It’s a new season. The Los Angeles Clippers have made changes all over the court, including bench personnel. Ty Lue is the new head coach, and he brought a lot of new faces with him including former Clipper, Chauncey Billups. While the team is set to field several new additions to the actual roster, the coaching change might prove to be the most impactful to the on-court product.
After many question marks surrounding Doc Rivers’ rotation decisions through the 2020 season and playoffs, we take a look at what Ty Lue might do with the Clippers 2021 Rotation.
Clippers 2021 Rotation
The starters have very few question marks with most of last year’s opening lineup returning. Patrick Beverley remains the heart, soul, and vocal leader of this team, so I don’t foresee anyone taking away his starting position. The former Razorback is known for his defense and fiery energy, but he’s also been an underrated shooter for most of his career.
In 2020, he shot 38.8% from 3-point range last season, good for 38th in the league amongst players who averaged at least 4.0 3PA per game. While this is not elite, it’s better than most might give him credit for considering his hard-nosed, defensive-minded reputation.
It’s what happens after Beverley that makes this positional rotation interesting. Reggie Jackson is listed as the backup point guard, but as could be seen in last year’s playoffs, Jackson’s lack of defense can become a liability if his offense isn’t clicking. Don’t get me wrong, Jackson is not among the worst defenders in the league, but it’s also not his strong suit. At 6’3 he’s got the length and tools to be a capable team defender, but that becomes difficult when sharing the court with his 6’1 shooting guard bench partner, Lou Williams.
This begs the question, should Williams be the main backup point guard, allowing Jackson to become more of a spot minutes/insurance option behind two older guards? This would allow the Clippers to play a much larger brand of basketball, mitigating the lack of defense that comes off the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of both Williams and Jackson at backup point guard throughout the season.
Again, the starter in this scenario is not in question. Paul George (6’9) will once again be one of the tallest starting guards in the league alongside Ben Simmons (6’10), LeBron James (6’9), and Luka Doncic (6’7). George had a tough first-round series against the Mavericks, and a subpar finish to the conference semifinal series against the Nuggets, but don’t think for a second that George isn’t still one of the elite two-way players in the league.
He missed a large portion of last season while recovering from dual-shoulder surgery, not something easily overcome for a volume shooter like George. The year before in Oklahoma City, however, George put up a career-high in PPG (28.0), RPG (8.2), APG (4.1), and SPG (2.2). He averaged these insane numbers on his way to finishing as a league MVP finalist, All-NBA Defensive player, and his sixth All-Star appearance. Watch out for George to have a bounce-back season after inking a 4-year max extension to stay with the Clippers.
This, again, is where things get interesting. Lou Williams is a natural 2-guard thanks to his premier scoring ability. However, at only 6’1, the team operates better defensively when he is running the point, allowing longer players to patrol the wings. If Williams does spend much time at point guard, expect newly acquired Luke Kennard to step into this backup shooting guard role.
Kennard, a 6’5, fourth-year player out of Duke, averaged 15.8 PPG last season along with 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. The southpaw sharpshooter has proven that he’s more than capable of creating shots for himself and others, something the Clippers haven’t seen much of from any players not named Leonard or George.
Kawhi “The Fun Guy” Leonard has the position on lockdown. He’s a Top 5 player in the NBA today and only a year removed from his second Finals MVP on as many teams. The defensive specialist has expanded his offensive game to include the deep ball, creating for others, and deadliest of all, a wicked midrange fadeaway reminiscent of the Mamba himself.
The listed back up small forward will likely be the aforementioned Kennard, alongside Jackson at the point and Williams at the two. However, as we have mentioned, don’t be surprised if this bench unit slides down a position to allow for more size at various points throughout the season.
If Kennard is in at shooting guard, the Clippers have two realistic options at the three: newly acquired Nicolas Batum, and second-year player Terance Mann. If I had to guess, Batum has this role on lock. He’s a veteran player that can handle the ball, shoot the three, and defend at a decent level thanks in large part to his 6’9 frame. At age 32, it’s realistic to think Batum may have lost a step, but his versatility and veteran presence will become invaluable as the Clippers head into their next playoff run.
Mann is an intriguing option and will likely get solid minutes this season, especially on a team known for injuries and resting older players. He is a long, athletic guard that rebounds tenaciously for his size. He’s becoming a capable defender before our eyes and isn’t afraid to challenge anyone at the rim. His downfall comes in his lack of confidence to score. Mann is extremely hesitant to shoot the basketball from any distance outside the paint despite a decent looking shot form. If he’s unable to overcome this mental block, he won’t crack the regular rotation just yet.
There is a minor question mark at starting power forward, but I don’t expect it to last long. Perhaps the biggest (pun intended) addition to the roster, Serge Ibaka, is capable of playing both power forward and center. However, Marcus Morris just signed a 4-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. I know five of the last seven 6th Man of the Year winners have come from the Clippers, but I don’t foresee Ty Lue bringing Morris off the bench at this point.
Morris has been labeled as the “better twin” after putting up career-high numbers last season in New York before being traded to the Clippers. Markeiff Morris, however, now has a ring to dangle in front of Marcus for the time being. We hope as much as he does that Marcus can return the favor after this season.
If the Clippers do opt to go with Reggie Jackson at point guard, this will likely be Batum’s main role throughout the season. He has typically been an oversized wing player throughout his career, but time and time again we’ve seen players move up a position as they get older, mostly so they don’t have to continue guarding younger, quicker players.
We saw Paul Pierce do it. Joe Johnson did it. Even Vince Carter played some four before his career was over. Batum is likely next on the list. His 6’9 frame and guard-like skillset make him a scary mismatch for bench forwards around the league.
Last season, Patterson shot a career-best 39% from long range on a career-low 13.2 minutes per game. That type of efficiency combined with a 240lb center-like frame doesn’t come around often. The 31-year-old big man may just find himself playing a lot of backup power forward this season if the Clippers opt for a larger lineup, alternating between Jackson and Williams at point guard.
Also, don’t be shocked if Leonard, and potentially George, see some spot minutes at the four in games where they’re needed for 35+ minutes a night.
This is the biggest question mark in the starting five right now in my mind. Zubac has been a young stud during his first four seasons in the league, struggling somewhat in areas that are historically fixable like foul trouble, finding open shooters, and sometimes finishing around the rim. He’s an excellent free throw shooting center and averaged a near double-double last season with 8.3 PPG and 7.5 RPG. The 23-year-old Bosnian big man has shown continuous growth and could be poised for a breakout season, especially now that Rivers and his seemingly favorite player Montrezl Harrell are no longer with the team.
There is, however, one big thing standing in Zubac’s way to becoming a premier starting center: Serge Ibaka. I don’t expect this to become an intense competition as both players will see plenty of game action, likely even sharing the court at times, but I do wonder how Ibaka’s presence impacts Zubac’s role overall.
It’s not outlandish to think that Ibaka, the former NBA Champion and 11-year veteran, could take over the starting center position. After all, he can do everything Zubac can do along with hitting upwards of 38% of his 3-point shots like he did last season. Ibaka’s defensive numbers have fallen off some, but the magnitude of his impact as another floor spacer and rim protector cannot be put into words, especially after Clipper fans watched Montrezl Harrell get smoked by Nikola Jokic time and time again in last year’s playoffs.
End of the Bench
The Clippers were one of the most likely teams to rest their star players last year. Leonard has a degenerative knee issue that reportedly limits him from playing games on back-to-back nights. George was coming off of major dual-shoulder surgery. Beverley plays with such a fiery passion every night that it’s not uncommon for him to miss time with injury. Williams isn’t getting any younger and has been known to take a few games off in the last few seasons to maintain his lengthy career.
Coffey played in 18 games for the Clippers last season as a rookie. He hit 6/19 3-point attempts (31.6%) and averaged nearly a full rebound and assist per game. The 6’7, former Golden Gopher was a fantastic option off the end of the bench last season during spot minutes. When players are out with injury or in late-game situations, Coffey showed that he belongs on a roster somewhere, and he may be fighting for a rotation spot in the next couple of years.
Another second-year player, Kabengele appeared in only 12 games with the Clippers in 2019-20. He did, however, light up a few G-League games. In 27 appearances, Kabengele shot 32% from distance while averaging 18.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. These are eye-popping numbers for the up and coming big, even against G-League competition. The addition of Ibaka puts Kabengele on the back burner again for at least another season, but don’t be surprised if he becomes a Clippers household name in the coming seasons.
Oturu is arguable the best current rookie on the Clippers’ roster. He averaged 20.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in college at fellow teammate Amir Coffey’s alma mater, Minnesota. The 6’10 forward shot 36.5% from distance and swatted away an average of 2.5 blocks per game in his final season with the Golden Gophers. He shares a lot of similar traits with Kabengele, leading me to believe that one of them may be part of a trade package down the road, but I could be wrong. Oturu is definitely going to be fun to watch as he develops in the league.
Overtime Heroics Clippers 2021 Rotation Prediction
|PG||Patrick Beverley||Lou Williams||Reggie Jackson|
|SG||Paul George||Luke Kennard||Lou Williams|
|SF||Kawhi Leonard||Nicolas Batum||Luke Kennard||Terance Mann|
|PF||Marcus Morris||Serge Ibaka||Nicolas Batum||Patrick Patterson|
|C||Serge Ibaka||Ivica Zubac||Patrick Patterson||Mfiondu Kabengele|
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