The Clippers entered the 2019-20 season in unfamiliar territory as co-title favorites alongside their in-arena rival Lakers, and through 33 games, they’ve done little to dissuade anyone from believing they still belong in that spot.
On Christmas Day, the Clippers unwrapped a come from behind win over those Lakers, led by Kawhi Leonard and capped off by a sensational defensive play from Patrick Beverley. It was an impressive performance, but it was a game that served as a reminder that neither L.A. team can feel fully confident right now that their team, as currently constructed, would get past the other in a seven-game series. Both have reason to believe they need to add another piece. Where the Clippers have the advantage, beyond a 2-0 record vs. the Lakers, is in having more resources to do so.
And so, we get to the Clippers in our Holiday Wishlist series to look at what they’ll be hoping for in the coming weeks to strengthen their position as title contenders.
#1: Another Piece
The Clippers could use something more. You can make an argument that they could use an upgrade at point guard, maybe making a run at Jrue Holiday, but at the same time, what Patrick Beverley brings to this team and the closing lineup is so unique you almost don’t want to do something that takes him off the floor. If Holiday is available for the right price, that’s a move they almost have to make, but the Pelicans will reportedly be asking a significant price for him (as they should) and it might not be worth diminishing the quality of their depth.
Maybe more easily attainable and also nearly as pressing is the need for more center depth. Montrezl Harrell has been a revelation, and he too is a guy you want on the floor to close games. However, they would be wise to scan the trade block for a potential upgrade over Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green, particularly when thinking ahead to a potential showdown with the Lakers in the playoffs. Combating the length and size the Lakers can throw at them over the course of a series may require them to seek out some additional help in the paint. Maybe the Kings want to cash out on Dewayne Dedmon already and he could be a buy low candidate, hoping he would regain the form he had in Atlanta on a better team.
#2: Kawhi’s Process Pays Off
Leonard knows what he needs to be at his best come playoff time, and the Clippers have bought in wholly on that plan. It resulted in a title for Toronto a year ago, and could do the same for L.A. this year. His health, more than any possible addition they could make over the next two months, will be the biggest factor in whether they’re a title contender or not.
While the Lakers have effectively put themselves between a rock and a hard place by publicly stating they are anti-load management despite two stars both nursing lingering ailments, the Clippers have done the opposite. They’ve been up front about how they’ll handle Leonard’s knee/quad issue and to this point, it’s hard to argue with the results. Come May and June, they hope he’ll be in the best shape possible, which as we’ve seen before, makes him as dangerous as any player in the NBA.
#3: Montrezl And Pat Never Change
I don’t worry much about this one, but it needs to be said how critical both of them are to this team and I think this is more in conjunction with No. 1 than anything. Whatever the Clippers do to try and upgrade the roster, they still need to be able to deploy both of these players who are so complementary to what Kawhi and Paul George and Lou Williams do as the offensive catalysts. Harrell is feasting at the rim as a dominant roll man opposite whomever is handling the ball. Despite their lack of traditional height, the Clippers are one of the best rebounding teams, thanks in large part to the efforts of Harrell and Beverley on the glass — Beverley had a huge offensive board late against the Lakers.
There are times where Beverley’s shooting woes can bog down the offense, and so having more options to put shooters on the floor at times would be a welcome addition if they choose to go after a guard. At the same time, you almost have to have him on the floor late because of what he does defensively. Against the Lakers, LeBron hunted down Beverley on the defensive end for that final possession to avoid either Leonard or George, but because Beverley is who he is, he made the critical strip to seal the win. Swapping Beverley out for almost anyone else — again, other than Jrue Holiday — would be giving up a lot of what makes this team what it is.