NBA fans woke up to the news of Kawhi Leonard signing with the Los Angeles Clippers recently, as well as the organization trading Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four first-round picks, and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George.
Leonard and George give the Clippers a formidable one-two punch, but bigger than that, their roster will perfectly complement itself.
Once the smoke clears from these blockbuster moves, a critical question is going to be whether Leonard and George can coexist?
The two stars are each ball-dominant players who can flat-out score. They play in isolation, stick midrange jumpers, hit the boards, and were amongst the league leaders in scoring this season; Leonard averaged 26.6 points, and George averaged 28.0 points per game, which ranked second in the NBA.
Will they get in each other’s way? Perhaps, because they’re each frontline players. On the other hand, they’ve each surrendered touches and/or played second fiddle in the past. Leonard played alongside Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili with the San Antonio Spurs. Meanwhile, George played next to Russell Westbrook in his two seasons with the Thunder.
Leonard and George are also stellar defenders. They can shutdown their cover and are adept at playing at a high level on that end of the floor. They’re two of the few true remaining two-way stars in the NBA.
Usually when a team brings in two high-profile players their depth suffers, and they scramble for veterans; the Clippers don’t need to do that. They have a roster that’s an ideal fit around Leonard and George.
Before the Saturday morning fireworks, the Clippers re-signed point guard Patrick Beverley to a three-year, $40 million deal. The veteran floor general is a pass-first player. Sure, he drives inside, but Beverley’s specialty is finding the open man. He also sticks outside jumpers (Beverley has shot 38-plus percent from beyond the arc in each of the last three seasons) and plays lockdown defense. With Leonard and George looking to get the ball and/or cutting inside, Beverley’s assist total should rise, as he has the court vision to find them in the right places.
To have a point guard who makes others better, and doesn’t need to score to make a profound impact, is a godsend for a team with two stars. Beverley can also get the ball to sharpshooter Landry Shamet. After coming over in a midseason trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, Shamet averaged 10.9 points per game and shot an impressive 45.0 percent from beyond the arc. His ability to stretch the floor opened up opportunities for others to attack the rack and play inside.
When you have two exuberant scorers, an outside shooter, and a savvy point guard, what’s the ideal skill set for your starting center? Someone who will clog up space inside and hit the boards. Ivica Zubac, who the Clippers re-signed to a four-year, $28 million deal, does precisely as such.
After coming over in a midseason trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, Zubac was an efficient force for the Clippers. Averaging 9.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in just 20.2 minutes per game, he was a reliable force inside. Zubac’s ability to hit the boards, finish inside, and hold his own defensively will be pivotal for the Clippers, as they will need a reliable big.
Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were two of the Clippers most productive players this season. Williams has come off the Clippers bench and been one of the best scorers in the league in each of the last two seasons. This past season he averaged 20.0 points per game.
The last two years Williams has been the Clippers primary source of offense. He’s now their third scoring option. Having a trio of Leonard, George, and Williams on the court in crunch time gives the Clippers one of the most fearsome scoring units in the sport.
Harrell averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 rebounds in just 26.3 minutes per game last season. He provided tenacity on both ends and much-needed physicality inside.
Ironically, Williams and Harrell each came off the bench and will likely do the same next season. Except, they’re even more deadly in that they’ll be secondary sources of offense.
Williams and Harrell will be accompanied by Rodney McGruder, who was an athletic presence and pleasant surprise for the Miami Heat this season, and Maurice Harkless, who is an athletic two-way player, off the bench. The Clippers will try to get 2018 first-round pick Jerome Robinson off on the right foot this season, after a discouraging rookie campaign. They will also have big man JaMychal Green back in the fold, after re-signing the efficient rebounder and defender to a two-year, $10 million deal on Monday afternoon. Pretty sweet rotation, right?
A stout star duo, a point guard who has continuity in an offense, outside shooters, two-way wings, a gritty big man, and a reliable center gives head coach Doc Rivers a well-rounded rotation. The Clippers keeping the bulk of their core intact only gives them more reason to be excited about the 2019-20 season.
Rivers got 48 wins out of a team that traded its top scorer, Tobias Harris, before the NBA trade deadline. Imagine what he’s going to get out of this squad.
It’s going to take some time for the Clippers to come into their own as the NBA’s next powerhouse given the amount of new faces. They also need to add another point guard and big man to fill out their rotation. But once they build chemistry and have some games under their belt, the Clippers will be a force to be reckoned with.
Now, will the Clippers be the best team in the Western Conference? You could certainly argue it, but we could make this case for six other teams in the conference too.
The Utah Jazz added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic; the Portland Trail Blazers added Hassan Whiteside to a roster that made it to the Western Conference Finals this season; the Denver Nuggets have arguably the best young core in the NBA; the Houston Rockets still have James Harden and Chris Paul; the Golden State Warriors signed D’Angelo Russell to pair with Stephen Curry in their backcourt; and the Los Angeles Lakers are pairing Anthony Davis with LeBron James.
The Clippers took the Warriors to six games in the first round of the playoffs without a star and an array of offensive weapons. Now they have Leonard and George. The pieces fit, and their depth chart is stacked: The Clippers are going to be invincible.