After July 4th fireworks and two earthquakes on the west coast this week, the NBA put together its version of explosive, earth-shattering news. Within minutes late Friday night on the west coast, Kawhi Leonard agreed to a four-year, $141 million max deal to join the Clippers, and the Clippers were able to acquire Paul George for five first-round picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.
Kawhi is one of the most secretive players in the NBA and even the most legit reporters will be off on news regarding his status or decision-making. Still, several “reports” came out that Kawhi was leaning a certain way, but in actuality Kawhi was meeting with George in Los Angeles to influence him to team up for a new super team, according to Woj. After those meetings, Kawhi also told Steve Ballmer and Lawrence Frank,” Get PG, and I’m coming.” Chris Haynes of Yahoo! reported that Kawhi’s camp found it comical that everyone was guessing on his next move. Now, the Clippers are currently the favorites to win the NBA title at 3-1. Real Gs move in silence like lasagna, gnome and gnats. Let’s align and assign the fallout for the Clippers.
First and foremost, it’s probably safe to assume Kawhi is going to have a firm rest plan. The reigning Finals MVP made no secret that he rested last year and it was imperative that he did so. “I don't think I'd be playing [in the NBA Finals] if I would've tried to go through that season [without rest]," Leonard said. He didn’t play both games in a back-to-back set all season, and his leg looked to be bothering him in the playoffs. Kawhi’s right knee/quad tendinitis dates back to 2012 with multiple flare ups, and only playing in nine games in the 2017-18 season is the highlight. The news has been all over the place with video of Kawhi struggling to go up stairs to a plane in October of 2017 to his teammates being divided on him with team meetings being “tense and emotional at times” because he didn’t return from injury, and really everything in between. He's a year older and that degenerative issue could linger for a while.
Sure, Kawhi being in a contract year may have been a factor for him playing just 60 games last year. Although, Leonard has cleared 73 games just once in his career, and he is 28 years old now. He also wasn’t really hurt badly last year with only one DNP stint lasting more than two games -- it was four games in January for load management. We can probably set the over/under at 62.5 games and I might even take the under.
Kawhi should also see a hit on his usage rate. He had a team-high 30.0 usage rate during the season with a comfy 7.1 FGA cushion from second-place Serge Ibaka, and Kawhi more than doubled any other Raptors with his 6.1 free throw makes in the regular season. He should still get plenty of looks and he fits next to George very well. Even with all the shots, Kawhi doesn’t really touch the ball much. He ranked just 69th in touches per game and 54th in time of possession per game, which is all pretty incredible for a guy who ranked sixth in the NBA in scoring at 34.0 minutes per game.
Part of that potent output is his ability to do a lot with a little. Over the first four years of Kawhi’s career, he only had a 20.2 usage rate with it increasing every year during his time in San Antonio (excluding the nine-game final season). Kawhi also doesn’t get enough credit for his jump-shooting. He shot 40.8% on his catch-and-shoot treys last year, and moved up to 42.0% on his wide-open treys. In 2016-17, Kawhi made 43.0% on his catch-and-shoot treys, and it was 46.2% in 2015-16. He also saw just 36.1% of his buckets coming off an assist last year, which is down from the 47.6% in his breakout offensive season in 2016-17. Even if his usage rate drops to 26-29, he should still do plenty of damage in points per game with a possible boost to his 3-pointers. One positive trade off could be Leonard also saw his fewest steals per 100 possessions last year, so perhaps not exerting as much effort on O will help his defensive stats. Having so many strong defenders around him may also help in that department. His blocks per minute were also his worst, too. His per-game value is still close to top-five potential in fantasy and he'll be a highly-priced DFS stud when he's active. This defense is going to be a tough one (more on that in a bit).
Like Kawhi, PG was also ultra-efficient when he had the rock with an NBA-best 0.476 points per touch with Kawhi right behind him for second (min. 2,500 touches). Unlike Kawhi, PG could see a boost in his usage. PG-13 ranked second in the NBA in scoring at 28.0 points per game with big volume as the second-ranked player in minutes per game (Bradley Beal). Kawhi and Russell Westbrook almost had the exact same usage rate with Westbrook coming in at 30.1 last season. However, George played about two-thirds of his minutes next to Westbrook last season. Westbrook played 73 games and Kawhi is also very unlikely to reach that number and could be even under 60 games. When Kawhi is healthy, PG-13’s usage rate figures to be slightly down with Lou Williams sitting at a 30.8 usage rate last season -- that’ll be dropping, more on him shortly.
George also isn’t entirely healthy right now. He could miss part of the preseason with offseason shoulder surgery, but he should be ready to start the season. We found out there were “no surprises” on PG’s surgery, so perhaps the procedure will fix his ongoing issues he had throughout the 2018-19 season. He said that his shoulder was bothering him even in the offseason last year, and yet George proved to be an MVP-caliber player. George is nearing the back end of his prime at age 29, and there’s a very good chance Kawhi’s rest plan rubs off on him. Still, George offers top-five upside.
As mentioned, Lou Williams figures to see a massive hit to his usage rate. Among the Clips with 10-plus minutes per game, Williams had a sizable 7.1 usage rate lead over the other Clips (Danilo Gallinari 23.7). Even with just Gallo factored in, Williams only had a 27.1 usage rate compared to a 32.4 without him. PG is certainly going to play more than Gallo and will take more shots, and of course Kawhi will get his, too. He’ll be 33 to start the season, but Williams has been one of the most durable players in the NBA with 75-plus games in each of the last four seasons. The problem is he is really scoring dependent with only 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 5.4 dimes and 3.0 boards to go with his 20 points per game last year. His value figures to slide to the late rounds, but he’ll have his moments when Kawhi and/or PG sit.
Patrick Beverley figures to get the start at point guard in what looks to be one of the toughest perimeter defenses in decades. Beverley should be allowed to be more aggressive to boost his steals after what was by far his worst year in steals per minute. The Clippers also don’t have much depth at guard with Lou and Landry Shamet, so Beverley could wind up in the 28-30 range after his 78-game season last year -- the Clips could still add PG depth. He still is going to capped on fantasy upside because the scoring and dimes figure to be one of the lowest among NBA starting point guards.
The Clippers also acquiring Landry Shamet in the Tobias Harris trade is part of the reason the Clippers are now the favorites for an NBA title. Shamet did also play point guard in college, so that’ll be very important with a 31-year-old, injury-prone Pat Bev atop the depth chart. Shamet also showed he can play off the ball even as a rookie, so he may have a shot at 2.5 treys per game off the bench. When the Clippers rest guys, Shamet could have some sneaky games.
The Moe Harkless trade looks even better now. Last year with the Blazers, Harkless saw about 103 minutes as the power forward, averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 boards, 3.1 dimes, 2.1 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.4 treys on a 58/40/73 shooting line. The Blazers did also smash in that time with a +22.4 net rating. Sure, it’s a small sample and he shot better than expectations, but Harkless could have fantasy value as a power forward with his output in steals, blocks and treys. He also had to battle knee issues last year, so improved health could make him an effective fantasy player.
Much like Lou, it’s probably safe to assume that Montrezl Harrell won’t be getting nearly as many touches. He figures to come off the bench again and should still do some damage in the minutes with just Kawhi or just PG. However, his stats in the fourth and late in the second quarter figure to take a nosedive. Harrell isn’t the strongest shot blocker at a career-high 1.3 swats per game last year and he only pulled down 6.5 boards per outing, as well. Trez’s 16.6 points per game may drop to around 10, and the impact of his 61.5 FG% won’t be quite as strong. Harrell should still have tremendous FG% because he’ll be getting a slew of slam dunks.
The Clippers are probably not done at this point, so they may be looking for someone besides Ivica Zubac to start at the five. Whoever they get as their starter, that big is likely just going to be setting screens and crashing the boards with only a small slice of the offensive pie available.
All this said, coach Doc Rivers goes from a team that exceeded expectations last year to a team that will suddenly have a target on its back. The Clippers may treat the regular season a little like the preseason with several rest games, which makes it really tough to draft Kawhi in the top 20 picks. PG still makes a really strong case as a top-five pick, but I'd put him seven right now until we are comfortable with his shoulders.
Here's part two on the Raptors, Lakers and Thunder. Plus, we have a ton of other free agency columns.
My free agent fantasy losers, Jonas Nader is going to do the fantasy winners, Steve Alexander will cover the team grades, Raphielle Johnson will preview some guys to watch in summer league, and Tommy Beer will add our free agent trackers.