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The Clippers X-Factor For 2021-22 Season, And It’s Not Paul George

Paul George, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Clippers, Super Saiyan

The 2021-22 NBA season is expected to bring a new level of excitement even greater than its previous season. Russell Westbrook has joined the Los Angeles Lakers. Kyle Lowry has joined the Miami Heat. DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball both joined the Chicago Bulls. Paul George and the LA Clippers, meanwhile, are one of the few teams to run it back. They will be doing so without Kawhi Leonard to start the season.

The Clippers brought back their core roster, re-signing Kawhi Leonard, Reggie Jackson, and Nicolas Batum. They also agreed to a free agent deal with Justise Winslow and traded for guard Eric Bledsoe. As constructed, the Clippers are built around star Paul George, but which of their role players can be considered the X-factor?

Last postseason, the team was provided a mini eight-game sample size without Kawhi Leonard. A handful of players had at least one big performance. Terance Mann famously dropped 39 points on the Utah Jazz in the series-clinching Game 6 of the Conference semi-finals. Marcus Morris dropped a 20-point games in every game the Clippers’ backs were against the walls facing elimination. Luke Kennard, who was benched the first three playoff games, came in and shot 57 percent from 3-10 feet, 50 percent from 10-16 feet, and 41 percent from three the rest of the way.

While those players had their hot games, Paul George was consistent throughout, averaging 29.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game following Leonard’s injury. Reggie Jackson was the team’s second-leading scorer in that span at 21.4 points per game on 48 percent shooting.

Every one of the players mentioned has a chance to be the Clippers’ ‘X-factor’ next season. In my opinion, the key to the Clippers will be either Terance Mann or Luke Kennard.

Terance Mann finished his sophomore campaign shooting 41.8 percent from three. For a guy considered a non-shooter entering the year, Mann took and made great looks all season. He capped off his masterful performance with seven three-pointers against the Jazz, making Utah pay time and time again for leaving him open.

With Leonard out for an extended period of time, Mann has another opportunity of a lifetime in his hands. His corner shooting and slashing have become real weapons for the Clippers, but the next step for him will be consistently creating off the bounce — something he’s already shown he can do. LA did bring in Eric Bledsoe to assist George and Jackson in their ball-handling duties, but it’s something Mann will be tasked with as well.

When talking about Luke Kennard and his first season with the Clippers, it’s important to remember a few things. First, he missed three months during the 2019-20 season with knee tendinitis. He was cleared and scheduled to return to the Detroit Pistons lineup on March 12th, 2020 — just one day after the NBA temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Detroit did not qualify for the bubble, which meant Kennard went 12 months without playing a single game.

Second, Luke Kennard’s arrival to Los Angeles was mixed in with the additions of Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Serge Ibaka. Some of the guys quickly found their stride, like Batum and Ibaka, and others went through rougher stretches until they found their role with the team.

Kennard averaged 15.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per-36 minutes last season. He’ll have a plethora of opportunities to score this year after the Clippers acquired Eric Bledsoe for the second unit. And while his road to playing time wasn’t as easy as others, he quickly left his mark once he did play.

Luke Kennard had a 28 point game against the Grizzlies in April, making 6-of-7 three-pointers. He led an incredible comeback against the Hawks in March, scoring 20 points in 18 minutes on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting. He also poured in 21 points against the eventual NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks on 8-of-11 shooting — a game that didn’t feature Kawhi Leonard due to injury.

The Clippers will only go as far as Paul George takes them, but Terance Mann and Luke Kennard are the true x-factors for this team. If one of them is able to get to the next level, it’ll go a long way towards helping the franchise to another playoff appearance.