Signed Kawhi Leonard, traded for Paul George
The LA Clippers paid a steep price to add Paul George, but it can only be evaluated in conjunction with the Kawhi Leonard signing (a three-year, $103 million deal with a player option in 2021-22).
The details are still jarring to the eye, even a few weeks later. From ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
The Clippers are sending Oklahoma City their unprotected 2022, 2024 and 2026 picks, their unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami, and the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025, league sources said.
The Clippers also are sending point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to the Thunder in the deal, league sources said.
Gallo is a wonderful offensive player on an expiring deal. Gilgeous-Alexander is a promising young player with potential star upside. Trading draft picks so far out is very risky, the swaps even more so. And yes, both Leonard and George are only signed through the 2020-21 season.
Still, this an A+ deal. Championship windows won’t prop themselves open.
George and Leonard were two of the highest-usage players in the league last season; they both ranked in the top 20, per Basketball-Reference. Despite their ball dominance, the pair should, theoretically, fit together about as well as any star duo can.
Take Harris and Gallo, then slip them the steroids Bane used in the Batman cartoon TV show. That’s what I envision “The Clamp Brothers” looking like.
As I said in a piece here on Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers will be devastating in the pick-and-roll next year. The team has so many options with multiple guys who can handle, roll and space off-ball.
The Clippers ran pick-and-roll for the ballhandler on 22.8 percent of their possessions last season, the highest frequency in the NBA. It’s hard to see that figure decreasing. At times, a pick-and-roll heavy offense can struggle to generate quality looks against switch-heavy defenses.
Not so with the Clippers.
Should teams decide to switch picks, wish them good luck. Both Leonard and George have the ballhandling and shooting chops to put larger defenders on skates and either pop from three or get all the way to the rim. Smaller defenders will be taken to the block and bludgeoned.
Both Leonard and George ranked good to great in terms of points per-possession in both isolation and post-up situations last season.
Large, versatile wings who can shoot threes, defend and handle the ball are the most coveted players in the league. The Clippers now have two of the very best. Half-courts get bogged down in the playoffs as the best defenses in the league take everything you want to do away.
Players in Leonard’s mold are the ultimate break-in-case of emergency option.
Also, and this is kind of insane considering George was a strong contender for MVP through most of last season, there should be little to no “whose team is it?” noise. George will slip comfortably into place as Robin to Leonard’s Batman.
We all know the reasons why this should work. Are there any reasons why it might not?
Both of Kawhi’s previous stops in San Antonio and Toronto afforded him the luxury (more so in Toronto) of playing his bully-boy offense as part of beautiful, intricate team offenses. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Manu Ginobili are all wonderful passers individually.
Probably the only Devil’s advocate argument one can make against the 2019-20 Clippers, aside from health concerns, would be to highlight the team’s lack of high-level passing at basically every position.
Which is not to say the team doesn’t have some good passers. George is a good play-maker. Leonard is average to good most possessions, probably even a little underrated in that regard.
Still, you have to go all the way back to the 2004 Detroit Pistons to find an NBA champion that didn’t have one guy who was a great if not genius passer at his position (though some in Detroit might argue over Chauncey Billups).
That may just be a coincidence. The Finals tend to attract the best of every skill set. It’ll be interesting to monitor, particularly as the playoffs draw near.
Still, let’s not overthink things.