With 6:45 left in the first quarter, Terance Mann brings the
ball up the right side of the floor.
Kawhi Leonard (yeah, he's playing) attempts to set a flat screen
on Tobias Harris to help pry Mann open, but mostly whiffs on the
pick. Mann finds himself in the right corner, staring down Harris
as the clock ticks.
Ivica Zubac steps up to set a screen this time, this time to
Mann's left. With the right side emptied, Mann could run Harris off
a bruising screen and force Joel Embiid to defend the 2-on-1 with
Instead, Mann rejects the screen and continues driving to his
right. He's able to get two feet in the paint, Nashing around while drawing the attention of Embiid
and (a trailing) Harris. That opens up a window for a dump-off pass
to Zubac, leading to two points.
It's a simple possession that takes half the shot clock to
complete. It features three things we haven't seen enough of from
the Los Angeles Clippers this season: Kawhi as a screener, a paint
touch from a guard and easy, efficient offense being created.
The Clippers have been disjointed all season long. Their 23-23
record and minus-0.7 net rating screams "mid," not "sure-fire title
contender." There's obvious bail to shoot; of the 46 games the
Clippers have played, their best three players — Kawhi, Paul George
and Zubac — have only appeared in 15 games together. Even with
that, the Clippers have barely won those minutes —
plus-14 (+2.6 NET) in 260 minutes.
That's probably the most concerning portion of this Clippers
season for me. It's one thing to be searching for continuity;
everyone was already banking in maintenance days for Kawhi,
specifically. I am not here to argue about the merits of that; do
it on your timeline, if you must.
But it's another thing to be searching
for answers. It's felt more like the latter from the
Clippers this year. That's baked into some of the lineup choices of
course, but you've also seen it with
the roles on the roster.
No player speaks to this dynamic quite like Mann. His rise in
the rotation has been a joy to watch. From energy piece, to
connector, to "Hey, he's kinda baking Rudy Gobert right now" to
connector-plus-defensive-stopper to... point guard? To point
Mann has started the last five games as the nominal point, and
he's mostly produced. His box-score numbers are up: 15.4 points
(59.4% from two, 45.8% from three on 4.8 attempts), 5.0 rebounds
and 3.4 assists (0.8 turnovers) per game.
Naturally, his usage is way up: Mann ranks second on the
team in touches per game (68.6), time of possession (4.8), and
fourth in seconds per touch (4.2) and dribbles per touch (3.4).
Mann has done a solid job of mixing in his snappy nature with
more on-ball patience. He's served as the rim
threat among the Clippers' starters, parlaying that gravity into
reads like the one above.
To that point: On trips featuring a Mann-led ball-screen during
this stretch, the Clippers are generating 1.13 points per
possession (PPP) — a mark on par with Luka Doncic's league-leading
(Of course, the volume and responsibility isn't close between
those two — Mann's at 13 picks per 100 possessions during this
stretch, while Luka's at nearly 69 per 100 on the year — but the
point is that the Clippers have been getting good stuff from Mann
as of late.)
Pick-and-rolls aren't the only part of half-court offense
though. And zooming out, the Clippers have posted a 95.7 offensive
rating in the half-court; that ranks 21st over the last five games,
and is only slightly better than their season-wide mark (94.8,
The idea of Mann kicking off possessions has a similar feel to
Marcus Smart (or Derrick White) with the Boston Celtics. If Mann
(Smart/White) is tilting the defense with a drive, that means he's
kicking it out to Kawhi and George (Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown). The
theory is sound.
Mann doesn't have the kind of passing chops that Smart does,
which lessens the overall impact of that gambit. Beyond that,
Smart's role in that dynamic is a bit of a luxury. The Clippers
currently need Mann to shoulder that kind of
load right now.
That speaks to the growth Mann has shown throughout his young
career, but it also signals a problem team-wide. And this is where
we put on our glasses and look at what the Clippers have gotten out
of John Wall and Reggie Jackson lately.
It ain't good.
Let's take a cursory glance at the box-score numbers since the
beginning of December, shall we?
- John Wall (16 games): 9.6 points (37% on twos, 36.2% from
three), 4.9 assists (2.4 turnovers), -68 in 351 minutes
- Reggie Jackson (18 games): 9.1 points (40.8% on twos, 33.8%
from three), 2.6 assists (1.8 turnovers), -58 in 430 minutes
- Terance Mann (22 games): 9.8 points, (55.8% on twos, 39.1% from
three), 2.2 assists (0.8 turnovers), +32 in 530 minutes
The efficiency isn't really close. Narrow it down to the latest
five-game sample, and the gap is even wider.
On drives specifically, you really start to see difference
between the three. Per Second Spectrum, here are the numbers on
drives that feature a paint touch since Dec. 1:
- Wall: 81 drives, 0.82 PPP on direct plays (Wall shoots, or
passes it to a player who immediately shoots)
- Jackson: 82 drives, 1.01 PPP
- Mann: 82 drives, 1.08 PPP
Add in just how much better Mann has been defensively, and you
start to understand why we're getting close to recycling the "Do
the Clippers need a point guard" question from the past two
It's undeniable that they've gotten underwhelming results from
their point guard stable this season, so much that Mann has had to
shoulder more of that load as of late. The Clippers could certainly
benefit from better point guard play.
Do they need an actual point guard? I'm still not sure I'd press
that button, though it's worth mentioning they've recently been linked to Mike
Conley, per the reporting of Substack's Marc Stein. Maybe they
Conley could help some of the half-court quarterbacking. He's
averaging a career-high 7.5 assists this year, and can still get
busy behind the arc. On the flip side, he's in the midst of his
worst inside-the-arc season; he's converting a career-low 42.9% of
his twos, with a lot of that due to a career-low 50% clip inside of
If they're interested in Conley, would they be willing to kick
the tires on a reunion with Chris Paul? Like Conley, he could
provide some structure in the half-court. There's a similar
aversion to the rim, and uptick in volume from beyond the arc. Both
have partial guarantees for next season (and beyond, for Paul). I'm
Before he was eventually moved to the New York Knicks, the
Clippers were linked to Derrick Rose as a
potential suitor. Rose currently finds himself outside of the
Knicks' rotation; I'd doubt it would take much to acquire him if
there was still interest there.
The answer could be another wing to operate as the tip of the
spear. Maybe the perpetually-available Eric Gordon, since we're on
the topic of reunions.
Regardless of which pathway is chosen, the current setup feels
untenable. They haven't done enough from beyond the arc, in terms
of volume (12th in three-point rate) or efficiency (37.3%, 10th),
to compensate for the lack of juice they're getting at the rim —
23rd in rim rate, 26th (63.8) in efficiency.
Until we see change in one or both of those areas, the Clippers'
title hopes will be just that: Hope.