The Clippers are either the same useless pretenders they have always been or they’re a top favourite to win an injury-riddled year for many.
Both can’t be right and no, there is no middle ground. So let’s compare the two separate teams 98 days apart, the 2019-20 Clippers and the 2020-21 Clippers so far. There is only one way to do this: Dr Jack style.
2019-20 Kawhi Leonard thought it was a good idea to kick off the season with a New Balance ad declaring LA is his city. He even had a key attachment of a crown, which can only be a shot at one man. You take your guess.
After flying through the season with nearly every NBA analyst tipping the Clippers as favourites, they entered the bubble and things quickly got ugly.
After only just skating through the Dallas Mavericks with the help of a controversial ejection of Kristaps Porzingis, the nicknames ‘Pandemic P’ and ‘PG 13 per cent’ started for Paul George.
They then obviously choked a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets, forcing every NBA analyst other than Nick Wright to either claim the bubble is meaningless, blame Paul George, or ignore their fallen prediction and anoint the Lakers as champions.
The 2020-21 duo of George and Leonard had to deal with all the ridicule that came after this. This time there was much more time to digest it and laugh at it.
But like how the sequel is rarely as good as the original, the 2019-20 collapse was the reason we have laughed at the 2020-21 Clippers so much.
Big edge: 2019-20 LA Clippers
2019-20: Kawhi Leonard (superstar), Paul George (star), Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Marcus Morris (solid role players).
2020-21: Kawhi Leonard (superstar), Paul George (star), Marcus Morris and Serge Ibaka (solid role players).
If playoff Rajon Rondo becomes a thing again, then I’m going to regret leaving him out of the solid players tier. Rondo might be a phenomenal player-coach, but his playing days are done three years later than they should have been.
Slight edge: 2019-20 LA Clippers
The 2019-20 Clippers had two obvious things going against them and one less obvious thing that became their undoing. For the obvious, it was the hype coming in and the bubble.
It’s a mistake to take lessons from the bubble and apply them to the upcoming playoffs. Jamal Murray did not make a leap after playing like a MVP candidate. Miami Heat are three games down from not making the playoffs.
There’s a higher chance of going to war with aliens than TJ Warren scoring 53 points ever again. The bubble was an experiment, where outliers are bound to happen. It was not a real simulation.
The less obvious flaw was their lack of consistency sharing the court. We saw this in the playoffs as they learnt the hard way that things would not just work themselves out against top-level teams and coaches.
For the 2019-20 Clippers, in their 72 games, Leonard and George shared the floor for 1828 possessions and had a +12.1 differential. For the non-stat junkies, this simply means if Leonard and George are on the court for a 100-possession game, they will win the game by 12 points. This matters.
For the 2020-21 Clippers, they have played way less with only 55 games under their belt, yet the duo have nearly as many possessions with 1757 and have a whopping +17 differential.
This means that not only are the duo way more accustomed to playing with each other but they have actually made the whole team better, instead of just two uniquely talented individuals taking turns on scoring like the 2019-20 Clippers.
The 2020-21 Clippers also got rid of Doc Rivers, who thought no magical Game 7 speech was needed heading into a game where his team rolled over like scared sheep. Fun fact: Rivers has a commanding 3-1 lead versus all other coaches in blowing 3-1 leads. I wonder why?
But they still lack a defensive big, which Montrezl Harrell never really provided. The Clippers look new and improved.
Big edge: 2020-21 LA Clippers
Extended stretch of dominance
For such a hyped team, the 2019-20 Clippers’ biggest winning streak was six games. Championship teams go on runs in the regular season. This team never did.
For the last 11 games for 2020-21 Clippers alone, they are 10-1, with a +11 point differential. It is their second 10-1 streak in an 11-game stretch this season.
Edge: 2020-21 LA Clippers
Tyronn Lue’s name might not hold the same presence as Rivers’, but Lue doesn’t have the same choking history, even if he was stepped over by Allen Iverson.
The fun guy commercials were cool and Lou Williams would dance on anybody but the 2021 Clippers brought in DeMarcus Cousins. It is too hard to pick for this one.