In what was a much-anticipated event, James Harden stepped onto the court as an LA Clipper for the first time. While the result was not in favor of the Clippers, the game offered a glimpse into the boundless possibilities that lie ahead. Despite an initial stumble with a 14-point defeat, the potential of this lineup has sparked a sense of optimism for what the season could bring.
Coach Tyronn Lue had an optimistic take even before the final buzzer, recognizing the ample time ahead to forge a winning formula:
“It’s good that [the trade for Harden] happened so early in the season. We got a long time to figure things out” – Ty Lue
The game in question was only the sixth of an 82-game season, with the Clippers surrendering the ball 22 times, a number not seen in their opening five matchups. But the silver lining shines in the form of four extraordinary talents on their roster, ready to jell over the course of the season.
A Closer Look: James Harden’s Debut by the Numbers
The debut wasn’t just about Harden; it was a testing ground for a star-studded lineup that included Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook. Here’s how they performed together:
|37 points on 39 possessions (95 per 100)
|47 points allowed on 39 possessions (121 per 100)
This quartet saw 19.2 minutes of joint action, but they concluded with a minus-10, indicating room for growth.
Harden’s Pick-and-Roll Mastery
Harden’s prowess in the pick-and-roll adds a new layer to the Clippers’ offensive tactics. Coach Lue highlighted his capabilities pregame:
“He’s a guy who we can put in high pick and roll consistently, and make the right play, make the right pass, make the right read” – Ty Lue
With Harden’s addition, players like Ivica Zubac can anticipate higher-quality scoring opportunities, evidenced by a slick pass from Harden leading to free throws for Zubac and a later field goal.
Diversifying the Playbook
The Clippers showcased a variety of offensive schemes, not overly relying on Harden and Zubac’s connection. A snapshot of the diversity is highlighted below:
- George/Zubac pick-and-roll, with the other stars positioned for optimal spacing;
- Leonard choosing his offensive screens in the “Flex” offense;
- A “Spain” or “stack” pick-and-roll with Westbrook handling the ball.
This multiplicity showcases Harden’s potential to harmonize with the Clippers’ offensive patterns, with Westbrook’s penetrating abilities and Leonard’s isolation prowess rounding out a versatile attack force.
Kawhi Leonard’s Adaptation to New Dynamics
Adjustments are inevitable, and as Coach Lue puts it, Leonard is a central figure:
“He’s the best player. Everybody has to sacrifice, but I thought, with the matchup for Kawhi, we could attack it a little more instead of spreading it out” – Ty Lue
Leonard, adapting to the Harden-centric game plan, must remain poised for catch-and-shoot situations. His role, while adjusted, remains critical for the Clippers’ success.
Harden’s Influence on the Second Unit
When Harden re-entered the game for the second unit, his role became even clearer:
“I’m very versatile. More pick and rolls in that second unit” – James Harden
This approach allows him to orchestrate the floor and leverage his scoring and playmaking skills, something Coach Lue explicitly appreciates.
However, it was during Harden’s leadership of the reserves that the Knicks capitalized with a 10-0 run, a key phase of the game that put the Clippers on their back foot.
The road ahead is long, with the upcoming fixtures against the Nets and the In-Season Tournament game in Dallas serving as immediate proving grounds. The Clippers, with their reshaped roster, remain a puzzle in progress with Harden’s debut providing both a glimpse into their high ceiling and the work that lies ahead to reach it.