Wow. It’s been a minute. The last time I wrote on here was when the Clippers made the big decision to sign All-Star Guard Russell Westbrook. It has been quite a fluctuating roller coaster since then. The Clips immediately went on a 5-game losing streak with notable games such as a demoralizing 176-175 2OT loss to the Kings, another OT loss to the Nuggets, and a brutal one point loss to the Kings again. As media outlets usually do, they pointed every finger they had at Russell Westbrook. I will come out and admit that I was quite a big skeptic when it came to the Russ acquisition, but even I can admit that he wasn’t even playing that badly during the stretch. Since that five game dip, the Clips have won 7 of their last 10, including a 4 game win streak. As of right now, the Clippers are 40-36, 0.5 GB of the 4th seed and a game ahead of the 6th seed. Let’s take a look to see how our squad’s been playing over the last 15 games.
First let’s break down the most polarizing player on the team: Russell Westbrook. As I mentioned before, I was not a proponent of his signing. In my mind, I felt that putting Terance Mann at point guard was an incredible adjustment that didn’t need change. Unfortunately, that’s not how it ended up working out, but there’s only so much you can do as a fan. Since joining LAC, Westbrook is averaging 13.9 points, 7.3 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game. The first few games were a bit difficult for Russ to find his identity within the team, but Westbrook’s unwavering optimistic personality on and off the court has helped him carve his role on this team. Russ has proven himself to be an elite offensive rebounder, providing the Clips with many second-chance opportunities. Another encouraging development has been the way that he pushes the pace. While Russ’s FG% at the rim have been less tan mediocre, this is adding a new dimension to the Clipper offense that was often times stagnant and one of the statistically slowest in the NBA. The numbers don’t lie either. The Clippers pace of play has increased substantially and almost every player on the Clippers True Shooting Percentage has gone up in minutes with Russ.
The final Russ wrinkle (this one’s targeted for the true basketball junkies) that has been the most exciting in terms of future possibility of implementation has been using Russ in the screener. Historically, Russ sets little to no screens, but a guard acting as the screener and operating in the short roll is a Clipper specialty. Already, in just fifteen games, Russ has bought into the Clipper identity of these small PNR scenarios and has found immediate success with it. Definitely something to look for come playoff time. Overall, Russ has been a very solid addition for the Clips making an impact on the court, but more importantly off of it. I don’t think the man has ever been anything but a joy cheering on his teammates and encouraging them to keep their chins up when the going gets tough.
Next, I gotta talk about the silent assassin, the Klaw himself, Kawhi Leonard. As someone who is blessed to be able to watch every Clipper home game in person from the rafters, it is truly incredible to just watch this man cook. Since adding Russ, Kawhi is averaging 27.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 55/49/87 splits. Just ridiculous efficiency. He has been nothing short of sensational, doing it all on both ends of the court. It’s consistent play like this that will always keep LAC in the running, so long as Kawhi is on the squad. Every time he steps on the court, you’ve got a chance.
Paul George is who I want to talk about next. I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that the Clippers success doesn’t rely on Kawhi or Russ, but PG. When PG plays up to the All-NBA level that we all know he can get to, the Clippers have a shot. When he hides behind the spotlight and becomes passive, we are essentially shooting ourselves in the foot. Unfortunately, just as PG was making public comments highlighting how healthy he finally feels, and then following those comments up by pulling up ridiculous in-game 360 degree dunks, he snagged a rebound and landed awkwardly, requiring him to be carried off the floor. I genuinely don’t think Clippers fans can have nice things. Right as he was reaching his stride, playing at a really high-level, an injury comes out of nowhere and completely messes with the trajectory of the season. George will be re-evaluated right as the season ends, but Clipper fans shouldn’t expect to see him suit up unless the Clippers can make it past the first-round of the playoffs.
The last thing I want to talk about, which has been an incredible development to watch in person, has been the downfall of Marcus Morris Sr. If you take any time out of your day and search “Marcus Morris” on Twitter, grab your popcorn and enjoy reading the replies. Morris, once a key rotational player for the Clips in their ’21 Playoff run, has lost his juice. It’s truly rough to watch. What makes it even worse is that Ty Lue appears to have some sort of affinity for Morris by keeping him in the game when he’s clearly getting cooked. His jumpers are always short and he’s a defensive liability, getting back-door cut more times than anyone should. In a stunning, turn of events, the Clippers announced that they will start Nico Batum will start the rest of the season at the PF and that Morris will fall out of the rotation. Much to Clippers’ fans’ shock, this decision is one that is long overdue. Not to Clippers’ fans’ shock, Nico knocked down 8/10 3’s in his first start last night.
With no PG for the remainder of the season, the Clips have a tough road ahead of them. 8 more games lie between them and a post-season berth. I just pray for the sanity of Clipper fans, please avoid the Play-In. Nothing causes more stress and pain (We speak from experience on this matter). It’s the final push. Next Man Up mentality. Game by Game. We move. Let’s go Clips.