Beyond the Toronto Raptors: Powerhouse Pacific Division

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors:
Toronto Raptors: /

Los Angeles Clippers

Key Arrivals: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George. Maurice Harkless

Key Departures: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Garrett Temple

It still stings for Raptors fans to see their greatest player pack his bags and move back to Los Angeles. And he took Paul George with him. Consider that they’re two of the best forwards and are joining a team that won 48 games and beat a healthy Warriors team twice in the playoffs.

The Clippers had to part with promising rookie Gilgeous-Alexander along with a truckload of picks, but to have both Leonard and George prowling the perimeter like a pair of tiger sharks is just an opportunity you don’t get often. This is a once-in-a-generation pairing.

The asterisks here are both Leonard’s and George’s health. Leonard has his knee issues and George is coming back from shoulder rehab. And the Clippers lack a true big man. But they’ll enter the season as the odds-on favourite to win it all.

Offensive outlook

The Clippers were already a top-ten offense last season without having a true superstar. Now, they have two who combined for almost 55 points. Most notably, either Leonard or George can take over a game offensively. And in George’s case, he can get nuclear from downtown.

George hit a career-high 3.8 threes last year. The Clippers, as a team, only hit 10 (25th in the league). They won’t need to hit too many threes as most of their key players have range and they shoot it effectively (38.8%, second in the league).

Landry Shamet could be the team’s catalyst as he anchors the two-guard spot. Acquired from the Sixers as the main piece of the Tobias Harris deal, Shamet can be lights out from deep. He’ll need to step up to spell Lou Williams and if Patrick Beverley goes on his long shooting droughts.

Defensive outlook

There is some hyperbole that this Clippers team could be an all-time great defense. If this team becomes historically great at defense, they will have to do so without the presence of a defensive anchor in the middle.

Historically great defensive teams have been built around a stifling big man or at least a center or two who can hold their ground. Can the Clippers make do with Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell? The former is inexperienced and the latter excels more on the offensive end.

But with Leonard and George, the Clippers get two premier defenders who will be able to take on the pairs of superstars the NBA has evolved to. Most teams would kill to have an All-Defensive forward. The Clippers have two.

Projected outlook: 58-24

Winning 60 games is within the picture even if Leonard and George only play 60ish games apiece. The Clippers are well-coached and have enough pieces to be a fully functional team. Having even just Leonard or George playing guarantees the team wins close to 50 games.

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With how loaded the West is, the Clippers probably will lose a couple. They already have the Lakers and Warriors in their division. Winning between 57 to 59 games should put the Clippers firmly on top.