Can the Los Angeles Clippers Win the 2019-20 NBA Championship?

Paul George_Kawhi Leonard
Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

–Led by two All-Pro talents in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers (44-20, second in the West) have the third-best odds in the NBA to win it all, listed at +333 on DraftKings behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, each listed at +250.

–The Clippers have a great support system and a good coach who knows what it takes to win an NBA title. But the true key is keeping both their studs healthy and on the floor.

–Before the hiatus began, the Clippers were starting to really gel together. A four and a half month break may impact less-focused teams, but this team will be ready to come out swinging for the stretch run.

Since trading for superstar Paul George and acquiring two-time champion and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers have been squarely at the top of nearly everyone’s list of contenders for the 2019-20 Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy. Now, after a lengthy break from play due to COVID-19, the Clippers remain among the top three in NBA odds to win it all according to DraftKings, sitting at +333 behind only the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers at +250.

They can and most likely will make some serious noise come the end of July, and here’s why.

The Best of the Best Duos

Los Angeles Clippers fans may have expected a lot of the unexpected with a brand new nucleus, including All-Pro reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard coming over from the Toronto Raptors and oft-injured All-Pro Paul George joining from the Oklahoma City Thunder. But what nobody expected—a four-and-a-half month stoppage of play due to a global pandemic—might be the best blessing in disguise in Clippers history.

Everyone knew the Clippers would thrive if Leonard and George could stay healthy and on the floor. They each boast impressive combinations of elite scoring and stifling defense, and have the knowledge and poise to take over games. So together, they can easily compete with any foe in the league.

But the trick to that sentiment is the health aspect. Between them, the pair have experienced a myriad of injuries since they first came into the league in the early 2010s.

George only managed 60-plus games in his first two campaigns in 2010 and 2011, then suffered a horrific leg break in a USA Basketball scrimmage in summer 2014 that limited him to six games the following season. Since then, has sustained complications involving multiple body parts, including the knee, hip, shoulder, groin, quad, and calf. This season, he has missed 22 of the Clippers’ 64 games due to a nagging left hamstring injury.

Leonard, who may already be an NBA consensus pick to the Hall of Fame, meanwhile, has only logged 70-plus games twice in his nine-year career, and would have continued that rough trend if this had been a full season—he had already missed 13 games when the hiatus began. His sometimes-baffling injury history includes the infamous 2017-18 season, in which he appeared in only nine games for the San Antonio Spurs, and became the subject of widespread whispers as to whether he was actually hurt toward the end of that season.

But the Toronto Raptors laid the blueprint for how to utilize the massively-skilled All-Star forward. After obtaining Leonard via trade, they played him in only 60 games, always resting him in one of two back-to-back games or in the middle of long stretches. They won the championship last year, riding his well-rested coattails all the way to glory over the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who ironically suffered key injuries to their stars.

Like the Raptors a season ago, the Clippers have employed a cautious strategy with their most important pieces, and they now look like geniuses for doing so. They began hitting their stride with their starting five—including guards Landry Shamet and Patrick Beverley—returning to full health in February and early March. They started moving the ball well and making good decisions offensively, taking quality shots and spacing the floor. And they used their stifling defense as a catalyst for fast-break opportunities and long runs.

In the 32 games in which both Leonard and George played this season, the Clippers won 24 games, including seven of their last eight games leading up to the hiatus. These veteran All-Pros will have their eyes on the prize the moment they return to play, and they will be as well-rested going into the playoffs as they have ever been.

The “Others” Aren’t So Shabby, Either

Shaquille O’Neal famously calls the supporting casts of great teams “the others,” noting that they aren’t stars but they are still extremely important to the dynamic of a winner. The Clippers have an extremely talented group of “others,” many of whom could be enjoying more stardom if they played for other franchises. 

Leading the pack for the Clips’ supporting cast is perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams, a point guard who can always create offensively and hit a big shot. “Sweet Lou” also works perfectly in the pick-and-roll with fellow bench standout Montrezl Harrell, a bruising power forward who finishes with authority. These two work so seamlessly together that they deserve a nickname—thunder and lightning, or shake and bake, or muscle and hustle. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board on that one, but the point is they are a formidable tag team that allow George and Leonard time to sit during the middle of the game, and oftentimes complement them at the end of games. Although none of these guys would be top NBA picks for today if you are building a new franchise they have enough skill to get the Clippers deep into the post season. 

Other key contributors include the aforementioned Beverley, the starting point guard with an always-pesky defensive intensity and a strong motor offensively. And Shamet, who combines a smooth outside stroke with great off-ball skills, could prove to be an x-factor down the stretch, as he always seems to have ice in his veins.

LA’s most recent acquisition, veteran forward Marcus Morris, has added leadership, intelligence, defensive prowess, and a smooth stroke to this already-deep squad. And center Ivica Zubac, who has floated around the past few years but finally found his home with Rivers’ squad, has proven that with the right pieces around him, he can come up huge in prime time games against the best big men.

Time (and Health) Will Tell

As proven by the aforementioned Toronto Raptors, anything can happen in the NBA playoffs this day and age. This concept will be amplified this summer, with games being played after a nearly five-month hiatus and without fans in attendance. But if the Clippers can stay healthy, they will pick right up where they left off in March. With the right combination of size, depth, veteran leadership, and skill on both sides of the ball, this team deserves its place near the top of DraftKings’ odds to win this season’s NBA championship.