Clippers’ hot start establishes them as the NBA’s premier team


Malingering | Wikimedia commonsKawhi Leonard has established himself as the heart and soul of the LA Clippers, but the team is talented from top to bottom.

Kyle McKee, Sports Editor

The NBA season is off and running and the biggest story so far has been the Los Angeles Clippers. There has been a lot of interest going into the new season because of all the player movement in the offseason.

In fact, over 40% of NBA players were free agents last summer. As a result, for the first time in a long time, there is no prohibitive favorite to hold up the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. For the first time in half a decade, the Golden State Warriors are not a lock to win the championship.

With all that said, the Clippers have stormed out of the gate. They made a big statement on opening night in the first installment of “The Battle of Los Angeles” against the Los Angeles Lakers. In a game that featured LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard was, by far, the best player on the floor. Leonard would get to his spot on one or two dribbles, rise up and hit a jumper right in the defender’s face, no matter who was guarding him.

Whether it was LeBron, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or even Davis at times, Leonard would make it look easy. Watching the game, it felt as though Leonard was simply placing the ball through the hoop. Every time he took a shot, the ball would go in no matter what. That’s how effortlessly Leonard made the game look against a Lakers team that is quite formidable as well.

Leonard’s opening night performance against the Lakers was reminiscent of prime Michael Jordan in the mid 1990s. No matter how solid the Lakers defense was against him, Leonard was just flat-out better.

Like Jordan, Leonard doesn’t make the flashy plays that are featured in Sportscenter’s top 10 plays of the night. Neither of them possessed incredible ball-handling skills that get the reactions from the crowd. Occasionally Leonard, like Jordan, will have a big-time poster dunk that will be trending all throughout the day. However, Leonard, just like Jordan, is a master of the fundamentals.

During the stretch of a game, he knows exactly when to pick his spots and either to step up and take charge of the offense, or to get his teammates going. He never looks nervous or gets super amped. He is always cool and collective, with the same look on his face. Leonard almost never berates the referees either, like many other players in the NBA do. Last season, Leonard proved that he is in the discussion for the best player in the world.

This season, he is going to show that he is the best player in the world. If all goes right and the Clippers win the NBA championship in mid-June, Leonard will assert himself into that conversation.

However, The Clippers have much more than just Leonard. They have a whole bunch of players that make up an elite supporting cast. They have the best bench in the entire NBA, headlined by three-time Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams. Williams is a walking bucket, and alongside him is big man, Montrezl Harrell. Williams and Harrell have created one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the NBA.

In addition to those two studs, Maurice Harkless, acquired in a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers, and JaMychal Green, are two quality veterans that are vitally important to any contending team. Both are exceptional defenders and are capable scores and playmakers. In the Clippers starting lineup, they have Patrick Beverley, who is one of the best defenders in the league.

Beverley is a guy that is an absolute blessing to have on a team, but the worst thing ever is going up against him, as he doesn’t make it easy for his opponents to get past him. Along with Beverley in the starting lineup is the aforementioned Leonard, as well as Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac, two quality young players. It has yet to be seen whether or not a team can rely on Shamet and Zubac in big-time, pressure situations, but both have been solid rotation players through their young careers. Not to mention, the Clippers have one of the best head coaches in the NBA in Doc Rivers.

The last spot in the starting lineup will go to Paul George, once he is fully healthy. George had surgery on both of his shoulders in the off-season, and is expected to be back on the floor in about three weeks, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. For night now, Patrick Patterson is in the starting lineup who, like Harkless and Green, is a quality veteran player.

If George comes back fully healthy, the Clippers could go down as one of the best defensive teams in league history. In crunch-time, the Clippers could throw out Beverley, George, Kawhi, Harkless and Harrell. The combination of Beverley, George and Leonard represents some of the best defenders in the NBA, in addition to Harkless and Harrell, who are great defenders themselves.

The Clippers will also have two of the top 10 players in the league with George and Leonard. Come playoff time, the most important things for a team to have are a go-to scorer in crunch-time and a capable wing defender. The Clippers have two of them in the primes of their career.

Though the Clippers are never going to become more popular than the Lakers in Los Angeles, something special is happening in LA, and it is not the team wearing purple and gold.