The prospects for the Los Angeles Clippers have looked dismal all season following the knee injury star forward Kawhi Leonard suffered in last year’s NBA playoffs that has kept him out this year.
Things got even worse when fellow All-Star Paul George had an elbow injury in December and was forced to miss three months of game action.
But L.A. persevered, and with George back now, its prospects are looking brighter.
paul george in his 1st game back after missing 3 months, 43 games:
34 points 6 rebounds 5 assist on 10/20
clippers come back from 25 down to beat the jazz.
just sit back and enjoy greatness. pic.twitter.com/IqF9VXm1HJ
— Jamal Cristopher (@JamCristopher) March 30, 2022
The team has virtually no hopes of contending for the NBA championship this season, as they will most likely finish eighth in the Western Conference, requiring them to win the play-in tournament to actually reach the playoffs.
But for next season, the Clippers have to be penciled in as one of the favorites to win it all for a few reasons.
3. Leonard Is Expected Back
The Southern California native went down with a partially torn ACL in the 2021 Western Conference semifinals that required surgery.
He could return at some point this season, possibly in the first round of the playoffs, although there is no clear timetable yet.
The Clippers have been missing a whole lot with Leonard out, as last year he averaged 24.8 points per game on 51.2 percent field-goal shooting and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
He also added 5.2 assists per game, which was tied with George for second-most on the team.
But Leonard has also always had a reputation for being one of basketball’s premier defensive players.
Although the Clippers have remained a solid defensive team, Leonard’s comeback will greatly help come playoff time when it comes to helping to contain some of the league’s other superstars.
2. Norman Powell
The Clippers acquired Norman Powell prior to this season’s trade deadline along with 3-and-D forward Robert Covington in an absolute heist, as they only surrendered Eric Bledsoe, Keon Johnson, Justise Winslow and a future second-round draft pick.
Powell played just three games for L.A. this season until a toe injury forced him to be shut down for the balance of the schedule.
At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he brings the ability to score about 15-20 points a game, and he is also an outstanding 3-point shooter.
He can also serve up highlight plays with his hops and ability to finish strong.
HBD Norman Powell (@npowell2404), one of the most underrated high flyers in the league!
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 25, 2021
Once he returns next season, he will present a powerful third-scoring option alongside George and Leonard that opposing defenses will need to game-plan for.
1. The Clippers Have Built A Strong Supporting Cast
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Clippers is how they have built a cadre of valuable role players to support Leonard and George.
Guard Terance Mann, a second-round draft pick in 2019, has emerged as a reliable bench player who can score and occasionally set up teammates.
Nicolas Batum is a long 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward who can play both the 3 and 4 and provides effective defense and accurate 3-point shooting.
Covington, acquired in the Powell trade, is also a valuable 3-and-D forward who can make opposing frontcourt wings work hard to score points.
Luke Kennard is a sharpshooting guard who can get very hot, while Marcus Morris is a tough, surly power forward who defends and provides some ancillary scoring.
If the Clippers are lucky enough to stay relatively healthy next season, they could very well win the franchise’s first-ever world championship.