Obviously having your best player out to injury is never a good thing. Especially when it can be for the entire regular season.
Kawhi Leonard went down with a knee injury in Game 4 of the second round of the playoffs last year vs. the Utah Jazz. Kawhi went on to miss the rest of the playoffs, getting a surgery on his partially torn ACL - putting him out indefinitely.
The Clippers proved to the world that they can win without him by finishing off the Jazz and advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history but ultimately lost to the Phoenix Suns in 6. This was the furthest this Clippers team has ever made it in the playoffs. One step closer to an NBA championship. The question is: how much will Kawhi Leonard potentially being out for the whole season affect them?
The timeline for an injury like this could be anywhere from 8-12 months. And Kawhi Leonard isn’t a stranger when it comes to taking his time with injuries. With that being said, this injury could put The Klaw out until the playoffs.
Point Guard - Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson began his career in OKC as a backup to Russell Westbrook. Toward the end of his contract, he proved he could be a starter in this league and signed a deal with Detroit. In his best season in Detroit, he averaged 18.8 PPG and 6.2 APG.
After spending the majority of his career there, he decided to relocate to the City of Angels and try and win a championship. Reggie averaged 10.7 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 2.9 RPG last season with the Clippers. He was the starting PG for most of the year and ended with some big-time moments in the playoffs.
With Kawhi Leonard out, Reggie will have to take it up a notch because he will be the second option offensively for this team. In the playoffs last year, he averaged 20.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, and 4.1 RPG. If the Clippers are going to continue to compete at a high level, they’ll need this type of play out of Reggie Jackson.
Shooting Guard - Eric Bledsoe
Newcomer Eric Bledsoe will be the starting shooting guard for the Clippers this year while Kawhi is out of the picture. Many may consider Bledsoe more of a point guard, but this is a familiar role for him since he spent last season playing alongside Lonzo Ball in New Orleans.
This didn’t seem to work whatsoever for the Pelicans, so I’m not sure why Ty Lue thinks it will be any different here. This two-PG lineup is extremely undersized. Don’t be surprised if Luke Kennard or Terrance Mann slides into that starting shooting guard position at some point.
Eric Bledsoe is coming off of a down year in New Orleans. He averaged 12.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, and 3.4 RPG while shooting 42% from the field. The fit wasn’t exactly there with the Pelicans, but it isn’t really here either. At this point in Bledsoe’s career, he is a better fit as a 6-man or maybe a starting PG on a bad team.
Small Forward - Paul George
Paul George is coming into his third season with the Clippers. There were high hopes when the Clippers formed the duo of himself and Kawhi, but they haven’t been able to show for it yet. The Clippers have always been one of the favorites to win it all, but they have had circumstances holding them back such as injuries, playoff blunders, etc.
PG-13 had a great year last year. In fact, some would say it was his greatest. He averaged 23.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.2 APG. He shot his highest shooting percentages ever at 48% from the field and 41% from the 3-point line.
Paul George has faced some harsh criticism in the past for his playoff performances. Whether it be in the 2019 playoffs when he shot below 40% from the field, or at other times turning into a ghost in clutch situations. Playoff P has something to prove this year - and I believe he will do it.
Power Forward - Marcus Morris
One guy you don’t want to mess with, Marcus Morris. It’s nice to have a team protector. Someone who will back you up when things get tough or heated. Although, some of his plays on Luka Doncic in the playoffs were just flat-out dirty. Morris is one of the main catalysts for the Clippers’ identity of being a tough team.
Moving on, Morris is a solid starting PF in this league. Last season he averaged 13.4 PPG and 4.1 RPG. He also shot an extremely high percentage from three at 47%. Marcus will be an important piece to the puzzle here in LA.
Center - Ivica Zubac
It could be said that Ivica Zubac is an underrated center in this league. At only 23 years old, he’s been a consistent and efficient center and still has many areas that he can improve in. Zubac has been right below double-double status throughout his career. This is impressive because he only averages around 20 minutes per game. Last season he averaged 9.0 PPG and 7.2 RPG while shooting 65% from the field.
Zubac has had some issues staying on the court though. One because of his defense. And two, because the Clippers like to run small-ball lineups. He’s a liability in the pick and roll and gets exposed when he gets swapped onto the guard. In 2019, the Mavs did this a lot in the playoffs, swapping Zubac onto Luka constantly until they had to take him out of the game.
If Zubac can work on his speed and lateral quickness, you’ll see him on the floor much more often for the Clippers.
Jason Preston, Luke Kennard, Jay Scrubb, Keon Johnson, Brandon Boston Jr, Terance Mann, Justise Winslow, Amir Coffey, Nicolas Batum, Moses Wright, Harry Giles, Isaiah Hartenstein, Serge Ibaka
This bench roster features a lot of new faces in Jason Preston, Keon Johnson, Brandon Boston Jr., Justise Winslow, Moses Wright, Harry Giles, and Isaiah Hartenstein. A few rookies and then a few others who signed here in the off-season.
The most important player on the Clippers bench is Terance Mann. Mann became a new player in these past playoffs. He had some great games and played some big minutes for the Clippers. In a Game 6 win vs. the Jazz, he dropped 39 points. Ty Lue recently explained in an interview that, “he’s ready to take that step. Just watching him play the last few weeks, the maturity that he brings to the table, the hard work that he brings to the table, how he has improved his shot.” It’s clear Mann will play a big role for the Clippers this season, he may even step into a starting position later on.
Harry Giles and/or Isaiah Hartenstein could be put in a position for playing time early on since Serge Ibaka will be sidelined indefinitely from back surgery. Serge had back issues all last season and finally resorted to surgery in June to fix the problem.
A couple of other contributors could include sharpshooter Luke Kennard, as well as rookies Jason Preston, Keon Johnson, and Brandon Boston Jr. And then of course long-time NBA vet, Nicolas Batum.
How Much Will The Kawhi Leonard Injury Affect The Clippers This Season?
It’s clear that the Kawhi Leonard injury will put a damper on the Clippers’ title aspirations. If he’s able to come back by playoff time, it’s a possibility; if not, there’s no chance. As for the regular season, this team still has a roster that can work its way into the playoffs without him.
For this to happen, Paul George must play at a Top-15 level. He can do that. He’s made it to the playoffs every year of his career, so I don’t think he plans on stopping now. Paul George could be in for a year averaging close to 30 PPG.
The Clippers will need a few other players to step up with Kawhi Leonard out. Reggie Jackson will most likely be the #2 scoring man here. He’s had seasons in the past where he’s averaged 16+ PPG. Eric Bledsoe should have a better fit here in LA. Marcus Morris will continue to do what he does best - get in your head and hit 3s. And then Ivica Zubac should improve coming into this season.
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