I’ve been laying low and just trying to get through August-September, listening to all the 213 Hoops pods pretty quickly after they drop–and I’m hesitant to make even a peep or comment about the Clippers while Marcus Morris is still on the roster.
But I want to take a moment to go all in on OKC. I think R.Flom’s comments in his excellent Season Preview are measured and quite good, and it makes sense to hedge a fair amount. But I want to dig into the “and oh yeah, let’s not forget that Chet Holmgren will be joining this roster” impulse. Many of us here remember all too well the pain and extraordinary patience required to wait for Blake Griffin to make his NBA debut. The newly drafted players were bright and shiny, receiving all sorts of attention, especially John Wall. The Clippers drafted Al-Farouq Aminu at #8, while Gordon Haywood was #9 and Paul George was #10 (gulp.) Griffin wasn’t exactly an afterthought, but he was given second-tier treatment going into the season. And then Blake went out and crushed everything in sight his rookie year.
There were factors and wrinkles to that great Clippers sequence, of course. Chet is a very different entity from Blake, and obviously he won’t overpower the entire league. But he is a fantastic player. If he and Victor Wembanyama were drafted together there would be all sorts of interesting conversations going on about them, and Holmgren might have given Paolo Banchero a good run for ROY, who knows. Doing an NBA redshirt year is an intriguing rarity, and Blake Griffin certainly made the most of it. Wemby should be fun to watch and make a significant impact, but he’s joining a team that has a long way to go. The situation with the Thunder and Chet Holmgren is completely different.
Speaking of rookies, what makes this semi-appropriate fodder for a Clipper website is that, in a twisted way, many of us consider Shai Gilgeous-Alexander one of our own. We saw him first, we instantly loved him with a fierce basketball passion, and we knew that giving him up, along with draft picks, was the ultimate price to pay, but it had to be done. There was more than a faint suspicion that getting Paul George would be unnecessary overkill, that SGA would complement Kawhi just as well (if not better) soon enough, that he was a golden child. But it made sense that Kawhi didn’t know or see what SGA was, and it was a reasonable bet. Thinking about not making the trade is a bit like wondering about the Clippers path if they had drafted Paul George—just to complicate the vectors of a torturous counterfactual path. We all signed off on it, but we also knew what we were giving up.
SGA has become what a number of us thought and hoped he would be. He was awesome and rising both quickly and steadily before last year, and we were eager to see what the Thunder would be like with Holmgren joining the roster. But then Chet went down, and Shai took off. It would be interesting to look at pre-injury Thunder previews from last year, when nobody knew that SGA was going to break the ceiling. And that’s what he did. Clipper fans were clued in early, as they lost games 4 and 5 to OKC, while Shai went for 33/24.
That was without Josh Giddey. That’s the thing about OKC. Set aside SGA’s ridiculous Year 5 leap into the stratosphere (2416mins/2135pts/329rbs/371ast). Look at the Giddey Year 2 leap —1700/2367mins; 674/1260pts; 421/599rebs; 345/469asts. A big part of Shai’s success was that he reduced his 3pt attempts by 129, from 297 to 168, going from 30% to 34.5% in the process, while he increased his 2pt attempts from 755 (making 51.4%) to a league-leading 1213 (458 more, while climbing to 53.3%). That’s nuts, and with getting to the line 739 times and only missing 60 (90%), that’s how you average 31.8pts.
That overshadows Josh Giddey. He also shot 52.4% on 2pts, and he had 884 attempts. The highest Clipper in 2pt attempts was Kawhi Leonard at 621 (55%). Giddey took 20 more 3s last year (213/234) and made 20 more 3s (56/76), going from 26% to 32.5%. His eFG% went from 46% to 51.6%. He can shoot and score and will get better—remember, that’s Year 2. With no Chet Holmgren.
And the Thunder have a number of other perfectly good players. They were short on length and rim protection (Holmgren), and won 40 games. They’re adding the #10 pick in the draft, Cason Wallace, a one-year Kentucky player just like SGA, seemingly selected to complement SGA, Giddey, and Holmgren for years to come.
It’s easy enough to keep going. We still need to actually see Chet Holmgren play in the NBA. But I was reminded of Blake sitting out a year before his rookie season, and that sent me down this rabbit hole. The Clippers have stars and plenty of weapons and a bright outlook on this upcoming season—which we can talk about as soon as the roster undergoes some final tweaks (a nice way of putting it). The time to win is now, as other teams will be getting better. Respect to SGA. After last year there are lots of things to be bitter about, but his spectacular success isn’t really one of them. Who knows, maybe the rising Thunder and aging Clippers could even meet in the playoffs one of these days….