The Clippers have been one of the bigger surprises of the 2018-19 NBA season. The campaign is still young, but the Clippers are currently third in the West and a game away from first place in the conference. Some may dismiss this as an early season surge, suggesting that the Clippers won’t be able to sustain their winning ways for the rest of the year.
Despite not having a true superstar, the Clippers are a very well rounded team with intelligent, forward thinking coaching and front office management. They also pose matchup problems for several teams, including some of the better teams in the NBA. If they have a favorable matchup or two in the playoffs, don’t be surprised if they make a deep run.
With a combination of a deep roster, an exciting young talent and a sound offense, the Los Angeles Clippers are not only one of the premier teams in the West. They’re one of the better teams in the entire league. If they stay healthy, their efforts to retool the roster after the Blake Griffin/Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan era could pay dividends.
Here are three reasons why the Los Angeles Clippers should be considered serious threats in the West.
The Clippers have few household names. What they lack in star power, they make up for in cohesion. The Clippers are one of the more well rounded teams in the NBA, and that combination of parts results in a team that can be ready for a wide array of situations and matchups.
You want players who can shoot threes? Lou Williams and Tobias Harris, check. Backcourt defenders? Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley, check. How about tenacious rebounders? Montrezl Harrell and Tobias Harris, check. If there’s a play to be made on a basketball court, chances are the Clippers have someone who can do it. As the season goes on and individual contributions become more important, specialists are the kinds of players that tend to excel. Lou Williams’ ability to score could mean the difference between extending a slim second half lead in order to convincingly win a game, or losing that game altogether. A rebound from Harrell could tip the balance down the stretch, giving the Clippers an extra possession.
The ability to come through in these moments is one of the hallmarks of a good team. Since the Clippers have so many players that can do just that, it makes them all the more difficult to deal with.
The X Factor
When the Clippers drafted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the first round of June’s NBA Draft, some believed that the team had gotten a steal. Gilgeous-Alexander was coming off of a star freshman season at Kentucky, a campaign that saw the young player blossom into an NBA-ready talent. SGA entered the league with all the tools to succeed, and so far, he’s proven the prognosticators to be correct.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the best rookies in the league this season. He is currently averaging 10.6 points per game, shooting nearly 50% from the field and 81% from the free throw line. In an era where many rookies enter the league as projects, raw talents with little in the way of polish, SGA is one of the closest things to a finished project. Coach Doc Rivers has trusted Gilgeous-Alexander to play nearly 30 minutes per game, giving him a trial by fire into the rigors of the NBA. He is routinely matched up against elite point guards, and he also routinely holds his own. In some cases he has excelled, including in games against Damian Lillard and John Wall.
He may not win Rookie of the Year, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could end up as one of the best players in a very talented draft class.
At the end of the day, the name of the game in basketball is putting the ball in the basket. A team can only go so far if it can’t find ways to score, and score consistently. Fortunately for the Clippers, this isn’t an issue. The Clippers rank fifth in the entire league in points per game, ahead of teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia Sixers and Los Angeles Lakers. Despite not having big name scorers, the Clippers have proven that they can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league on any given night.
The Clippers score more than most of the teams in the league, but the way they do it is through spreading the ball around. Five players average double figures in scoring, including Harris, Williams, Harrell and Gilgeous-Alexander. Knowing that they have multiple players capable of creating and providing offense is a valuable asset, one that figures to work in their favor during the playoffs. If one player is having an off night, the team knows that there are several others capable of picking up the slack.