2019 Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers were in a rebuilding year and yet defied expectations to overachieve. Entering the season, the plan was to accrue assets and cap space for the summer while building a good supporting cast. Despite having no All-stars and trading their best player Tobias Harris before the deadline, they still finished with a 48-34 record and made the playoffs in the West as the eighth seed, a full nine games up on the ninth seeded Sacramento Kings. Their success came by a combination of excellent teamwork, players buying into their roles, and a coach of the year contending job by Doc Rivers. For the Clippers, making the playoffs has simply been the icing on the cake of a fantastic season. As the Clippers pivot quickly towards a new era, their goal is to attract a big name free agent or two this summer, with the playoffs serving as their audition. Considering their first round opponent is the defending champion Golden State Warriors, a good audition is about all they have to hope for.
The strength of the Clippers lies in their teamwork and each player knowing their role. No one tries to outshine the other, they pass the ball well, and everyone sticks to what they’re good at. According to basketball reference, the Clippers rank in the top 10 in offensive rating, top five in true shooting percentage and points per game, and lead the league in free throw rate and opponent fouls per game. Despite finishing in the bottom three of 3-point attempts, they’re behind only the San Antonio Spurs for best 3-point percentage. This is already a good offensive team that should only get better with the addition of a top level free agent.
The most obvious and glaring weakness for the Clippers is the lack of an All-NBA player, the kind that is needed to go deep into the playoffs. That said, the Clippers already plan to address that issue this summer. Beyond that, this team doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. Their defense is an area for concern as their defensive rating, steals and blocks per game are all in the bottom 10. As previously mentioned, they’re in the bottom three of 3-point attempts, while most teams that advance deep into the playoffs attempt much more from 3-point range. Lastly, they have trouble committing fouls, as they’re third in the league in personal fouls per game.
Determining an X-factor for the Clippers is tricky, as there really isn’t much they can do to upset the Warriors in the first round. A more realistic goal would be to win a game, maybe two. The best bet for the Clippers would be to lean on their offense and foul drawing. The Warriors are particularly top heavy and lack bench depth, so getting one or more of their starters in foul trouble early would help tremendously. With their offense, they could then keep pace with the Warriors and steal a game.
Players to Watch
Amongst the players to watch on the Clippers, none are as important to the Clippers as rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s had an impressive rookie season averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 and 3.3 assists per game while having a positive impact on the defensive end. Look to see how he performs under the playoff lights.
Danilo Gallinari is another player of interest. Always an offensively gifted player, he was the second leading scorer at 19.8 points per game and scored from all areas of the floor. Despite his injury history, he played 68 games for the Clippers and led them in minutes per game at 30.3. If his health continues, he’ll be a fascinating player to watch.
Last, but not least is Lou Williams. The presumptive sixth man of the year was amazing as always, coming off the bench to lead the Clippers in scoring and playmaking, dropping 20 points and dishing out 5.4 assists per game. Expect to see plenty of pick-and-rolls when Lou-Will comes off the bench.
I don’t think it’s a hot take to say the Clippers will be lucky to make it to game 6 against the Warriors. The Clippers don’t have one All-star, let alone five like the Warriors. After another long regular season, the Warriors are entering the playoffs looking sluggish, compared to previous years, and so there’s a chance the Clippers could steal a game or two at best. But like I’ve stressed throughout the preview, the plan was never about making noise in this year’s playoffs. My bet is the Clippers get bounced in five games and happily move on to their offseason plans.