How good would the Clippers be if George, Leonard stayed healthy?
On Monday, the LA Clippers beat the Boston Celtics, the team with the best record in the NBA, by 20 points. In that game, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for a resounding 51 points (18-34 FG, 11-for-15 FT), 15 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 3-pointers and 2 steals. The Clippers held the Celtics, the NBA’s leading scoring team by volume and efficiency (119.3 PPG, 62.0% True Shooting Percentage) to over 16 points and about 10 TS% points below their average.
It was an impressive win, and in the midst of Marvel Studios, one can’t help but ask…What if?
What if…Leonard and George are healthy enough to play together for most of the rest of the season? What does it look like? Let’s explore.
Over their first two seasons together, from 2019-20 to 2020-21, this is Leonard and George’s average:
Leonard: 26.0 PPG (48.8 FG%, 88.5 FT%, 38.7 3P%), 6.8 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.1 3PG, 1.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG
George: 22.5 PPG (45.4 FG%, 87.2 FT%, 41.2 3P%), 6.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 3.2 3PG, 1.3 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 3 ,0 KE
So, when healthy and playing together, the two do pretty much the exact same thing, but with Leonard being more prolific in every area except 3 point shooting. Interestingly, George’s numbers over the last two seasons don’t reflect a huge increase in production with Leonard mostly out or undercut:
George: 24.1 PPG (43.3 FG%, 86.5 FT%, 36.5 3P%), 6.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.9 3PG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 3.8 TO
Compared to the previous two seasons, George clearly shot and released a bit more, but with a lower field goal percentage and with more turnover. Playing next to Leonard helps his efficiency just enough to compensate for the slightly fewer touches.
So this gives us an idea of what the two main players on the field might be up to, but what about the rest of the Clippers?
In this week’s FBA Points rankings, there are seven Clippers in the top 175, including Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr., Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson, and John Wall in addition to Leonard and George. Other Clippers teased the fringes of the fantasy circle radar, including Terance Mann, Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, and Luke Kennard. They are a deep team which is why they can stay competitive when one or both of their stars are on the shelf. But, what might these players have come up with if Leonard and George were mostly healthy?
Well, to start with, we have to point out the stat I left off from the two-year line above: games played. From 2019-20 to 20-21, Leonard played in 109 of 144 regular season games (75.7% of games) while George played in 102/144 (70.8%). As we played our “What If They Healthy” drills, we had to pay attention to one factor that would be true even in the best-case scenario of the season: Leonard would miss about a quarter of all games.
While George tended to miss games in the cut due to various ailments, Leonard missed half of each back-to-back and also had the occasional maintenance day as a permanent part of his matriculation through the NBA season. He started doing this back with the Raptors, after tearing his quad tendon with the Spurs, and I can’t see a scenario where he stops doing this as he is now recovering from his torn ACL. So while we may be “what if?” George played most nights, Leonard would be up there with a best three out of four.
This is key, while projecting other Clippers. Because while PG13 and Kawhi will make big in almost any game they play in regular minutes, others will have the occasional big game while eventually leveling up to a more moderate average. Take a look at the last six games, four of which have been played by Leonard:
against Sacramento (without Kawhi): Zubac 13 points, 10 reb; Brandon Boston Jr. 18 points, 4 3 points; Mann 13 points, 3 ast
against Charlotte (Kawhi): Wall 13 points, 12 points; Jackson 13 points, 3 3 points; Batum 13 points, 4 3 points; Morris 12 points, 4 rebs, 3 asts, 2 3-ptrs
against Orlando (Kahwi): Mann 19 points, 5 reb, 4 ast; Batum 16 points, 4 3 points; Zubac 16 points, 10 reb; Jackson 15 points
against Miami (without Kawhi): Jackson 20 points, 4 3 points; Wall 9 points, 8 points; Morris 11 points, 4 reb Batum 11 points, 3 3 points
against Washington (Kawhi): Morris 19 points, 6 reb, 5 3-ptrs; Wall 13 points, 3 ast; Batum 12 points, 4 3 points, Kennard 10 points, 5 points, 3 3 points
against Boston (Kawhi): Morris 13 points; Kennard 12 points, 2 3 points; Mann 9 points, 7 reb
In essence, there are different “others” that contribute to each game. Nothing flashy, and perhaps not enough for permanent roster status in shallower leagues. But, there may be 3-6 Clippers who are streamer options most nights, even if Leonard and George are on the court at the same time.
Let’s step outside the fantasy loop for a moment and consider some futures.
The Clippers are currently 16-13 this season, sixth in the Western Conference and second in the Pacific. The Pacific is incredibly packed, with the top four teams separated by only two games in the standings (and even the Lakers are only 4.5 games behind).
According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Clippers have the third longest chance of winning the Pacific (+375), behind the Phoenix Suns (-130) who are currently trailing by half a game, and the Golden State Warriors (+300) who they are currently ahead. In the 2019-20 season, the Clippers outscored their opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions when George and Leonard were on the field together. The following season, the Clippers outscored their opponents by a score of 17.8 PP100 with Leonard and George on the court together. Furthermore, that season, they outscored the opposition by 19.9 PP100 in a line-up featuring all four George, Leonard, Zubac and Morris. In our “what if they healthy” scenario, this could bode well for the Clippers’ chances of potentially finishing top of the division.
In fact, think about that positive line-up score, then figure out what it means for the Clippers in other futures markets. Per Caesars, the Clippers’ over-under line is set at just 45.5 wins… which is the pace they’ve been running with 16 wins in their first 29 games (55.2%). If George and Leonard were healthy, they were expected to improve significantly.
On the other hand, it seems that Caesars has fed our “What if” into the Conference and NBA title odds, where the Clippers have the second shortest chance to win the Western Conference (+450) and fourth shortest to win. NBA Championship (+900), ahead of many teams with better records. This opportunity only makes sense given the Clippers’ expectations will have their two stars available and thriving in the postseason.
Just a few things to think about, both in the fantasy and future realms. Now it’s up to you. How likely do you think our “what ifs” are? scenario is to come true? Your answers will influence your fantasy circle trading strategy and your potential future decisions. For me, the takeaways that catch my eye are on the future side. I think the Clips can blow up those 45.5 wins, and they have a very good chance of ending up on top of the Pacific division. In fact, I’m pretty excited to end this article now and explore those future options more thoroughly. I encourage you to think this through thoroughly and follow your own conclusions, but there are definitely some trends that can be followed up…depending on your answer to one of the great “what if” questions? questions in the NBA.