• The Clippers felt like the target of the NBA’s new 65-game rule in regards to postseason awards consideration, and that really felt like overkill all things considered — the Clippers would love more than anyone else if their guys were healthy all year long. Things were looking good until they weren’t, as the team had its core healthy and even managed to add another All-Star… until a major injury popped up at the worst possible time.

    How’d It Go?

    It’s a story that we can start at the end. The Clippers were eliminated in the first round after a strong regular season, once again forced to play postseason ball without the services of Kawhi Leonard. It wasn’t a total lost cause but the team was inconsistent against a Dallas team whose stars simply played better. Maybe a healthy Leonard changes things, maybe he doesn’t, but either way his continued absence during the playoffs has defined this era for the organization. They have a title-worthy roster on paper but have never actually had that roster available when it matters most.

    The tragedy of it all is that Leonard was healthy right up until the end of the regular season. Leonard missed the final eight games and while that initially looked like some proactive rest for a key player who had just logged his most appearances since 2016-17, it ended up being essentially a season-ending problem. On top of a team-wide slowdown that saw the team deliver some inconsistent, clunky efforts after the All-Star break, they were now without their best player. The Clippers maintained optimism that Leonard would be ready for the start of the playoffs, but we know how that turned out.

    The team spent most of the offseason shoring up its depth, re-upping with Russell Westbrook and Mason Plumlee to round out the second unit, hoping that Leonard and Paul George could carry the supporting cast to the top of the mountain. Of course, they were also waiting to strike for a huge move when the stars aligned. Daryl Morey’s broken promise to James Harden set the wheels in motion and the Clippers cashed in most of their depth to bring him to LA, creating a new Big Three that looked quite lethal at times. It wasn’t always pretty, as you’d expect for such a unique offensive talent joining a team with two other stars during the season, but the Clippers were playing the long game and hoping that Ty Lue could get it all figured out.

    The Clippers took a while to get going and were sitting at 8-10 at the end of November, with the volume increasing on the doubters who thought the Harden experiment was destined to fail. LA rattled off nine straight wins and never looked back; they were 31-15 by the end of January and looked like a legitimate championship threat, fueled by two of the best two-way wings in the league and a former All-Star guard who was finding his footing. That two-month stretch was kicked off by a one-point squeaker over the Warriors, but every other win was by five points or more, including 14 by double digits. With everyone healthy, the Clippers had enough depth pieces to get by and were just bludgeoning teams left and right.

    You know how it ended.

    Coaching

    New fans will be surprised to learn that there was a time when Ty Lue was viewed as a figurehead who would simply do whatever LeBron James wanted him to. While Lue’s career began with that specter hanging over his head in Cleveland, he has proven himself to be one of the most competent coaches in the league, if not necessarily its most accomplished. He captained the Clippers to another strong season, with the team finishing fourth in offensive rating and 16th in defensive rating.

    It wasn’t always smooth but Lue did a good job helping his team ride the waves as they figured out how to integrate James Harden into the proceedings. That can be a notoriously complex process, even as Harden has become more accepting of playmaking duties over the years, and while it wasn’t always pretty, things eventually clicked. Lue didn’t have to massage the rotation quite as much this year as the top stars were all healthy and the addition of Harden allowed for more functional lineups, but he generally got good minutes from guys like Amir Coffey and the occasional cameo from PJ Tucker whenever he had to dig deep into the bag.

    The Clippers came up short in the playoffs again, but it’s hard to pin any of that on Lue. The Clippers signed him to an extension that makes him among the game’s highest-paid coaches shortly after the season.

    The Players

    Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers
    SeasonTeamGPGSMPG FGMFGAFG% FTMFTAFT% 3PTM3PTA3PT% PTSREBAST STLBLKTO
    23-24 LAC 68 68 34.3 9.0 17.1 52.5 3.7 4.2 88.5 2.1 4.9 41.7 23.7 6.1 3.6 1.6 0.9 1.8
    22-23 LAC 52 50 33.6 8.6 16.8 51.2 4.7 5.4 87.1 2.0 4.8 41.6 23.8 6.5 3.9 1.4 0.5 1.7
    21-22 LAC 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

    ADP: 26.9/42.0 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 11/6 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 8/6 (8/9-cat)

    Coming off a torn right meniscus and under the shadow of the NBA’s new 65-game rule that felt pretty darn targeted given Leonard’s reputation, there was ample reason for skepticism heading into fantasy drafts. And yet, there is nobody out there in their right mind who would argue with Leonard’s status as a top-10 per-game player. The fact that that kind of universally accepted production was available after the second round speaks to the degree of uncertainty around Leonard’s availability. For one year, at least, managers who rolled the dice were rewarded. Add in the ADP and it was a smashing success.

    Leonard played in 68 games, his most since 2016-17 — yes, even more than his championship run with the Raptors. Before the season he said that his many absences were not because he was slacking or just getting nights off; that he would play when he was healthy and sit when he wasn’t. By that measure, it was good to see Leonard in good health. He set a new career-high in field goal percentage and was just shy of matching his previous best in blocks. Although Leonard missed 14 games, managers really only had two blocks of time to worry about — a four-game absence for a hip contusion in December and then final eight games of the regular season with a knee issue, and that occurred after most head-to-head leagues had already wrapped up. Leonard was a dominant force for much of the year; from the start of December onward, he scored fewer than 15 points just one time, and that was a night he only played 12 minutes in a brutal loss to the Wolves. There were only four games all season in which Leonard didn’t produce a steal or a block. He went for 30-plus points 13 times. He collected his second career triple-double.

    Despite all the accolades, his latest postseason injury will dominate the headlines. It’s fair for the Clippers to be frustrated, as they’ve never had their roster fully functional for the playoffs. For our purposes, it might just work to keep Leonard’s ADP down, even after a brilliant fantasy season where his injuries rarely came into play.

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