With the help of contributor Cole Huff, I’ve been tirelessly grading every Clippers player’s performance game-by-game all season long. After doing some spreadsheet work, I’m excited to share with you all these Clippers midseason progress reports. The “GPA” number reported for each player is their actual averaged grade based on the game-by-game grades assigned to them by Cole and myself. Their letter grade is based of that number, but with some adjustments for context and expectations–just like how the real grading process works at the end of a semester.
Patrick Beverley: GPA – 3.03; Grade – B
I don’t think Patrick Beverley has been bad by any means this season, but he also hasn’t done anything that really inspires me to give him a a bump when the GPA pretty squarely places him at a B. The most important thing for Pat is availability–he’s playing just 24 minutes a game, and has only appeared in 28 of the team’s 38 contests. They’ll need him healthy in the playoffs going for 30+ every night.
Paul George: GPA – 3.19; Grade – B+
Paul’s performances have been a little less consistent in recent weeks as his availability has also been impacted. Between COVID contact tracing, a bone edema in his toe, and even some caffeine-related dizziness, he just hasn’t been able to develop the same kind of rhythm as he had early in the season. But he’s still had a really strong first half to the season, and the team is 19-8 when he plays compared to 5-6 when he’s out. Hopefully he doesn’t miss 11 more games in the second half of the season.
Kawhi Leonard: GPA – 3.23; Grade – B+
Kawhi joined the Clippers in having a some real ups and downs during February, with some of his shortcomings being especially glaring during a stretch where George’s absence coupled with fatigue from a brutal scheduling stretch produced some absentee performances and disappointing losses. But he’s still scoring in large volume with increased efficiency, and he’s reduced his turnovers from last season. It’s hard to give him less than a B+ considering the metrics show him as LAC’s clearly most impactful player.
Nicolas Batum: GPA – 3.15; Grade – B+
The GPA is sort of on the cusp of B/B+ here, but there’s little question that Nic deserves some grace considering how vastly he has exceeded expectations after being bought out of his contract in Charlotte and arriving on a minimum contract. But it’s notable that he’s slowed down as the season has gone on, shooting 36% from three over his last 12 games after shooting nearly 47% from beyond the arc in his first 24.
Serge Ibaka: GPA – 2.68; Grade – B-
I would even be comfortable giving Serge a C+, but there have been just enough games where he’s had an A-level outing to lift him into B- range. Serge probably gets a little bit of unfair evaluation by comparison here–he’s probably somewhere between “okay” and “good” almost every night, while his counterpart Ivica Zubac has been regularly fantastic in recent weeks. Still, without saying the Ibaka addition was a failure or souring on him altogether, I think it’s fair to say that he’s slightly underwhelmed so far.
Lou Williams: GPA – 2.74; Grade – B-
If the season was over today, I might bump Lou up to a B, or even a B+, because of the way he improved as the year went on and made a big impact in February with a string of great performances. But, this isn’t a February progress report, it’s a first half of the season progress report, and Lou was a pretty bad version of himself for a large window of this evaluation period. I’m comfortable with a B- that recognizes both that he had a bad stretch that pulls his grade down, and a great stretch that saves it from being too bad.
Ivica Zubac: GPA – 2.82; Grade – B
Zu, on the other hand, gets the bump–in part because his early-season struggles were shorter-lived than Lou’s and Zu was adjusting to a new role during them, and in part because he’s just been so good so often as the season has worn on. It’s actually surprising to me that his GPA is still this low, but it goes to show how hard it can be to overcome multiple Fs and Ds in the opening weeks of the year.
Reggie Jackson: GPA – 2.71; Grade – B
Similarly, Reggie has to get the bump. As low as his lows are–and I don’t trust him in a playoff rotation for that reason–he’s given the Clippers a lot of production in a variety of plug-and-play backcourt roles as they’ve endured extended absences for Patrick Beverley and Paul George.
Luke Kennard: GPA – 2.43; Grade – C
Luke actually gets bumped down, because I feel like there has to be some recognition in his overall grade of the fact that there are plenty of games lately where he hasn’t been in the rotation at all, which is hugely disappointing considering the expectations we had for him pre-season. Coach Ty Lue says that Luke hasn’t done anything wrong and the team is mostly just reacting to the strong play of Terance Mann… which feels half true. Luke hasn’t been unplayable, and he’s hit his threes, but he has rarely made a positive impact on games. If Terance hadn’t stepped up, Luke might still be getting more regular playing time, but Luke also could have done a lot more to defend his role.
Marcus Morris: GPA – 2.8; Grade – B-
I’m comfortable keeping Marcus at a B-, as he has needed some time to get his feet wet and warm into the season after an injury kept him out of action for training camp and the first few weeks of the year. I do think he’s looked a bit more spry as time has gone on, and his shot-making has had immense value for the team, so I’m expecting this grade to look better by the end of the season.
Terance Mann: GPA – 2.83; Grade – B+
Terance gets a double bump from a B- GPA to a B+ grade, and I have a couple of justifications to offer. Primarily, it’s that he has not only played better as the season has gone on, but that his grades have been more meaningful as the season has gone on–he’s playing more minutes, especially in competitive games, than he did early in the season. The other factor is that outside of night-to-night games, Mann has accomplished his season-long objective of proving that he is an NBA rotation player.
Amir Coffey: GPA – 3.22; Grade – A-
Similarly, evenly averaging Amir’s 9 graded performances misses how crucial he was in a few February games where the Clippers were severely shorthanded at the forward positions. Those minutes matter so, so much more than grades he has been assigned for 8 minutes closing out a blowout in the fourth quarter. I’m not quite sure what Amir’s long-term trajectory is yet, but I’m at least open to the idea that he could be a member of the 15-man roster next season.
Patrick Patterson: GPA – 1.57; Grade – D–
You have to give PatPat some credit for his game against the Knicks in January–but that’s about all he’s getting credit for from me this term. Like Luke, he’s getting docked for games he didn’t play in. What’s the point of a third-string power forward who can’t play when the guys in front of him are injured? The Clippers tried to look at him as depth at PF and C early in the season, but he offered almost nothing. I expect Patterson to stay on for the rest of the season, but this is likely the end of the line for his NBA career after a brief resurgance last season.
Mfiondu Kabengele: GPA – 1.96; Grade – D
I won’t hold Fi responsible for the draft pick that was used on him–it’s not his fault he was selected in the first round. However, I do think he came into this season in a similar situation as Terance Mann, needing to do something to prove that he at least belongs on an NBA roster. In limited garbage-time minutes, he’s done the opposite, and in a practice setting he has inspired such little confidence from the coaches that he is never deployed in meaningful situations, no matter how dire the injury or foul trouble picture is. I have a feeling Fi will be an administrative drop before the end of the year.
Daniel Oturu: GPA – 3.08; Grade – B
There isn’t a lot to say about Oturu’s performances so far except that second rounders get a bit of a freebie their rookie season. Nothing particularly noteworthy has happened in his 42 NBA minutes, and he picked up an injury preparing for the NBA G-League bubble that kept him out of action for Agua Caliente and has rendered him unavailable for LAC garbage time lately as well. Next year, he’ll be in the situation that Mann and Kabengele were in this season–time will tell whose footsteps he’ll follow.
Jay Scrubb: INC
Scrubb is getting a true redshirt year, as The Athletic’s Law Murray noted a while back on twitter that the late second round pick isn’t expected to make his debut until next season after he had foot surgery in training camp.
Tyronn Lue: B+
Overall, I think Lue has done a fairly good job with this team–with the understanding that things are still a work in progress (which he readily admits) and that there’s some room for improvement. The Clippers’ reworked offense is running laps around their already-elite attack from last season, and his deliberate deployments of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in their offensive roles has really changed this team’s look on that end. Defensively… they haven’t been very good, but Lue is rather known for doing some weird defensive stuff in the regular season, and I think that the Clippers’ healthy playoff rotation will feature way more minutes from their good defenders (Beverley, George, and Leonard have all missed quite a few games and will all play more minutes in the playoffs).
The team’s 24-14 record certainly isn’t good, and it’s behind where I would like them to be at this point in the season, but I also am not one to overreact to regular season results compared to the process I see at work. The Clippers are 18-6 in games where both Leonard and George play–the biggest factor influencing their record is that they just need those guys to not miss a quarter and third of their games.
So, there’s still stuff to work on. The offensive principles are good, but the Clippers still too often settle in the mid-range instead of generating downhill dribble penetration that will result in either shots at the rim (where they have one of the lowest frequencies in the league) or open threes on kick outs when the help comes. Defensively, the lineups and schemes have both been a bit wonky as the team deals with injuries irons out issues with their coverages. Continued progress on both fronts is needed for the Clippers to reach their ultimate goal.
And for the love of god, please play Ivica Zubac more minutes.
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