The Clippers began this season as one of the most surprising stories in the NBA, briefly holding grasp of the top seed in the Western Conference. While they have somewhat fallen back down to earth, they are still clearly outperforming expectations.
Question #1: The roster construction of the Clippers is very much a contrast to that of the Sixers. While the Sixers have three elite players and little else, the Clippers have one borderline star in Tobias Harris, surrounded by many solid role players. I can’t remember a team comprised the way this Clippers team is- what are some of the pros and cons of building a roster this way?
The main pro is that the Clippers are actually both a good team and fun to watch. The latter years of “Lob City” were a slog despite the greatness of their Big 3, while this Clippers team of smaller names is a blast to watch. They almost always put forth maximum effort, they don’t take their place in the NBA for granted, and generally display levels of hustle that were rarely seen from the Lob City group. Another pro is that the roster is more flexible, both in terms of matching up with other teams on the court, and in being “assets” for trade talks.
The con, of course, is simple: a team like this will never compete for an NBA championship. People will bring up the 2004 Pistons, but that team had two likely Hall of Famers in their primes, as well as two other players who were All-Star caliber talents. The Clippers have nobody close to the level of Chauncey Billups or Ben Wallace, and that limits their ceiling. In a more micro sense, their lack of starpower also means they’re prone to some pretty horrid stretches of play, particularly on offense, when nobody can stop the bleeding.
Question #2: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a player who the Sixers passed on when they had the 10th pick in last summer’s draft. The Clippers ultimately traded up to the 11th spot in order to grab him. How has he looked this far in year one?
Shai has been everything Clippers’ fans could have hoped for and more in his rookie season. Even though he’s slumped lately, that has more to do with his fit in the offense than any real weaknesses in his own game. He’s a good ball-handler, a very solid passer and playmaker (when given a chance to do so), has some funky finishing ability around the basket, and is deadly in the midrange. Shai has even proven to be a solid three-point shooter off the catch (38.9% on 1.5 attempts per game), which bodes well for his development as a true threat from deep in a couple years.
Even more impressively, Shai has been a positive-impact defender in year one despite a lack of strength and a tendency to foul. As he bulks up and grows more accustomed to the NBA, I think there’s a strong chance he becomes an All-Defense caliber player who can switch across three (potentially even four) positions. While Shai unfortunately can’t compare to Luka Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr. right now, he’s been a positive impact player as a rookie, and there are many apparent avenues for him to become a top-level NBA talent in his prime.
Question #3. The Clippers are at the center of free agency rumors right now. They’ve become an intriguing alternative to having to play in LeBron’s shadow for those who want to be in Los Angeles. The two names they’ve been linked to the most are Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant. If you could choose to add one of those players this summer, which one would you take?
Kawhi. Kevin Durant is three years older than Kawhi and has played over twice as many minutes in the NBA as him. While that does speak to Durant’s consistency (and Leonard’s injury history), it still means the aging curve over the next four-five years is likely to be far harsher to KD than it will be to Kawhi. There have been no real signs this season that Kawhi’s hamstring injury last season will be a longterm problem, as he’s regained his place as a top seven player in the NBA for the Raptors. Durant is still one of the best players in the NBA as well, but I think Kawhi will hold his place at the apex for longer than KD will.
Big thanks to Robert Flom of Clips Nation for taking the time to answer our questions!