Veteran Big & First-Round Pick Could Both Return for Clippers: Report

Serge Ibaka Clippers

Getty LA Clippers big man Serge Ibaka in action against the Washington Wizards.

Make no mistake about it — some things have been askew for the LA Clippers in the early season. Eric Bledsoe has struggled to adjust to his new digs, the team is currently dead last in rebounding percentage at 47.1 and, too often, Paul George has appeared to be flying solo on the court.

All of that aside, though, the Clippers’ biggest problem is one of availability. The injury to Kawhi Leonard is the headliner, of course, but several other players have also been out with injuries, including key rotational cogs.

Help appears to finally be on the way, however. As noted by The Athletic’s Law Murray and others, two names were notably absent from the Clippers’ latest injury report for the first time this season — Serge Ibaka and Keon Johnson.

Leonard, Marcus Morris and Jason Preston continue to be out of commission, but it appears as though Ibaka and Johnson will be available for the Clippers’ Sunday night bout with the Charlotte Hornets.

A Long Time Coming

Heat Check: Serge Ibaka reacts to LaMelo Ball matching his car and Spike Lee’s NBA suit | NBA TodayHeat Check: Serge Ibaka reacts to LaMelo Ball matching his car and Spike Lee’s NBA suit | NBA Today Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka joins NBA Today for a game of “Heat Check,” and reacts to LaMelo Ball’s neon suit to match his car, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook’s pregame outfits against the Golden…2021-10-21T20:45:01Z

If Ibaka and Johnson do indeed make their respective season debuts on Sunday, it will have been a long time coming. Not only for them but for Clippers fans as well.

For his part, Ibaka hasn’t appeared on the court since Game 2 of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks on May 25. He had previously missed 30 straight games during the 2020-21 regular season due to back issues, which had flared up on him again at that point.

Shortly thereafter, he underwent season-ending back surgery, which precluded him from being a part of the Clippers’ run to the Western Conference Finals.

In 41 games last season, Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest, while hitting 33.9% of his threes. When Ibaka was on the court with Leonard, George, Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson, the Clippers outscored opponents by 33 points per 100 possessions.

Although Ibaka’s return would be a welcome one, it would also put Clippers coach Ty Lue into something of an uncomfortable position. Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein have both played relatively well manning the pivot in Ibaka’s absence.

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The Johnson Situation

While Ibaka is probably a sure-bet to see some action if he’s available to do so, Johnson’s case is different. The rookie did not have the most productive preseason, averaging 4.7 points per game on just 28.6% shooting overall and 20% from three-point range.

He also faces stiff competition — both on the wing and in the backcourt — for playing time.

Nevertheless, there’s reason to be excited about Johnson’s potential. At the NBA Draft Combine, he logged a 48-inch maximum vertical leap, the highest ever recorded at the pre-draft event. Moreover, Clippers president Lawrence Frank has said that Jonson is a player with a “great competitive streak” who likes to be “coached hard.”


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