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The truth behind Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Tyronn Lue, per Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Tyronn Lue, Clippers, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy

After a spectacular 2021 postseason, Paul George and Tyronn Lue will lead the LA Clippers into the 2021-22 campaign without the services of Kawhi Leonard. The two-time NBA Finals MVP is expected to miss a significant portion of the season as he works his way back from offseason ACL surgery. The Clippers, however, can’t be ruled out of contention, ESPN’s Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy say.

The NBA on ESPN is tipping off its 19th season on the network, starting Wednesday night when the New York Knicks host the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden. In an interview ahead of the season, both Jackson and Van Gundy believe a big year is in store for Clippers star Paul George.

“I believe that Paul George — with more pressure on him to carry that offensive load — we will see the Paul George that we’ve seen and have been accustomed to seeing when he’s healthy and whole,” Mark Jackson told ClutchPoints. “I think he’s ready for an outstanding year and will be a guy that certainly will be an All Star and as good as it gets at his position in the league.”

George averaged 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three. The Clippers, who finished with the best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA, got a good sample size of what their team might look like in the 2021 postseason.

Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, as well as Marcus Morris were all asked by head coach Tyronn Lue to do more, and they delivered. Now, the team has new additions Eric Bledsoe and Justise Winslow to incorporate into the rotation as Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka recover from their respective surgeries.

“Paul George was a great player in Indiana, he was a great player in Oklahoma City, and he’s a great player with the Clippers,” Jeff Van Gundy told ClutchPoints. “I see no reason why they can’t have a terrific year and win big in the regular season and put themselves in position for home-court advantage, top-four seed, in the West even without Kawhi Leonard. And if they get Kawhi Leonard back and he’s able to play well, then they’re a championship-caliber team.

“They can’t win it without a healthy Kawhi, but they can sure do damage, that’s for sure.”

Without Leonard in the lineup for eight postseason games, Paul George averaged 29.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.4 steals. Those numbers will be hard to replicate over the course of an 82-game regular season, but George has shown glimpses of what he’s able to do as a primary ball-handler and playmaker.

The Clippers playoff run last year was largely due to their stars, but a lot of the credit should also go to Tyronn Lue.

Throughout the run, Lue benched veterans, leaned on younger players, and even started small forwards at the center position. Lue essentially did whatever it took to get the Clippers as far as he possibly could with guys learning new positions on the fly.

Since 2016, Lue and his success has been discredited a bit and solely tied to the greatness of LeBron James. During last year’s run with the Clippers, Ty Lue was able to show off his versatility as a coach, taking different approaches to beat stars like Luka Doncic or render Rudy Gobert ineffective at times.

Kawhi Leonard, Clippers, Paul George, Tyronn Lue

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Mark Jackson believes that, while LeBron is obviously LeBron when it comes to his impact, Lue deserves a lot of credit for being an ‘outstanding basketball mind.’

“I’m not gonna sit here and argue that Ty Lue’s success didn’t have a little bit to do with LeBron James,” Jackson explained. “Every great coach’s success has not just a little bit, but a lot to do with their best players and the players that they have the fortune to be able to coach so I don’t think that’s a shot towards Ty Lue.

“He’s a championship coach. He’s an outstanding basketball mind and has done an incredible job in Cleveland and has done an outstanding job with the Clippers. When you think about the injury to Paul George and the injury to Kawhi Leonard, the ability to lead that organization and still make them relevant and have a legitimate chance. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for Ty Lue, not just as a basketball coach, but as a person.”

Jeff Van Gundy echoed a sentiment akin to Jackson’s about the importance of a player-coach relationship.

“I thought the Clippers had a tremendous year and I think Mark makes such an important point that I think sometimes, even though we know it to be true, we don’t want to say it,: Van Gundy added. “Like, You can be a great coach in our league and lose and you don’t have enough talent. And you can an okay coach in our league and win because of your talent and I think what Ty has done is he has gotten the most out of the highly talented teams he’s coached and that’s all you can ask from any coach: is to maximize the talent at hand which is what he’s done.

“I think as we all focus on the stars that he’s coached, I think the thing that stood out to me last year is how he helped Reggie Jackson rejuvenate his game. How he helped Terance Mann to become such an integral part of their success, sometimes playing as a five, sometimes guarding point guards, making corner threes. Like, I just think the hard part is getting the right people around the best players and I think they did that, but I think Ty because he’s such a good coach and such a good person, he brought out the very best in people surrounding their best players.”

Paul George, Tyronn Lue, and the Clippers will begin their 2021-22 campaign against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, October 21st.