Clippers See Surprising Players Emerge as ‘X-Factors’ Without Kawhi

Luke Kennard Clippers x-factor

Getty Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard of the LA Clippers return, but only one of the two has been dubbed one of the team's x-factors next season.

The primary question surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers this coming season is centered around how the team will gel without superstar Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. With Leonard out indefinitely as he recovers from knee surgery, the onus will be on Paul George to lead the team.

That said, how George’s supporting cast bolsters his — and the team’s — game, has many wondering which players will step up in Kawhi’s absence.

Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points makes an argument for not one, but two Clippers’ role players as being the team’s x-factors next season, and while one might be somewhat expected, the other isn’t so obvious.

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Will Terance Mann Break Out in a Big Way Year 3?

After playing in 41 games and starting six his rookie season in 2019-20, averaging 2.4 points, Terance Mann took big strides in his sophomore season. He played in 67 games and started 10 last year, hitting 50.9% of his field goals and 41.8% of his three-point shots while scoring 7.0 points a game. The versatile 24-year-old also hauled in 3.6 rebounds and dished out 1.6 assists last year, all career-highs.

Azarly makes a pretty convincing case for why Mann and another one of his teammates will be the team’s biggest x-factors in the upcoming 2021-22 season:

In my opinion, the key to the Clippers will be either Terance Mann or Luke Kennard. Terance Mann finished his sophomore campaign shooting 41.8 percent from three. For a guy considered a non-shooter entering the year, Mann took and made great looks all season. He capped off his masterful performance with seven three-pointers against the Jazz, making Utah pay time and time again for leaving him open. With Leonard out for an extended period of time, Mann has another opportunity of a lifetime in his hands. His corner shooting and slashing have become real weapons for the Clippers, but the next step for him will be consistently creating off the bounce — something he’s already shown he can do.

Mann will definitely be one to watch next season. He has been working on improving his already-impressive three-point shooting since the Clippers’ season ended, which looks like it’s going rather well so far:

Will Addition of Eric Bledsoe Up Luke Kennard’s Game?

Azarly’s inclusion of Kennard here is intriguing. The shooting guard has been a key force on the Clippers’ second team, and Azarly thinks the recent addition of point guard Eric Bledsoe is going to do wonders for Kennard’s game, specifically. Here’s his logic:

Kennard averaged 15.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per-36 minutes last season. He’ll have a plethora of opportunities to score this year after the Clippers acquired Eric Bledsoe for the second unit. And while his road to playing time wasn’t as easy as others, he quickly left his mark once he did play. Luke Kennard had a 28 point game against the Grizzlies in April, making 6-of-7 three-pointers. He led an incredible comeback against the Hawks in March, scoring 20 points in 18 minutes on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting. He also poured in 21 points against the eventual NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks on 8-of-11 shooting — a game that didn’t feature Kawhi Leonard due to injury.

That last bit is key — Kennard has been effective in Clippers’ lineups that didn’t include Kawhi, so Ty Lue has a blueprint, even if it’s a small one.

Kennard is entering his fifth season, and if Bledsoe can open things up on the perimeter, he could really break out. Kawhi’s return remains a question mark, but if Mann and Kennard can up their respective games, the Clippers could easily be one of the top teams in the West.

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