Los Angeles Clippers 2022-23 NBA preview: Championship-level talent, depth offset by lingering injury concerns

Once upon a time, to say that the Los Angeles Clippers were among the favorites to win the NBA title meant you were either dreaming or playing a video game. This year, however, it’s a bona fide reality, as the Clippers feature one of the league’s deepest and most versatile rosters led by All-NBA talents in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

The Western Conference should be an absolute beast this season, but the Clippers and head coach Tyronn Lue can contend with any of the top teams … provided health is also an ally. And here’s the rub, as the Clippers just haven’t been able to stay intact for an entire season in recent years. This roster, however, seems built to suffer a major injury or two and continue to contend, as we’ll see later.

Here’s a quick look at some of the offseason changes, followed by a preview of the 2022-23 Los Angeles Clippers.

Basic changes

  • Signed guard John Wall to a two-year, $13.3 million contract.
  • Signed forward Robert Covington to a two-year, $24 million extension.
  • Signed center Ivica Zubac to a three-year, $32.8 million extension.
  • Re-signed forward Nicolas Batum to a two-year, $22.6 million contract.
  • Re-signed guard/forward Amir Coffey to a three-year, $11 million contract.
  • Drafted forward Moussa Diabate with the No. 43 overall pick.

List of names

Top of the key: Paper champions?

Just going by roster construction, the Clippers are probably the favorites to win the NBA title this season. Star power from Leonard and George is surrounded by mountains of depth, small and large, giving Lue strong options for almost any lineup style he can devise.

But how much of it will we actually see?

Leonard is healthy but missed all of last season while recovering from an ACL injury. George played in just 31 games last season and has only suited up in 59 percent of the Clippers’ games since joining the roster prior to the 2019-20 season. Wall, a potentially pivotal signing this offseason, has not played in an NBA game in nearly 18 months. Even before we get to on-court chemistry, it’s fair to wonder if the Clippers can stay healthy enough to make a legitimate run to the Finals.

As we learned last season with the Golden State Warriors, however, the how much The time the Clippers are healthy isn’t as important as never they are healthy. Load management is certainly available for LA this season, but he has the depth and talent to win at a high clip even on nights when either Leonard or George are out of the lineup.

Next: Let’s Get Flexible!

If there’s one thing Lue loves, it’s lineup flexibility, which makes his roster an absolute dream — and an absolute nightmare for the opposing bench. The Clippers’ two best players, Leonard and George, can play almost any position and, more importantly, defend almost any position. Lue has true centers in Zubac and Brown, but he can also choose to go with a five-out, small-ball lineup with Robert Covington or Marcus Morris under center.

They can’t get away with it for extremely long stretches, but the Clippers were incredibly effective in limited minutes with Covington under center last season. The lineup of Covington, Morris, Batum, Mann and Jackson, for example, posted a whopping plus-36.8 net rating in 10 minutes last season. These lineups will now include at least George and/or Leonard, making them even stronger on both ends.

The fact that Leonard and George are both more than capable as primary ball-handlers means the Clippers could conceivably field a five-man lineup with the ability to shift at 6-7 or 6-8 — the ultimate zenith of the modern basketball. Expect Lue to experiment with different combinations throughout the season, but whatever the Clippers’ version of the “death lineup” is could be one of the most dangerous shutdown units in the postseason. That said, they have to get there first.

One more thing: How much depth is too much

Our own James Herbert addressed this “problem” in great detail, but the Clippers’ depth this season could end up being detrimental in some ways. Let James take the wheel for a second:

With rare exceptions, players and coaches don’t complain about their very talented teams. Since Leonard’s injury, though, the Clippers have added Powell, Covington and John Wall. Reggie Jackson averaged 31 minutes last season, Terance Mann 29, Luke Kennard 27 and Amir Coffey 23. Lue has already talked to the team about sacrifices, but that conversation is less fraught before the shortage becomes a reality playing time and touches.

“It won’t be easy,” Lou said. “It’s going to be a process because we have a deep team with 11, 12 guys that deserve to play and we know we can’t play that many guys every night.”

The old “there’s only one ball” problem may be trite and overstated, but the 240-minute-per-game limit will become an issue at some point this season for Lue and the Clippers. Injuries will allow some of that to settle, but there will be some unhappy players at some point this season. Getting buy-in is one of Lue’s strengths, and he should put on a masterclass with this group. If he does, the Clippers might end up hoisting the trophy next June.

Basic games

Since the Clippers expect to claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the majority of their games will have at least some significance, starting with opening night in the battle for LA against the Lakers. After that it will be an interesting curiosity — to see how Wall is received in his first game in Houston against the Rockets after being cut for the entirety of last season.

A big ESPN showdown will see the Clippers test their mettle against the defending champs, while two big games with Eastern Conference heavyweights await in late December and early February. Finally, the final day of the season seems meaningless at times, but seeding could be at stake when they meet the Suns in early April, so it might be worth watching.

  • Thursday, October 20 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (TNT)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 2 at Houston Rockets
  • Wednesday, November 23 at Golden State Warriors (ESPN)
  • Thursday, December 29 at Boston Celtics (NBA TV)
  • Thursday, February 2 at Milwaukee Bucks (TNT)
  • Sunday, April 9 at the Phoenix Suns

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