Next Man Up: The Identity of the LA Clippers

Every good team in the league has an identity. If you’ve been watching the Clippers for the past few years, you’ll have noticed a couple of different identities. Taking it back to the ‘18-’19 season, the Clippers asserted themselves as a gritty squad with a junkyard mentality. Led by Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrel, and Patrick Beverley, this Clipper squad stole two games away from the #1 seeded Warriors with Kevin Durant, including a thrilling 28-point comeback win. The next offseason, the team made some drastic changes by signing Kawhi Leonard and acquiring Paul George. With these massive acquisitions, they tried to solidify a new identity, but right as they began clicking as a team, COVID put the league on halt, and we all know what happened in the NBA Bubble…

 Last season, the Clips signed Ty Lue, a much-needed change within the organization, and he led the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The journey did not come without adversity as the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the Luka-led Dallas Mavericks. At one point during Game 3, the Mavs led 30-11, but the Clippers did not quit. With their backs against the wall, they inched their way out of the game and ended up closing the series in 7. Facing the Jazz in the next round, the Clippers found themselves in yet another 2-0 hole. Thanks to Ty Lue’s incredible adjustments that somehow always took two games to kick in, the “Comeback Clips” slowly dug themselves out of a hole. However, as they evened the series at 2-2, Kawhi injured his knee and was out for the rest of the playoffs. All hope seemed lost and another playoff trip ending before the conference finals seemed inevitable. 

Despite all the adversity, the Clippers developed a “Next Man Up” mentality. With Kawhi gone, PG stepped up in a big way and stole game 5. Game 6 will forever live in Clippers’ fans’ heads as the Terrance Mann game. It was only right that the game that the Clippers booked their first trip to the Conference Finals was the first full-capacity game at Staples Center in almost two years. Unfortunately, the Clippers fell a bit short the next series and dropped the WCF to the Suns in 6. Although disappointing, this new “Next Man Up” culture began to emerge. 

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Fast forward to the ‘21-’22 season and the Clippers are still without Kawhi and have been without Paul George for the past several games. And yet, they are still winning games. Since PG has been out, the star-less Clippers have gone 5-3, maintained their spot in the standings, and even won four games in a row. This would never have been possible, however, without the help of their deep roster stepping up to the plate. Major credit is due to Lawrence Frank and the front office for taking a chance on guys that the rest of the league passed around. Guys like Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Luke Kennard have all completely shifted the trajectory of their career since joining the Clippers. 

Now, I want to take a second to see this “Next Man Up” culture in action. In the month of December, Luke Kennard is averaging 17.3 ppg on 53% from 3. This absurd statistic has Luke ranked as one of the most elite snipers in the league. Then, you have guys like Reggie who have become nothing short of automatic since last year. Delivering in clutch moment after clutch moment, Reggie shot 41% from 3 averaging just under 18 ppg. He completely stepped up to the plate and lived up to his nickname “Big Government” by bailing the Clippers out of sticky situations. The last Clipper that I want to talk about is Nico Batum, perhaps the most underrated player on the team. A man who genuinely does it all without any complaints. Batum might be the most selfless player in the NBA. Whether he is tasked with guarding 1 through 5, hitting clutch 3’s, or making incredible passes, Batum does it all without a single complaint. Even Brandon Boston, the 51st pick in the draft, had 27 points and 4 steals against the Celtics the other night. Time and time again, the depth is showing out. These guys combined with the incredible vision of Isaiah Hartenstein and the bulldozer that is Eric Bledsoe have kept the Clippers afloat in the gritty Western Conference. 

When one man goes down, we have two more ready to step up to the plate. Although we miss Patrick Beverley, the Clippers have incredible locker room chemistry and it shows. Everyone knows what it takes to be successful and they put the team first. After being eliminated last year, Reggie had an incredibly heartfelt speech that touched Clippers fans and NBA fans everywhere. During his speech, he said, “Thank you for saving me.” As an organization, the Clippers not only step up to the plate on the court, but off it as well. With such a positive locker room and so much depth, I’m excited to see what the “Next Man Up” Clippers can achieve next.

Written by Michael Bannerman

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