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LA Clippers and other NBA teams that are set to regress in 2021-22

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Every NBA team has high hopes to start the season. Records are reset at 0-0, and there is a collective mindset around the league of “Maybe this is our year!” (beyond the select few who, while they would never admit it, are planning to tank for the best lottery position possible). However, they can’t all have dream seasons, and regressions from the previous year are inevtiable for some. Whether it’s an injury to a key player, coaching deficiencies or just a general reduction of talent, some teams are bound to drop off. Here are three squads that will likely have a lower win percentage than that of the previous season.

Los Angeles Clippers

Last season: 47-25 (.653 win %)

Current FanDuel 2021-22 line: 45.5 wins (.555 win %)

Not a shocker, considering the Clippers will be missing Kawhi Leonard for a large part of the season while he recovers from his torn ACL. They’re still a deep team with an All-NBA performer in Paul George, but it’s hard to maintain your win percentage without your best player. Reggie Jackson needs to replicate his spectacular play from the postseason as their secondary offensive option, and Head Coach Tyronn Lue is going to have to hope that young guns Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac and Luke Kennard take developmental leaps forward in order for the team to collectively make up for Leonard’s offense. They’ll also miss him defensively, as he’s a crucial component of their small-ball switching lineup and obviously one of the best perimeter defenders in the league when engaged.

The Clippers owe their 2022 draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a result of the George trade, so they’ll have no incentive to tank their season derails for whatever reason. However, if they’re struggling record-wise towards the back half the season, they could elect to keep Leonard out for the entirety of the year as a precaution, rest George often and set their sights on a title in 2022-23.

Denver Nuggets

Last season: 47-25 (.653 win %)

Current FanDuel 2021-22 line: 47.5 wins (.579 win %)

Another fairly obvious one, though they’ll be without their second-best player rather than their first. Jamal Murray will miss significant time while recovering from his torn ACL, and while they’ll still have the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic, Murray is a key part of their offense. His ball-handling, dribble penetration and perimeter shooting (he shot a career-high 40.8% from three last season on 6.6 attempts per game) was essential for the Nuggets in the regular season and desperately needed in the 2021 playoffs.

However, unlike the Clippers, the Nuggets have a player that could potentially make up for their injured absentee if he continues along his current developmental trajectory. Michael Porter Jr. was a stud in the postseason, averaging 17.4 points per game on an uber-efficient 60.3% true-shooting rate. There’s no reason to think he can’t bump that up to around 21 a game (Murray’s average last season) given how far he’s come already through just two seasons. He’s a legitimate three-level scorer that fits perfectly alongside Jokic.

Will a leap from Porter and another MVP-level year from the Joker be enough to keep the Murray-less Nuggets around the same win percentage as last season? Tough to say. The Western Conference is just as rough as ever, and Jokic didn’t miss a single game due to injury last year (though he’s been essentially an iron man throughout his career).

Toronto Raptors

Last season: 27-45 (.375 win %)

Current FanDuel 2021-22 line: 36.5 wins (.445 win %)

The oddsmakers seem to have faith in the Raptors, but it’s tough to see how they’ve improved from last season, at least from a roster standpoint. Goran Dragic is a solid veteran point guard, but he’s a downgrade from Kyle Lowry. They added some pieces around the margins got younger by trading for Precious Achiuwa and drafting Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton, but they’re going to be asking a lot of Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam as primary creators.

It’s worth asking what the team’s internal goals are for this season. Do Masai Ujiri and the Raptors’ ownership want to attempt to remain competitve, or aim for another high draft pick now that they’ve offically ended an era by trading away the most important player in the history of the franchise? They may not have a choice in the matter given their talent level and the increased competitiveness of the Eastern Conference. Their 2021-22 season might f0llow the same path as last season: they’ll give it their best shot early on before realizing it’s not their year, at which point they’ll start playing for ping pong balls and resting their veterans. There is also the possibility that VanVleet and/or Siakam could be dealt before the trade deadline if a contender comes knocking.