This week, Paul George is expected to make his debut with the LA Clippers.
That's a sentence that should send a shiver down the proverbial spine of each and every one of the other 29 teams in the league.
Even without George, the Clippers have gotten the season off to a strong start. There are teams that currently have a better record, but the Clippers already have four signature wins over Western Conference playoff hopefuls. Additionally, two of their three losses came in games Kawhi Leonard sat due to load management. Had he played in those games, there's a good chance they'd be 8-1 right now, not 6-3.
Case in point? In the minutes Leonard has played, the Clippers have a top-two offence and top-two defence. Which is why it's crazy to think that they are now adding someone who was a finalist for Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year last season.
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There's a chance George never reaches those levels again considering last season was a career year for him across the board and he's since undergone not one but two procedures on his shoulders. But even 80 percent of what George was in 2018-19 can make a tremendous difference to this team.
One of the ways George will look to make an immediate impact is with his 3-point shooting. To this point of the season, the Clippers have been in the bottom half of the league in 3-pointers made and attempted. They have a number of shooters on their roster, but Landry Shamet is the only one who is a volume 3-pointer shooter. Leonard and Lou Williams both prefer to operate from midrange, while Patrick Beverley, JaMychal Green and Maurice Harkless are more selective 3-point shooters - at least when compared to other players in the NBA.
George, on the other hand, made and attempted the third-most 3s in the league last season, trailing only James Harden and Stephen Curry in both categories. He made 38.6 percent of those opportunities, an impressive rate considering the volume.
George isn't strictly a standstill shooter either. According to NBA.com, only six players scored more points than him off of screens last season. He was incredibly efficient on those plays, ranking in the 85th percentile with 1.10 points per possession. That put him on the same page as a number of sharpshooters, from JJ Redick and Buddy Hield to Kevin Durant and Tobias Harris, to name a few.
The Clippers will look to make the most of that by involving George in off-ball action when he's sharing the court with Leonard in particular. It's easy to imagine the Clippers working little things like this into their offence, with Leonard and Montrezl Harrell taking the place of Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant:
How the rest of George's game fits in with Leonard remains to be seen. George has played with other ball-dominant players in the past - Russell Westbrook being the most notable - but he's never played with someone quite like Leonard, who currently has the second-highest usage rate in the league. It will be George, not Leonard, who will have to take a backseat on offence.
There's a chance Lou Williams will only complicate that dynamic. With each of them being at the best with the ball in their hands, it could take some time to figure out how they can still get theirs, particularly down the stretch of games when they figure to be on the court together. George and Williams are both overqualified to be cast aside as shooters, but Leonard is too good of a scorer to not have the offence run through him in those situations. That's a problem Clippers head coach Doc Rivers will have to find an answer to.
It's also a good problem to have. Every other coach in the league would probably sign up for it at this very instant.
Regardless, George, Leonard and Williams have at least shown that they can excel off-ball. Leonard has long been a knockdown shooter and Williams, a career 34.9 percent 3-point shooter, isn't someone teams can leave open. If they can figure out how they're going to share the ball, they'll be a nightmare for teams to match-up with because the Clippers will be able to trot out lineups built around three perimeter players who can space the floor at a high level and pick mismatches apart, both in pick-and-rolls and isolation.
"They'll pick-and-roll everyone to death," an assistant coach in the Western Conference told Heavy's Sean Deveney before the season. "I mean, they did that last year, it was most of their offence. But now they have two guys who can hit you with it from different positions, and they are as good as anyone at it. It is not just Lou, it's PG and Kawhi, too."
The three of them won't be joined at the hip, of course. There will be plenty of times when only two of them are on the court together, sometimes maybe only one of them. The benefit of having two All-Star calibre players is Rivers will have the option of staggering their minutes to ensure that one of them is on the court at all times, with or without Williams by their side. That means the Clippers can have a top-10 player on the court at almost all times.
There's only one other team in the league right now that can do the same, and they happen to share the same arena.
All the signs point to the Clippers benefiting greatly from taking that approach, as their offence hasn't been nearly as potent without Leonard in the lineup so far this season. According to NBA.com, the Clippers have gone from scoring at a rate of 113.5 points per 100 possessions with Leonard on the court to 103.3 with him on the bench. That's essentially the difference between the Clippers having the best offence in the league and one of the worst. George can help close that gap.
The Clippers will lean on George on nights where Leonard sits out as well. As previously noted, they're now 1-2 this season in games Leonard misses due to load management, with losses coming to the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks. George alone might not be enough for the Clippers to compete with the best teams in the league when Leonard isn't available, but it goes without saying that having someone who averaged 28.0 points and 4.1 assists per game last season will make them much more competitive.
Then there's the other end of the court. Holy moly are the Clippers going to be hard to score on.
George and Leonard are arguably the two best wing defenders in the league and Patrick Beverley is one of the best defenders at the point guard position. The three of them give the Clippers an answer to almost every perimeter player in the league. Beverley will take on the responsibility of matching up with point guards - your Damian Lillards, Kyrie Irvings, Kemba Walkers - while George and Leonard tag team the likes of James Harden, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
MORE: Leonard and George are the new Jordan and Pippen
There might not be a more disruptive perimeter defender in the league right now than George, who led the league in steals (2.2) and deflections (3.8) per game last season. Leonard, meanwhile, is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He's not the regular season defender he once was, but he proved in the playoffs last season that he can still go to a level few others can, most notably in the Eastern Conference Finals when he helped the Toronto Raptors contain Antetokounmpo.
The Clippers also have the luxury of throwing Maurice Harkless on some of those players whenever George or Leonard needs a breather. This is your reminder that the Clippers didn't give up anything to acquire Harkless this offseason. In fact, they got a future first-round pick from the Miami Heat for taking on the $11 million remaining on his contract. Maybe the Clippers are the ones who are light years ahead?
The only weakness the Clippers currently have on that end is at centre. They're relying on Harrell and Ivica Zubac to match up with Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, which isn't ideal. Harrell is slightly undersized at 6-foot-7 to defend bruisers like Embiid and Jokic, and Zubac is young and inexperienced. If they had someone better suited to match up with the best centers in the league, it's hard to think of a more complete defensive team.
Could that ultimately be their undoing considering they'll likely have to go through some combination of the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz to win the title? Perhaps. But there's a chance that they address that problem between now in the playoffs, either with a trade or by picking someone up on the buyout market.
If they do and George returns to an All-NBA level, the rest of the league will be in big trouble.
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