season is the trio of new forwards they acquired in the offseason. George (8.2 RPG) and Leonard (7.3 RPG) are exceptional rebounders for their positions, and Harkless (4.5 RPG) can do so as well.
It may have been the preseason, but the Clippers were second worst among NBA teams in the preseason, grabbing just 41.6 rebounds per game, while also coming in seventh worst among NBA teams in opponent’s rebounding, allowing 48 rebounds per game.
I don’t think they’ll be quite this bad in the regular season, but it’s definitely something to watch for as the season goes on.
2. The Managing Of Loads
The Clippers have said that Kawhi Leonard and the team will be approaching load management in ways that’ll differ from the strict regimen he had with the Toronto Raptors last season. Over several weeks in the preseason, Leonard has remained consistent in saying this year will be different than the last. He was firm on the matter in his latest response after the Clippers’ preseason finale against the Dallas Mavericks.
“No,” said Kawhi Leonard when asked if he’ll follow the same load management schedule as last year with the Raptors. “I was injured last year coming in, so that was the only way I could play the schedule and not really affect the team and the outcomes. So this year will be a lot different.”
Not sure if ‘a lot different’ is something fans want to hear, especially considering the load management did its job and Leonard was successfully preserved for the postseason where he led the Raptors to the NBA Championship.
Two guys to watch for throughout the season aside from Leonard will be Paul George and Lou Williams.
We all know about George’s offseason shoulder surgeries, one on each shoulder. The Clippers have been very cautious with ramping up his work and will likely be even more cautious once he makes his return. With the long-term goals this team has, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see George play short bursts and rest on some nights until he gets back into game shape.
At almost 33 years of age, Lou Williams is the oldest player on the Clippers’ roster. He’s played in 154-of-164 regular season games over the last two years with the Clippers, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
“It’s funny though, I needed someone to tell me — we forget that Lou’s a veteran because of the way he plays,” said coach Rivers. “He looks like he could play forever.”
3. Terrance Is The Mann
There aren’t many ways to say it other than just to say it: Terance Mann is a talented player who will be a key figure in the Clippers’ rotation this season.
Even Rivers admitted during training camp that players were essentially asking to see more of the rookie throughout scrimmages and in the games.
“Sometimes the coaches kind of decide who should play. Sometimes the players with their actions tell the coaches. And just watching, the players’ actions are almost saying, ‘we gotta play Terance Mann more.’ Because that’s the guy you see them always talking to. They’re always on him. They’re always encouraging him. It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘hey you gotta get going, you gotta get ready now.’
Mann averaged 6.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 24 minutes of preseason action. The numbers aren’t stunning by any stretch, but his decision-making, his court-vision, and his downhill play are all things that have made Doc, the players, and the front office high on Mann.
It was thought that he may not see playing time right away, but with Paul George out for the first 10 games and Rodney McGruder unlikely for opening night, Mann could step right in with the second unit and make an immediate impact.
He will have to improve defensively, however, so that is the one thing he has going against him right now. Defense in college basketball and defense in the NBA are two different animals.
4. Full Potential Remains Unknown
It’s hard to know just how good the Clippers will be until they play at full strength with their entire lineup available. Throughout training camp as well as the preseason, it’s been noted that George hasn’t taken any contact at all. Doc Rivers said last week that the team will be without George ‘for the first 10 [games].’
The Clippers have been scrimmaging far more than prior years due in large part to the injuries, but mainly to the lack of familiarity with one another. Injuries considered, this team might not even hit it’s stride until December or January, depending on when George returns.
Doc Rivers says with this team and the season they’re expected to have, you can never have enough practice time.
“You certainly don’t in these days in the NBA, there’s no doubt that,” said Rivers. “We’ve cut out exhibition games, which I’m all for. But we’ve also cut out a lot practices. So each year it seems like there’s less and less practice time. That’s just tough.
“It’s short. It’s not enough. That’s the only thing from a coaching standpoint and even a league standpoint that I actively fight for is more practice time before the season starts. My concern is more health reasons than anything else because I think it’s too short.”
In addition to George, Leonard has been getting his legs under him and the rust out of him after not playing basketball for the all summer for the first time. He’ll likely take a week or two to get fully into game shape.
Rodney McGruder, a huge pickup after he was cut by the Miami Heat last year, has been dealing with a high ankle sprain for a few weeks now, and those always take some time to get back from, depending on the severity. It sounds like he’s out for opening night, and possibly more, in addition to George.
Patrick Beverley has been dealing with a calf issue, but in typical Pat manner, he shot down any talk of him not being 100 percent and is ready for the season opener.
The Clippers will take on the Lakers Tuesday night at 7:30PM PST on TNT.