When billionaire owner Steve Ballmer opened his cheque book to sign Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers were immediately elevated into the championship picture.
Leonard was fresh off guiding the Toronto Raptors to a first NBA title, while six-time All-Star George finally landed in a big city after starring in Indiana and Oklahoma City.
The Clippers went all-in to build a s uper team to outshine LeBron James and iconic neighbours the Los Angeles Lakers, but time is already running out to win championships after sensationally capitulating against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort.
As head coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers try to pinpoint what went wrong for the second seeds, we review the team’s 2019-20 season using STATS data.
Postseason hurdle too great
The star-studded Clippers cannot translate their regular-season form to playoff success, having finished behind only the Lakers in the west.
This campaign was the ninth consecutive season they finished with a winning record (49-23) but failed to reach the Conference finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.
The Clippers’ postseason woes were compounded by a horrific series loss to the Nuggets, having led 3-1 and stood on the cusp of an all-Los Angeles Western Conference final.
One of three franchises that joined the NBA as an expansion team in the 1970-71 season, the Clippers – formerly known as the Buffalo Braves – have never won a championship or conference title.
George and Kawhi incompatible?
The Clippers gave up a lot to pair George with Leonard.
Los Angeles sent five first-round draft picks, plus Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to the Thunder in exchange for 2018-19 MVP finalist George.
But George – who averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the regular season – struggled to produce when it mattered most and shot the ball much worse this season when he shared the court with two-time champion Leonard. The difference was even greater during the playoffs.
With Leonard on the court in the regular season, George’s field-goal percentage was 41.1 compared to 48.2 without him. During the playoffs, George boasted a 53.8 shooting percentage while Leonard was sidelined, a significant improvement on the 36.8 per cent he managed together with the former Raptors superstar.
Combined, George has a 48.8 percentage while Leonard is off the court, compared to 39.9 during the duo’s time together.
Zubac over Harrell
The Clippers could well build their team around Ivica Zubac and not 2020 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell.
In the playoffs this season, the Clippers were great with Zubac on the court but not so good with fellow center Harrell, who is set to become a free agent.
Zubac (110) had the third-highest plus-minus in the postseason, behind Lakers pair Anthony Davis (131) and Danny Green (118). Harrell was among the lowest with -68 – only Tim Hardaway Jr. (-82), Monte Morris (-82), Tyler Johnson (-73) and Maxi Kleber (-72) were worse.
Ageing Clippers over-reliant on starters
One of the Clippers’ biggest strengths is their bench, averaging over 50 points per game in each of the past two seasons – the only times any team have done that in the past 35 years.
But in the playoffs this season, the Clippers relied much more heavily on their starters as their bench averaged only 36.5 points per game in the postseason.
With the Clippers built to win now, their ageing roster also presents a problem. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, fourth and only behind the Houston Rockets (30 years, 179 days), Milwaukee Bucks (29 years, 321 days) and Lakers (29 years, 201 days) with an average of 28 years and 153 days.