Back in early January, I wrote about positive and negative trends that the Clippers had developed through the first two weeks of the season and whether or not they would stick. The results of those trends through 37 games have varied — some trends have stayed true to their early form, while others have vanished. The midway mark of the season feels like the perfect time to revisit some of the former trends to see what has materialized as the sample size has grown.
LOOKING BACK: Kawhi’s Playmaking
“This isn’t all that new as Kawhi was no stranger to post isolations last year, but now the added shooting with Serge Ibaka spaced on the perimeter makes for slower double teams and more breathing room to make the right passes. Given the personnel on the court and Kawhi’s season-by-season progression as a playmaker, this trend shouldn’t be a short-lived one.”
At the time of the last check-in, Kawhi Leonard was averaging a career-high 6.1 assists with an assist to turnover ratio of 43:14 through seven games. Most of his damage had come from both the low and high post where he was attracting double teams and pinpointing passes to red-hot perimeter shooters. Those assist numbers have dropped to 4.9 per game, in-part because the once historically-paced 3pt shooting has cooled off a bit — although still atop the NBA. With Kawhi’s assists average having regressed to where it was last season, 4.9, it’s easy to overlook the manner in how his vision and understanding of reading defenses have taken leaps forward. I’m interested in seeing how his playmaking, along with Ty Lue’s offensive creativity, can improve even more over the second half of the season. Nonetheless, I’ve been satisfied enough with the sustainability of Kawhi’s playmaking to this point.
LOOKING BACK: ISO Ball: Hits and Misses
“The Clippers have been pretty good with their ball movement all season long, but they still have a tendency to revert back to ISO ball when games are tight.”
ISO ball down has continued to hamper the Clippers down the stretch of some close games and has sparked conversation around the Clippers’ crunch time woes. It’s been most frustrating in their losses — most recently failing to register a single point in the final four minutes of their 105-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but has been noticeable in wins as well. I understand the necessity to put the ball in the hands of your best players, it just should feature diverse actions to get Kawhi and PG the ball in ways that challenge the defense — actions that don’t include isolating elite one-on-one defenders time after time again. Ty Lue is a smart guy and he recognizes that they must be better in that area. So, again, more trend-monitoring to be done in regards to ISO ball.
NOW TRENDING: Small Ball
Marcus Morris Sr.’s return from a pre-season knee injury has allowed Ty Lue to flirt with small-ball lineups this season. The combination of Kawhi, PG, Beverley, Batum, and Morris Sr., has spent a total of 17 minutes together through five games, while that same lineup with Lou Williams instead of Beverley has played 14 minutes together over five games. At its best, the small-ball lineups have created headaches for opposing defenses to try and guard; just ask Rudy Gobert, who helped off of Patrick Beverley and conceded a late-game open three-pointer while trying to defend the paint. The Clippers’ 5-out lineup has been a turning point during wins, but those same lineups have displayed weaknesses in defending and rebounding, especially down the stretch. Ty Lue’s decision to play small and go away from Zubac, the best Giannis defender on the team, cost the Clippers a win as the Greek Freak lived at the rim late in the game.
As it stands, small-ball has had its highs and lows, but Ty Lue has shown that this will be a strategy used in certain games — which was absent last year.
NOW TRENDING: 4th Quarter Zubac Minutes
What a difference a year makes. Ivica Zubac has already logged 210 fourth-quarter minutes — 131 more than he did all of the last regular season, and more than double Serge Ibaka’s fourth-quarter minutes so far. To truly emphasize how low Zu’s fourth-quarter minutes were last season, Reggie Jackson joined the team just after the all-star break and managed to play 76 fourth-quarter minutes. With that said, I don’t think this trend is going to carry over into the postseason. That’s not to say Zu won’t see any minutes down the stretch, but Lawrence Frank mentioned previously how the Clippers signed Ibaka with hopes to shore up their playoff rotation — which might indicate that they are simply saving Ibaka’s legs for the playoffs. Zu has been the team’s best big man for the majority of the season though, and for the time being, he’s earned his late-game minutes. It’ll be interesting to see which direction Ty Lue leans once the playoffs arrive. As for now, it’s nice to see Zu get rewarded for his stellar play.
We’ve reached a point in the season in which the Clippers’ trends that have remained consistent throughout are now likely realities. Keep an eye on what minor changes or improvements are made during the second half of the season, as it will be telling of what we can expect come playoff time.