What to watch for in Paul George’s LA Clippers debut

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 22: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers watches from the bench during a 112-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the LA Clippers season home opener at Staples Center on October 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 22: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers watches from the bench during a 112-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the LA Clippers season home opener at Staples Center on October 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Barring any last-second changes, Paul George will make his LA Clippers debut tonight when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans.

The time has finally come, LA Clippers fans: Barring any last-second changes, Paul George is all set to make his franchise debut Thursday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Officially, George is listed as “probable” for tonight’s matchup, but it seems like a certainty at this point. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes both reported that today would be the day, and earlier this morning, The Players’ Tribune ran a story that seems as though it was planned to coincide with his return.

Although George will probably be on some sort of minutes restriction, this will be our first look at him in a Clippers uniform — and the start of something bigger.

The Clippers currently sit at 7-4, and they’ve played one of the league’s tougher schedules to this point. Back-to-backs have been a staple of this calendar month too, so we haven’t always been able to see Kawhi Leonard on the floor either.

That will be the case tonight as well, as Leonard will rest the second game of a back-to-back for the third time so far this season.

So while we won’t get to see Leonard and George together tonight, that opportunity should present itself this Saturday, when the Clippers host the Atlanta Hawks.

The real fun will begin once they’re playing side-by-side. George and Leonard are two of the game’s very best, and having both of them on the roster is something that this franchise has never been able to experience before.

For now, though, let’s focus on what George will bring to the table for LA tonight.

(Hopefully) Improved three-point shooting

The LA Clippers have been as-advertised on the defensive end this season, even without Paul George in the lineup. The offense, however, has been a major disappointment.

More often than not, the Clippers look disjointed with the ball in their possession. There isn’t always a ton of movement, players are taking bad shots late in the shot clock and turnovers have been far too common. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is the lack of three-point shooting.

The Clippers have plenty of good shooters on the roster. Landry Shamet, Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard and JaMychal Green are some of the more notable names featured, as each player has had at least one season in which they shot above 40 percent from three-point range.

But for whatever reason, the Clippers have been abysmal from beyond the arc through the first 11 games of the season.

As a team, LA has made just 32.2 percent of their attempts from deep — putting them among the league’s bottom-five three-point shooting squads. Green has been one of the few that has delivered, knocking down 43.4 percent of his 4.8 attempts per game. Patrick Patterson‘s three-ball has been a welcome surprise as well, as he’s made 37.5 percent of his looks from deep as well.

George could be a potential solution to the issue.

The two-way star is a 37.8 percent shooter from deep for his career, and he connected on 38.6 percent of his 9.8 attempts from three-point range with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2018-2019. Those are big numbers, and assuming George stays consistent with his three-ball, they could help bring the Clippers back up to speed from outside.

Some rusty plays

Paul George hasn’t been on the floor since April 23, when his Thunder were eliminated by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.

He likely hasn’t been healthy since late February, though.

George was playing MVP-level basketball with Oklahoma City last season before he began to have shoulder issues, which ultimately led to his fizzling out down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason.

He had surgery on each shoulder over the summer, so that shouldn’t be a concern any longer. That said, the Clippers will likely still use some form of load management strategy with George to ensure he stays healthy throughout the season.

George will also have to spend some time shaking off the rust.

It takes time for players to truly return to form, and it’s difficult to say how long it will take George to do so. But he won’t look like his best self in the early goings, and that certainly includes tonight.

In short, don’t go into tonight’s game thinking George will drop 40 points on the Pelicans.

Injuries galore

If Paul George wasn’t returning for tonight’s game, it could be a difficult one to watch. Kawhi Leonard won’t be active, Patrick Beverley is out with an injury and the New Orleans Pelicans are missing a good chunk of their squad as well.

Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Zion Williamson and Darius Miller are all listed as “out” ahead of tonight’s game, and Brandon Ingram and Jahlil Okafor are listed as “questionable”.

This could be good and bad. With that many injuries on both sides, the pressure may not be as high for players to perform. On the other hand, the LA Clippers are going to have to get crafty to try and find a way to field the best possible rotation at all times.

With Beverley and Leonard out in addition to Shamet, the Clippers will need to replace three starting positions. George will likely fill Leonard’s tonight, and we saw Maurice Harkless fill in for Shamet Wednesday against the Houston Rockets.

That leaves Beverley, who may have to be replaced by Terance Mann or Jerome Robinson — and that isn’t exactly ideal. Look for Lou Williams to see an increased role in running the offense tonight, especially when George is off the floor.

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The LA Clippers will take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight at 5:00 p.m. PST. Be sure to follow along with us on Twitter @ClipperholicsFS for live updates and analysis!