LOS ANGELES — Being the new guy on an NBA team is a lot like being the new kid at school, Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue said recently.
“Who’s gonna be your friend? Who you gonna hang out with? Who you gonna sit with at the lunch table? Things like that,” Lue said, “So we just trying to figure it out.”
Fortunately for Eric Bledsoe, a naturally quiet fellow, the acclimation process in this, his first season back with the Clippers after playing for the team from 2010-2013, is being helped by the fact that all the guys in his new situation are pretty cool, he said.
“They just told me to just play my game, go out there and play my game,” the 6-foot-1 guard said after breaking through with 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting in the Clippers’ 112-109 victory over the Miami Heat. “‘Don’t worry about the mistakes, that comes with it.’ They welcomed me with open arms and so it’s been pretty fun through the struggles, just gotta keep it going.”
If Bledsoe has shown signs entering Saturday’s game against Minnesota that he’s warming up offensively as he gets better acclimated, Luke Kennard is showing how much better he can be defensively now that he’s settled in as a second-year Clipper.
“Definitely, coming into a new system, defensive system, learning everything, learning how we want to play,” said Kennard, who also has made strides offensively, taking 3.1 more 3-pointers per game and averaging 2.9 points more through the first 11 games this season than he did in the same span to start the last one.
But he said getting to know his teammates better especially makes a big difference on the defensive end of the court because, well, it’s easier to talk to them.
“Getting comfortable with everybody and what we need, what we want, as a unit, or as a team, for me, it’s just communication was the big thing going into last offseason,” said Kennard, who is averaging a career-high 1.6 deflections per game (fourth-most on the team) and posting a career-best 106 defensive rating so far.
“Kind of made a list of things I really wanted to improve on and you’re like, ‘How can you really work on communication in the offseason?’” Kennard continued. “It’s big, just even one-on-one stuff, just talking and, and being loud with what you’re saying. I think it’s helped me a lot just to be in the right spots, and that’s big. If you’re kind of in and out, not really decisive on what you’re doing, the communication has helped me be more decisive on the defensive end.”
And eventually, he might hear more than two words from Bledsoe, or so joked Lue.
“I mean, when we get him to say two words that means he’s getting comfortable,” Lue said of the 31-year-old Bledsoe, who has started the season shooting just 37.1% from the field and 20.5% from 3-point range.
“He doesn’t talk a lot, he’s to himself, but it’s the same thing that Luke went through last year, you know? Just trying to understand and when you come to a new team, it’s different.
“I’ve been on seven teams when I played,” Lue added, “so to come in and try and fit in and do the right things, you know, it’s tough. We know Bled, he’s a great player, we understand what he can do. The thing that never wavered was his defense and how he had the hardest assignment every single night that we played, and the offense was gonna come and you see he’s getting more and more comfortable.”
It helps, again, to have people around supporting you, messing with you.
“I got great teammates,” Bledsoe said. “And T-Lue messed me with a lot in practice trying to get me to talk … he told me, ‘You ain’t gotta say nothing to me, but I’m gonna mess with you.’ So it be fun, to be honest. It’s all positive energy.”
JOHNSON BOUNCES BACK
After spraining his ankle during his second G League game on Thursday, Clippers rookie Keon Johnson was shooting around with assistant coach Shaun Fein before Saturday’s game at Staples Center, with just some kinesiology tape on his left ankle.
In the third quarter of the Agua Caliente Clippers’ 101-93 victory over the Ignite, the 21st overall draft pick rolled his ankle after challenging a jumper and had to be helped off the floor.
Johnson was 6 for 6 for 12 points when he was injured, following up on a superb season opener two days prior, when the 6-foot-5 guard scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting in a 115-101 victory over the Ignite.
“His ankle he said is pretty good,” Lue said before tipoff Saturday. “He bounced back really quick and I guess it’s good when you’re young, you can bounce back like that.
“And his first couple games, I thought he did really well, playing the G League … very aggressive, very efficient, and so he’s learning. Nineteen years old, the work he’s been putting in in the summertime and now throughout the course of the season he’s getting better and better, he’s starting to understand.”