There’s very little that’s organic about this Clippers team, and the magic suffers for it.
This is a fantasy squad.
Just three of the Clippers’ top 12 players in the rotation started last season on the team. The team’s performances are a reflection of this – both a lack of cohesion from no continuity and a ridiculous collection of talent that justifies the remodelling.
They have little rhythm. The Bucks, now in year two under Mike Budenholzer, are a symphony. Their connections are telepathic. The Clippers’ are not – their connections are very Earth-bound. They don’t hum – they wear you down with the weight of their gifts.
They are Real Madrid, and the Bucks are peak Barcelona.
The Clippers’ gifts might be enough to win the title anyway. They have the most talent, and Kawhi Leonard can be the best player in the league. Their combination of size, speed, power and skill can make other good teams look hopeless and results feel inevitable.
Their depth is the envy of the league. It also might be a curse – there are a lot of mouths to feed. Players like Reggie Jackson might be more hassle than they’re worth.
Having too many good players, though, isn’t going to bring down the Clippers. What may bring them down is that the good players often seem to exist in isolation.
Of the truly great perimetre players in the league, Leonard and Paul George are two of the weaker passers. The ball doesn’t whir around for LA – it sticks. If it sticks in the hands of Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, it doesn’t really matter, but it kills the music a little.
Jackson can pass but spends a lot of time dancing, prone to self-indulgent solo dribbling tracks. Marcus Morris has no conscience – he has no problem with corralling a rebound, dribbling up court, and taking a contested mid-range jump-shot before anyone else has touched the ball.
Ultimately Jackson and Morris are a side-show – LA’s fate will be decided by Leonard and George. Across town, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are a magnificent fit, superstars who accentuate each other’s greatness.
On offence, Leonard and George have little connection yet – they exist as stars in separate scenes, two different films on different TVs stacked on top of each other sharing the court.
Defensively is where their connection will be greatest – perhaps the two most disruptive defensive perimetre talents in the league, combining their length and athleticism to suffocate the court and break opponents.
The size and tenacity of the Clippers’ starting five ruined the Nuggets. Gary Harris and Will Barton have no place as wings opposite Leonard and George – they were made to look insignificant.
By default, LA will be elite whenever Leonard and George share the floor. When they’re off the floor is when the Clippers actually start to hum, even if they’re not as brutally efficient, with the stylings of the Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell partnership the one place where LA gets to sing.
That is one connection that is telepathic and special – if the Clippers can find more they will be unstoppable, and they might be anyway, even if they can’t.