With their Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers season is officially over.
It may have not have ended the way they wanted it to, but the Clippers fought hard through it all and played their way — together. They were one of the many surprises of the regular season and, despite some midseason roster reconstruction, they managed to be one of the most consistent teams in the NBA.
Los Angeles was arguably the hottest team across the league out of the gate. They started 15-6 — a .714 winning percentage and a 58 win pace — before they cooled off and went 33-28 the rest of the way (an admirable record given their competition in the Western Conference) to finish 48-34.
They were one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the NBA this season; the Clippers were second in three-point percentage (38.8%), ahead of offensive juggernauts such as the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. They also finished fifth in points per game and were tied for 11th most wins on the season with 48.
Midway through the season, the Clippers traded Tobias Harris, the free agent to be and arguably their best player at the time of the trade, along with Boban Marjanović and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and a number of future draft picks (including a future first from the Miami HEAT).
The trade not only propelled the Clippers into the postseason, but set them up nicely for the future in a variety of ways as well.
The future first could prove valuable, given the precarious position of the Miami and the chance that they may bottom out in the near future. Shamet proved an integral contributor down the stretch and has the look of a future sharpshooter and mainstay in the Los Angeles lineup. Muscala was flipped to the neighboring Los Angeles Lakers for Ivica Zubac, a young big man with plenty of potential as well.
The season had plenty lows: after their 15-6 start, Los Angeles went on to lose seven of their next 10 before they stabilized, undoing most of their early-season success and dropping them to the middle of the standings. But there were plenty of highs as well. The Clippers had a penchant for the comeback this season; down by as much as 28, they stormed back against the Boston Celtics on February 9.
They repeated their theatrics in Game 2 of their Western Conference First Round series against Golden State, as they came back from 31 down to upset the Warriors in Oracle Arena. There were countless other moments that both the players and fans will remember: a thrilling March 8 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the clutch plays of Lou Williams, etc.
All that said, the season is over. Before looking ahead to the offseason, let’s hand out some team awards.
Most Valuable Player: Danilo Gallinari
If he wasn’t before, Danilo Gallinari was certainly the Clippers MVP after Tobias Harris was traded to Philadelphia at the February trade deadline.
In the best season of his career — and, coincidentally, the healthiest of his career — Gallinari put up superb numbers as he led Los Angeles into a brutal Western Conference. The Italian wing averaged a career-high 19.8 points per game to go along with 6.1 rebounds (also a career high), 2.6 assists and shot 43.3% on over five three-point attempts per game. While they ended in the eighth spot, the Clippers, led by Gallinari, were in the thick of the standings for the entire season and even led the conference for much of the early going.
Almost anyone could point it out — without Gallinari, the Clippers, rather than the surprise of the regular season, would have been a Western Conference bottom feeder.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams
It’s getting to the point where the NBA may need to consider a name change for it’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
Not only was Williams the Clippers’ Sixth Man, but he is the expected award winner for the NBA as well, the third of his career and second in as many years. The leader of one of the best bench units in the NBA, Williams, is more than deserving of the honor.
Williams averaged 20 points on 42.5% shooting (36.1% from three-point range) to go along with three rebounds and a career-high 5.4 assists. He was first amongst bench players in scoring and assists and, while Gallinari was the team’s MVP, Williams was its unquestioned leader, the heart and soul of Doc Rivers’ squad.
Much like Gallinari, without Williams, the Clippers would have been nowhere near the team they were this season.
Rookie of the Year: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
While fellow rookie Jerome Robinson hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype, Los Angeles may have struck gold in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The rookie point guard was the only one of his class to lead his new squad to the postseason, and he did so with veteran-like poise and patience. Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 10.8 points, seventh amongst rookies, along with 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He shot an efficient 47.6% from the field and 36.7 percent from three. He was second only to Trae Young in starts among rookies.
Rivers has never been one to thrust rookies into a primary role — the last time Rivers handed the keys over to a rookie starter was when the Boston Celtics drafted Rajon Rondo back in 2007 — but Gilgeous-Alexander proved himself worthy of an early-season look and he never let up. As the season went along, his play only improved. Come the postseason, Gilgeous-Alexander was playing his best basketball of the season, with the ultimate confidence of the coaching staff behind him.
With free agency looming, Gilgeous-Alexander, among other roster pieces, could prove a major draw for certain free agents. A point guard with the ability to play at a high level and a feel for the game are essential in the modern NBA, and the rookie figures to have both in spades next season.
While he may get no love as the NBA Rookie of the Year, the Clippers and their fans know that they have something truly special in Gilgeous-Alexander.
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Beverley
Could this really be anyone other than Patrick Beverley?
The pesky point guard is famous, or, perhaps, infamous, for his approach to the game. His ultimate goal is to irritate, to make his opponent so uncomfortable that it disrupts their game. He craves marquee matchups, relishing the opportunity to challenge anyone to overcome his defensive intensity.
And he is relentless.
Whether his squad be up 30 or down 30, Beverley has never given up on a game. Perhaps the best example of the season may be the way in which he approached the Clippers historic postseason comeback: despite being down 31-points to the reigning champions, Beverley never gave up. He poked and prodded and willed his team back into the game, and continued to do so from the bench after he fouled out.
The counting stats don’t do Beverley justice — just .9 steals per game, a career low — but his impact on the game goes beyond them.
Most Improved Player: Montrezl Harrell
Had his teammate, Williams, not played this season, Montrezl Harrell would have had a solid case for Sixth Man of the Year.
The young big had a career year in 2018-19, where he averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.3 blocks per game, all career highs. With Williams, he formed the one-two punch that made the Clippers bench one of the best in the NBA. He brought a supreme amount of energy every night and was a major part of the Clippers success.
Harrell might have been a shoo-in for Most Improved had it been almost any other year. Still, while he may not win the award, Harrell certainly deserves some recognition for his breakout this season.
What’s Next for Los Angeles?
A point needs to be made: the Clippers will not take home the Larry O’Brien trophy, but this season was a major success for the franchise.
The experience for Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet and others, not only in the first round series against Golden State, but throughout the entire season as a whole, will be a major boost to those players and their futures. But, aside from that, this season has acted as an audition. The team Jerry West and others have meticulously built up in recent seasons is not yet a title contender, but this season, if anything, has shown that they can be a postseason threat; think of a bright, flashing advertisement to future free agents that says “we’re not there yet, but you can take us there.”
With so many big names expected to become available in the coming months (both free agents and players on the trade market) this offseason could prove crucial to their future. But who could some of their targets be?
At a positional level, small forward is an issue the Clippers need to address. They are seemingly set for the future in the backcourt; Gilgeous-Alexander has the look of a star in the making while Shamet has the potential to become a deadly shooter. Zubac is not on their level in terms of potential, but he is a talented young big that the Clippers can build up. However, there is no future like that on the roster at the small forward position — Gallinari is more of power forward and the only other option on the roster is Chandler, a free agent.
However, the Clippers biggest issue is their lack of a superstar. Williams or Gallinari may have served as their “star” this season, but Los Angeles, nor any other team, would find themselves in the closing out a title run with either of them as their team’s best player.
Luckily for them, a number of superstar small forwards are available.
The Clippers, via the Harris trade, have enough cap space for a max contract slot, and they have the ability to create another via trade. Case and point, they will at least try to go after the biggest names available.
Los Angeles has been connected to Kawhi Leonard for quite some time, and he would obviously take the team to another level. One would assume that many of those rumors would be contingent on the Toronto Raptors and their postseason success — but should they fall short of a title and should Leonard’s interest in Los Angeles be as intense as has been reported, it is certainly within the realm of possibility.
Kevin Durant, meanwhile, had a front row seat to what the Clippers are capable of. Now, Durant hasn’t been connected to the team ala Leonard. But, assuming he does leave the Warriors as many think, the way the Clippers presented themselves in the series could have got him thinking about his future landing spot.
Former Clipper turned 76er Harris, along with his new teammate, Jimmy Butler, are two other free agents, among many others, that the Clippers could pursue as well.
Via the trade market, Anthony Davis is, obviously, the biggest fish available. Any trade involving Davis would almost certainly involve Gilgeous-Alexander, among many other valuable assets, and would certainly require a lot of thought by the front office. That being said, the Clippers possess the assets to get such a deal done. Whether it be Davis, another star, such as the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal or, really, any star that becomes available between now and the start of next season, the Clippers should find themselves in the midst of talks.
Once their star-situation is rectified, they can address other areas of the roster, whether it be frontcourt depth or a small-forward addition (should their big addition not fill that need).
There are a number of different avenues Los Angeles could go down this offseason, and almost all of them would take the team to new heights next season. The 2018-19 season was a thrill from start to finish but, for the Clippers, it seems as if the best is yet to come.