January 20, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Kawhi Leonard on NBA’s Clippers probe: Nobody swayed my mind

Kawhi Leonard was all smiles Wednesday night while being interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show. Billy Crystal, a Clippers fan, quizzed the All-Star forward on Crystal’s movies. Leonard told Kimmel why the fictional snow wasset inspired the design of his holiday-themed New Balance sneakers.

One night later, following the Clippers’ 125-105 loss to Utah in their preseason finale, Leonard didn’t flash a grin when describing Johnny Wilkes, however. Wilkes is the man whose lawsuit against the Clippers and team consultant Jerry West has sparked an investigation by the NBA into Leonard’s free-agency recruitment last year.

In the lawsuit, Wilkes alleges that he provided information that helped the Clippers sign Leonard. Wilkes claims he asked to be paid $2.5 million for his assistance, which West agreed to pay, and that as free agency neared, the team promised other inducements, including a travel expense account and house for Dennis Robertson, Leonard’s uncle and someone Wilkes calls a “best friend.”

Leonard, after scoring 13 points in 22 minutes against the Jazz, said Wilkes did not play a role in his decision to sign with the Clippers.

“That has nothing to do with me … nobody swayed my mind to go somewhere,” Leonard said. “I’m from L.A. and I grew up here my whole life. And out here, people try to find any way to get some money. It probably won’t be the last. I know a lot of people out here.”

The Clippers called the allegations baseless and said they were “providing the NBA with evidence that the allegations are false.”

Five more things we learned from Thursday’s loss, which left the Clippers 0-3 during the preseason:

1. Guard Lou Williams believes it’s not worth drawing large conclusions from the inconsistency displayed throughout the preseason.

“I think we’re doing a fine job behind closed doors in practice,” Williams said. “I think we’re farther along than these preseason games have shown. So I just look forward to the real games starting.”

Those real games start with Tuesday’s opener against the Lakers, who did not play either LeBron James or Anthony Davis during either of their two preseason matchups against the Lakers.

“The first quarter of the half, I was pleased with our defensive effort, our defensive intensity,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “And offensively we did some good things as well. [Paul George] and Kawhi are gonna shoot the ball better going forward. But defensively, until we got into our zone, I thought we did a good job.”

2. About that 2-3 zone the Clippers sprinkled into Thursday’s game plan: It, like the rest of the team’s defense, is being overseen by associate head coach Dan Craig.

Craig was hired away from Miami, where he’d helped orchestrate a Heat defense that played zone a league-leading 11.6% of the time last season, according to Synergy Sports. For context, only three other teams — Brooklyn, Toronto and Washington — devoted even 6% of their defense to zone. For Miami, that usage amounted to about 11 possessions of zone per game last season, from which it allowed an average of 10.5 points. Ranked by points per possession allowed, Miami’s zone was amid the league’s top third.

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley, left, tries to drive past Clippers guard Terance Mann during Thursday’s preseason game.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Clippers used a fair amount of zone last season too, but it’s fair to expect more of it this season, second-year center Mfiondu Kabengele said.

“We’ll definitely do it in certain situations, based on the personnel and the type of games and where we’re at in the situation of the game,” Kabengele said. “We’ve kind of been adjusting to it day by day, trying to figure out, work out the kinks and going live and figuring stuff out, but it’s still a working effort. We still need some work, but I really do enjoy the 2-3, it gives us a different look.”

3. Last seen making 23% of his three-pointers and 42% of his attempts overall in the postseason, Williams made nine of his first 10 shots in the preseason and finished the three games making all three of his three-pointers and 12-of-15 attempts overall.

The top-scoring reserve in NBA history, Williams said he has accepting being in his self-described third stage of his 16-year career.

“Now I’m more of a midrange shooter instead of a guy that tries to finish more at the rim,” Williams said. “And that’s where the game is taking itself.”

4. After shooting seven free throws per game two seasons ago in Oklahoma City, Paul George’s average dipped last season to 4.5. Could that average be going up again? George offered an encouraging performance against Utah by drawing nine free throws and dipping his surgically repaired shoulders into defenders to draw contact and whistles.

“Us getting to the rim or just touching the paint allows us, everyone, to get kind of in a flow,” Leonard said. “When we touch the paint, the defense collapses and we can either get a layup or get fouled or get an assist out of it.”

Lue attributed George’s aggression on a mixture of the forward’s confidence in his health after an offseason of training — something he wasn’t able to do in 2019 while coming off of shoulder surgeries — and a system that will allow George to play downhill.

“Some pindowns coming off of screens, also some [isolations], some pick-and-rolls, just kind of keep mixing it up,” Lue said. “I think if you do the same thing too much, teams can lock in on him. So I want to move him around a little bit. He did a good job of attacking the basket tonight.”

George generated 1.8 free throw attempts from 8.3 drives per game last season, which were decreases from the 2.1 free throws he produced off his 10 drives per game in his final season with Oklahoma City, when he received votes for most valuable player.

5. Lue didn’t provide an update on when some of the Clippers absent from Thursday’s lineup could return, but Marcus Morris (right knee soreness) has taken part in recent practices, the coach said, and put in a light workout before tipoff working against player development coach Dahntay Jones.

Center Serge Ibaka (lower back soreness) also took part in pregame shooting drills but did not play. The only player not seen on the bench was forward Patrick Patterson (hyperextension of right elbow).