The Clippers are projected to be championship contenders in the 2023 season by nearly all accounts. It’s somehow the fourth year of the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George era, and while the Clippers did make their first ever Conference Finals in 2021, the pressure is on for real results. Here’s a quick look at some overarching stories for the Clippers in the 2023 season.
The Clippers are old. Their best player, Kawhi Leonard, has missed a lot of games in the past few years, and has delicate leg injuries. Their second-best player, Paul George, has had multiple surgeries in recent years as well. The Clippers will be cautious with all their veterans, whether that means not playing back to backs, playing less than 35 minutes per game consistently, or random nights off for rest and recovery. Clippers’ Coach Ty Lue will have to walk a fine balancing act throughout the 2023 season of keeping his team healthy, building chemistry for the playoff run, and winning enough games to be set for a deep push.
Starting Point Guard
Reggie Jackson will be the Clippers’ starting point guard at the beginning of the 2023 season. However, it seems there will be a test period of a few weeks while John Wall gets up to speed, and then a re-assessment. Because of Reggie’s proven fit with Kawhi and PG and what he means to the team, I think the starting role will have to be actively seized by Wall. But it is possible that Wall looks good enough to force the issue. This is the only spot where the starting role should be in question at all this year (I’d start Nic Batum or Robert Covington over Marcus Morris, but that won’t happen), and it will be a plotline to keep track of throughout the season.
Small Ball Triumphant
The Clippers have gone all in on small ball this year, eschewing a traditional backup center behind Ivica Zubac for the first time in his tenure. Moses Brown and Moussa Diabate are on two-way deals, but Brown will be parked on the bench most games, and Diabate will be in the G-League. The Clippers will be playing Robert Covington as their backup center, and while RoCo is excellent defensively as a help defender for his size, one wonders if he, Nic Batum, and Marcus Morris will hold up to banging with big men all year.
The small-ball tendencies also go further than just the backup unit. All indications are that the Clippers will go small to close, frequently, except maybe when Zubac is cooking or if the Clips are up against premier big men that require a true center to defend. Other teams have played small before – the Rockets of a few years ago come to mid – but the Clippers (and Raptors this year) are pushing it further.
Who’s the X-Factor
The Clippers have a number of question marks. There’s Kawhi Leonard returning to play after 17 months of injury recovery. There’s Paul George coming back after a disjointed and injury-ridden 2022. There’s John Wall playing as a lower option for the first time in his career. There are the young guys like Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, and Amir Coffey at the fringes of the rotation, all of whom can keep improving and maybe force Ty Lue’s hand if they show out. However, I’m being slightly predictable and going with Norm Powell.
I will reiterate what I’ve said on pods (and in writing) – I think Norm is overrated. He hasn’t been good defensively for a couple years, he’s a non-entity as a playmaker for others, and he’s a very poor rebounder. What he can do is score, and score in a variety of ways. This sounds a lot like former Clipper Lou Williams (who was a better passer but worse defender), and I think Norm can have a Lou-like impact. All talk of him being an All Star is fairly ridiculous in my opinion, but if he can continuously provide juice to the Clippers’ offense through shooting, downhill scoring, and free throw drives, the Clippers’ offense might have more diversity than it’s hard in the past couple years. Norm can definitely average 18 points a game on strong efficiency if he accepts his role, and if he adds some better defense on top of that, the Clippers will be sitting pretty.
I said the Clippers would win 52 games in my Pacific Division preview, finishing 4th in the West, and while I won’t hold to a specific wins total, I think low 50s ranging from 2nd to 4th in the West is about right. It’s too early to know what teams will or will not emerge throughout the 2023 season, but I think the Clipper will at least make the Western Conference Finals. If healthy, I can see them winning it all, but I’ll predict their first Finals appears and a loss in the championship. Still, it would be the best finish in franchise history!