The LA Clippers will be without All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard for most of the 2021-22 NBA season as he works toward the recovery of a partially torn ACL he sustained during the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Leonard fell in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals in June, knocking down what was another dominant postseason run. Averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 57.3 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from 3, there wasn’t much hope the Clippers could continue without their superstar.
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With his series against the top-seeded Utah Jazz tied at two games apiece, the onus fell on All-Star forward Paul George, among others, to keep his title hopes alive.
The Clippers advanced to their first conference final in franchise history, but ultimately lost to the Phoenix Suns in six games.
As a new season begins, the Clippers are still grappling with the same Finals MVP-size void twice in their lineup.
Which players are most affected by Leonard’s absence, and who will have to step up to keep Los Angeles atop the Western Conference until he returns?
Five Clippers players most affected by Kawhi Leonard’s injury
Hello, Captain Obvious. This goes without saying, but George is the main guy who needs to step up.
He did just that for the rest of the Clippers’ playoff career without Leonard, taking his game to another level. We saw a flashback to his days with the Indiana Pacers, where he led his team to back-to-back appearances in the Conference Finals at the ages of 22 and 23, going head-to-head with LeBron James and the charged Miami Heat.
By channeling that version of himself, George put together an extremely impressive series of games to keep the Clippers going once Leonard went down.
|GP||PPG||FGA||% FG||3P%||Role playing game||APG||SPG|
|Before Kawhi’s injury||eleven||24.9||18.0||44.4||36.1||8.6||5.2||0.7|
|After Kawhi’s injury||8||29.6||22.0||43.8||30.4||11.0||5.6||1.4|
George went for 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists to help his team win a massive Game 5 and take a 3-2 series lead over the Jazz. In the next game, he helped spark a big comeback in Game 6 to advance to the Conference Finals.
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George didn’t cool off there, recording three double-doubles in six games against the Suns, scoring more than 20 points in each contest. He had a near triple-double of 27 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists to give the Clippers their first series win in Game 3, then extended his season by facing elimination, dropping 41 points in the playoffs. 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a Game 5 win.
Los Angeles would fall short, but one thing was clear if it wasn’t already, George is capable of being the guy.
The Clippers will need George to maintain that superstar level of play, keeping the Los Angeles strong until his All-Star teammate can return to action.
Jackson was another key component of the Clippers’ push to the playoffs, assuming the team’s starting general job after coming off the bench in the first two games of the postseason.
Once given consistent playing time and opportunity, Jackson began to show himself and prove his value as a starter. But like George, he was able to take his game up a notch once Leonard was injured, becoming a reliable No. 2 scoring option – something not many, if any, people would have seen coming.
|PPG||APG||Role playing game||SPG||% FG||3P%||FOOT%|
|Before Kawhi’s injury||15.2||2.7||2.6||0.5||48.3||44.2||89.5|
|After Kawhi’s injury||23.0||4.6||3.4||2.0||53.7||38.1||84.6|
Jackson’s playoff performance earned him a good two-year, $ 22 million deal with the Clippers last offseason, making him believe in the veteran shooting guard to replicate his postseason magic.
While it seems like a lot to ask Jackson to produce similar averages, that’s exactly what will be needed if the Clippers are to remain competitive in a grueling Western Conference.
Which version of Jackson will we see this season?
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Mann broke out during the 2021 Playoffs, and who knows how much of a chance he would have gotten if it weren’t for Leonard’s injury. Mann averaged just 13.5 minutes during the first 11 games of the postseason, but once Leonard fell, his playing time increased significantly, averaging 28.6 minutes per game.
He achieved the trademark performance of his young career in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, erasing a 25-point deficit through a career-high 39 points for a comeback win over the Jazz to finish the series. Mann caught fire from 3-point range, knocking down seven of his 10 3-point attempts, giving LA the jolt it needed to clinch a win.
His efforts earned him a two-year, $ 22 million contract extension last offseason as the Clippers committed to his development as a 25-year-old with many advantages.
He may not be in the projected starting lineup for Opening Night, but don’t be surprised to see Mann make more than a handful of starts this year whenever a gap needs to be filled. His length, energy and versatility on the defensive end will be necessary to replace Leonard’s defensive prowess. He’s also a capable scorer as a cutter and shooter, making life easier for players like George and Jackson.
Mann should be on your radar when you watch the Clippers this season.
Winslow breaks this list as a new addition to the Clippers who should take on some responsibilities as a defensive specialist.
As just mentioned with Mann, the Clippers will miss Leonard on the defensive end as much as they will on the offensive end, and that’s where a player like Winslow comes in. At 6 feet 6 inches with a wingspan of 6 feet 10 inches, Winslow has the size, length, and speed to take on a number of different matchups, either from base or up front.
The former No. 10 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft once showed plenty of promise when he began his career with the Miami Heat before injuries hit the young forward. He was wanted by the Memphis Grizzlies in a 2020 trade with the Heat, but shortly after suffered a season-ending hip injury. The ailment kept him out of the game for more than a year, appearing in just 21 games with the Grizzlies before they chose not to re-sign him this offseason.
The Clippers took Winslow to a two-year, $ 8 million deal, giving the 25-year-old a chance to get his career back on the right track.
The consistency of his playing time remains to be seen, but Winslow should have a chance to prove himself on a small Clippers roster.
It was just one offseason ago that Ibaka for the Clippers was seen as a standout signing.
Ibaka signed a two-year, $ 19 million deal to bring the arrogance of the championship to a team desperately seeking its first title, but injuries plagued his first season in Los Angeles. Ibaka suffered a season-ending back injury limiting him to just 41 games last year, missing the entire postseason.
That same back injury persists into the 2021-22 season, as Ibaka is expected to miss the first game of the season at least. The last update is that Ibaka has resumed 5v5 activity in practice, which means a comeback could be on the horizon, but the Clippers will likely play it safe with a 32-year-old dealing with back problems.
Ibaka was stellar when healthy during his final season with the Toronto Raptors in 2019-20, averaging 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. His return would play a huge role in adding depth to the Clippers roster, and would also provide another rim protector and a secondary scoring option.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.