After over 4 months without meaningful basketball, we’re all a little eager to talk hoops. So, in addition to 213Hoops contributor Thomas Wood’s excellent game recap from last night, I wanted to chime in this morning to offer five takeaways from Clippers – Lakers on opening night.
Now, as exciting as the game was, and as important as it felt, I feel the need to start by reminding us all that at the end of the day, it was just one regular season basketball game. Sure, these teams share a city and are the presumptive pairing for the Western Conference Finals in September, but they’re also both using low-importance seeding games to warm up for real action in the upcoming playoffs. On top of that, the Clippers’ Orlando camp was disjointed, as Marcus Morris arrived late, Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet had delayed arrivals due to positive COVID tests, and Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell had to depart the bubble for family emergencies. While the other four played last night, Williams is unavailable as he undergoes a 10-day quarantine, and Harrell is still with family outside of the bubble.
So, my apologies, but you won’t find a meltdown over a 2-point regular season loss on 213Hoops. As I share my takeaways from last night, you also won’t find major overreactions. I’m not going to say that Marcus Morris is a bad player based on his abysmal game against the Lakers (even considered alongside his other abysmal game against the Lakers in March). But, we all watched 48 minutes of basketball last night, so let’s look at five takeaways from Lakers-Clippers and figure out what we learned:
Clippers Lakers Takeaway Number One: The Clippers need Patrick Beverley
Signing Reggie Jackson to a rest-of-season minimum deal was a steal for the Clippers. After months of discussing uninspiring potential mid-season point guard additions, Jackson, a 300-game NBA starter, fell into the Clippers’ lap. He was great for them in 9 regular season games off the bench before the season’s suspension, and provides a far better fill-in option at point guard when normal starter Patrick Beverley is unavailable than any of LA’s alternatives.
But he’s still not Pat. Jackson, who had an embattled and hotly criticized tenure as a starter in Detroit, showed some of his worse attributes on Thursday, often allowing his speed to carry him into tricky situations and difficult drives. He finished with 3-10 shooting, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers in 34 minutes, and his presence on the court rarely inspired confidence.
Beverley, playing on a de facto minutes restriction as he returns to action following a family emergency, contributed 12 points in 16 minutes, including 8 fourth quarter points as the Clippers fought back to make it a tight game in the closing minutes. While Jackson makes more things happen offensively than Pat, those things aren’t always good–in a lineup replete with high-efficiency scorers, there’s something to be said for a point guard who is patient with the ball and defers to the stars while playing elite defense and hitting a high percentage of his threes.
Jackson has an important role to play on this team, but tonight was a reminder of just how important Patrick Beverley is to the Clippers.
Clippers Lakers Takeaway Number Two: Zubac and Shamet need time
Look, sometimes we just have to be patient. Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet are not only two of the Clippers’ best players, but they’re the Clippers two best young players, both 23 years old. While Zubac had a stellar year for the Clippers, and Shamet was inconsistent but remained the team’s best pure shooter, it’s possible that both will see their minutes reduced in the Orlando bubble.
After each testing positive for the coronavirus in early July, Zubac and Shamet did not arrive in Orlando until last week, missing not only weeks of important team practices but also going weeks without doing conditioning work or getting shots up. It takes a while for a human body to build from weeks of inactivity to having the conditioning to perform at a high level in the NBA, and symptoms of COVID–such as fatigue–can take weeks or months to clear up after a patient has otherwise recovered.
There’s no way around it: both Zubac and Shamet were awful last night against the Lakers. But I can also say with full confidence that neither is an awful basketball player. Give them time to get their legs under them and figure things out–even if it means reduced roles in Orlando and a healthy start next season.
Clippers Lakers Takeaway Number Three: Amir Coffey has climbed the depth chart
This might be the least consequential of the bunch, but I promised five takeaways from Clippers – Lakers and I intend to fulfill that promise. Plus, who doesn’t love Coffey–the undrafted guard who starred for the Clippers in summer league last year, signed a two-way deal, and ultimately was chosen to come to Orlando over the team’s first-round pick from the same draft.
It’s basically impossible for Coffey to earn regular minutes on this team, as the Clippers have star-studded wings and quality guard depth. But beyond the starting unit of Beverley, George, and Leonard, and the second trio of Jackson, Williams, and Shamet, it’s likely that at one point or another in the playoffs Doc will run into the right combination of minor injuries, foul trouble, and off nights and need a few minutes from someone. Tonight, with Williams quarantined and Beverley and Shamet both limited, Coffey was that someone for Doc Rivers, playing a few minutes in each half and contributing a made three in his only recorded stat.
Rivers’ choice to trust Coffey over veteran wing Rodney McGruder is not only noteworthy as a predictor of where he will turn in future situations, but also compelling when considering each player’s future with the team beyond this season.
Clippers Lakers Takeaway Number Four: JaMychal Green and Patrick Patterson both deserve minutes
I’m not sure that there’s a right answer for Doc Rivers at the power forward position. Currently firmly entrenched at starter is versatile scorer Marcus Morris, the veteran forward who was averaging 20 points per game and shooting 44% from deep for the New York Knicks before the Clippers paid a high price for him at this year’s trade deadline. Then, battling for backup minutes are JaMychal Green and Patrick Patterson, two more traditional stretch 4s who play a lot of pick-and-pop game while battling defensively.
The biggest problem Rivers faces isn’t which backup forward’s number to call on a given night–it’s that both backups have been far superior than the guy starting ahead of them since his arrival in Los Angeles. Now, last night was just Marcus Morris’ 13th game as a Clipper–even without his New York efficiency, we have a decade of data to look at and know he won’t be as bad over a large sample size as he’s been so far.
Going away from Morris now would be a mistake, not because it would make the trade look bad, but because he is a potentially valuable weapon for the Clippers in the postseason. But even last night, where Morris played 19 minutes to Patterson’s 22 and Green’s 29, it felt indefensible for Rivers to keep his starter on the floor for as much of the fourth quarter as he did.
I don’t have a broad, sweeping conclusion to the discussion of how to handle these power forward minutes. Maybe it varies drastically based on match-up. Maybe Morris can pick up extra minutes as the second-unit small forward, where he’d get more touches playing behind Kawhi Leonard instead of along side him. There may come a point where JaMychal Green needs to be inserted into the starting lineup over Morris, but we aren’t there yet.
For now, the takeaway is just that the Clippers have a legitimate question mark at the power forward position.
Clippers Lakers Takeaway Number Five: The small-ball lineup has potential
The most important of my five takeaways from last night’s Clippers – Lakers game also has to do with the team’s power forwards. After Rivers frustrated fans all season by limiting JaMychal Green’s time at center following his excellent performances as a small-ball 5 in last year’s playoffs, limited depth has finally forced Green to center in Orlando.
With Zubac and Noah each unable to play huge minutes, and Montrezl Harrell not with the team, Green has consistently gotten center minutes in the team’s scrimmages and opening seeding game. When Green and Patterson play together, the Clippers’ offense takes on a new dimension: with two floor-spacing bigs, the opposing center is dragged out of the paint, freeing up driving lanes for the Clippers’ stars. When defenses collapse around Leonard and George, Patterson and Green are reliable spot-up and pick-and-pop shooters that punish the opposition. It’s been a sneakily effective way for the Clippers, who have sometimes struggled to find a good flow offensively to open up passing lanes and create more fluid possessions.
The Clippers aren’t the Rockets–playing small probably shouldn’t be their identity. When they go small, they miss Zubac’s rim protection and rebounding, Noah’s passing and defensive mobility, and Montrezl Harrell’s energy and elite interior scoring. But just as each of those centers brings a unique wrinkle to the Clippers’ lineup, so does the defensive versatility and floor-spacing ability of the Patterson-Green pairing (and perhaps a Morris-Green pairing, if Marcus can make a shot as a Clipper).
Doc Rivers will have to be willing to stick with them when they’re losing on the glass (though more minutes for Patrick Beverley going forward will help the team’s rebounding) and getting pounded inside, but this tandem has the potential to create more additional points than they concede, and potentially force larger, slower big men off the floor by making them defend on the perimeter.
There you have it: my five takeaways from last night’s opener between the Clippers and Lakers. If you disagree, or noticed something I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments!
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