Clippers vs Lakers: Who has the better starting 5?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 25: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Los Angeles Clippers fails to get the ball past half court against Austin Reaves #15 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter at Crypto.com Arena on February 25, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 25: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Los Angeles Clippers fails to get the ball past half court against Austin Reaves #15 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter at Crypto.com Arena on February 25, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /
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LeBron James & Kawhi Leonard
LeBron James & Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard

2020-21 season stats: 24.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.2 apg

At his peak, Kawhi Leonard is a unique and one-of-a-kind ball player. The 6’7” 225-pound wing buries smaller defenders in the post with his strength and physicality as he makes his way to the rim. While he’s proven to be a knock-down shooter from distance, nailing 38.4% of his 3-point bombs for his career, Leonard is a master of the in-between game. At no point during Leonard’s career has he shot less than 50% from inside the line.

Also, unlike most, Leonard is a lockdown defender, constantly taking the opposing team’s best player out of the game. With two Defensive Player of the Year awards tucked safely underneath his arm, Leonard has matched up against players who are quick on their feet such as Ja Morant, and physically imposing players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, without batting an eye.

Leonard is the total package on both ends of the floor and provided he bounces back from his torn ACL, he should return as one of the game’s best two-way forces.

LeBron James

2021-22 season stats: 30.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.2 apg

At 25-years-old, wait, sorry, 37-years-old, LeBron James has a ton left in his gas tank. This past season, in year 19, James was mere fractions away from leading the league in scoring, finishing out the year in second place with 30.3 points a night.

Efficiency has always been the name of LeBron’s game and he continued to punish defenders in all facets of the game. Still, despite shooting 52.4% from the field and in spite of his free throw percentage reaching 75.6%, the fifth highest of his career, James isn’t able to control the pace of a game for long stretches like he once could.

For the second time in four seasons, a LeBron James led team failed to make the postseason. A seething James watched this year’s playoffs from the couch, vowing to never miss out on the chase to win an NBA title for the remainder of his career.

Defensively, with nearly 20 years of NBA basketball logged onto his weary legs, James isn’t the defender he once was. In fact, James is more or less a liability. His 2.3 defensive win shares this past season marked a career low. while still great, James has to pick his spots on the floor to maximize his impact.

Verdict: Lakers

Kawhi Leonard brazenly sauntered into LeBron’s LA stomping grounds. His actions, from the very beginning, were clear. The former two-time Defensive Player of the Year was determined to violently rip LeBron’s crown away from him. However, that has yet to happen.

With back-to-back second-round flameouts during his time in LA, paired with the uncertainty of how his game will look following one full year on the sidelines, and we have no choice but to give LeBron the edge. Despite his age and regardless of the Lakers’ shortcomings this past season, LeBron is still a top three player in the game today…bar none.