It was a very quiet Wednesday around the bubble with no games on the schedule, so we’re going to use this opportunity to do a post-mortem on the Clippers season. We’ll then talk about the announcement of the All-NBA teams which snubbed the likes of Bam Adebayo, Khris Middleton and Bradley Beal.
What’s next for the Clippers?
The Clippers have been getting roasted and rightfully so after their implosion vs. the Nuggets, blowing a 3-1 series lead with one of the worst Game 7 performances I’ve ever seen — they were outscored 50-33 in the second half with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combining for five points on 2-of-18 shooting in that frame.
The excuses rained down after, with Doc Rivers citing a lack of conditioning as one of the reasons why his team collapsed. “I was never comfortable. I just wasn’t,” Rivers said of the 3-1 series lead. “I just knew conditioning-wise, like, we had guys that just couldn’t play minutes, and that’s hard, you know. I mean, there were two or three times a night where we actually started getting it going, and a guy had to come out. I mean, it is what it is. So no, I was never comfortable. I can tell you that up front. I told our coaches that.”
Rivers made history for all the wrong reasons by becoming the only coach to ever blow three 3-1 leads in the playoffs, but The Athletic reported on Wednesday that his job security is not in doubt. Rivers did make some glaring mistakes including giving Montrezl Harrell too much run against Nikola Jokic early in the series, but it’s hard to place too much blame on him when his second best player in Paul George became an internet meme. Yes, his nickname is now “Wayoff P” on Twitter instead of “Playoff P.” No idea how that website is free. Also, shout out to Damian Lillard for one of the most savage tweets of all time (link).
Rivers’ quote wasn’t nearly as head-turning as George’s though… “It was obvious pressure to live up to the title expectations,” George said. “But as a player, I mean, you want that. … It’s no cop-out. Fact of the matter is, we didn’t live up to that expectation. But I think, internally, we’ve always felt this is not a championship-or-bust year for us.” He went on to say that he didn’t think the Clippers had enough time together, but it’s still such a weird thing to say when you consider the price tag the Clippers paid to bring George to L.A. — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers’ first round draft picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, two first-round picks via Miami (2021 and 2023), and OKC has the right to swap first-round picks in 2023 and 2025. I’m sorry, but if you’re paying that much of a premium and you call yourself “Playoff P” you better at least take your team to the Finals.
Hindsight is 20-20, but If I’m the Clippers and could go back in time I wouldn’t do the deal straight up for SGA, let alone the seven picks. George simply hasn’t been the same since undergoing surgery to both shoulders and it’s not like he hasn’t had time to recover as it’s been nearly 1.5 years. And here’s a frightening thing to consider; both George and Kawhi Leonard can opt out of their deals during the 2021 offseason. So yeah, the Clippers’ title window could close in an instant without any picks to fall back on. Needless to say, this front office has a lot of thinking to do and with their draft pick situation they are forced to stick with this core in the hope that they can find the chemistry issues that have plagued them all year.
Let’s squeeze some fantasy nuggets here while we’re at it, as I think Leonard and George will be two of the most polarizing picks in drafts next season. Leonard’s health has been declining for a few years now with that chronic quad issue, so the load management isn’t going away. Depending on the number of back-to-backs, Leonard begins the new season with the expectation of missing +/- 10 games from the jump. He looked like he didn’t have much lift in the Denver series and he’s one year shy of 30, so if anything I think the load management will increase. I still think he’ll be a top five per-game value, but if I’m picking in the late first round I’d much rather have a young stud like Jayson Tatum. If Kawhi is available around pick 15, then I’ll bite.
George presents an interesting dilemma. On one hand, you have a player that is one season removed from being the third best player in 9-cat for 2018-19, but on the other you have a player who shot 39% in the playoffs while disappearing when it mattered most. He should still be in his prime at age 30 and you’d think all the time off he’s about to have will erase any concerns about his shoulder, so even though I just clowned him earlier I have a feeling that George could be a bargain at his ADP next season. Let’s see where the market puts him and then revisit this another time.
Finally, let’s discuss a possible sleeper in Ivica Zubac, a guy who was a net plus in 11 of the 13 playoff games. Montrezl Harrell is a free agent, but I like Zubac regardless of Harrell’s decision. He has grown into a really sound defender and he was their only prayer vs. Nikola Jokic with Harrell playing himself off the floor. He only averaged 18.4 minutes per game this season, but I think that number is closer to 24 next season and that could make him a sneaky late-round pick — he has a per-36 line of 16.2 points, 14.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 blocks, massive numbers for a player heading into his age-23 campaign.
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2019-20 All-NBA Teams Announced
Overall the NBA did a pretty good job with a couple notable exceptions. Russell Westbrook making the third team over the likes of Khris Middleton and Bradley Beal is pretty egregious, and you could argue that Bam Adebayo deserves a spot on that team (perhaps over Rudy Gobert).
Khris Middleton actually had enough total points to make the team with 81, much more than Westbrook (56) and Ben Simmons (61), but as Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer pointed out his votes were split between G and F. I mean come on NBA, this is becoming a position-less game and it’s time for the voting to recognize that. Middleton is every bit deserving of a spot, almost joining the 50/40/90 club this season with averages of 20.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 triples. It sounds like the Bucks will be reloading with a similar supporting cast next season outside of Eric Bledsoe who will likely be dumped for a shooter, so I like Middleton’s chances of repeating his success.
Beal was the biggest snub though. I understand that team success plays a role in the voting, but the dude was carrying a team that was giving Ian Mahinmi consistent minutes. In Beal’s last 25 games, he was putting up MVP-like numbers of 34.2 points, 5.5 dimes, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 3.6 triples on 48% from the field. Beal didn’t play inside the bubble because of a right rotator cuff injury but surgery is out of the question which means he’s locked and loaded as a late first-round pick in my book for next season.