I have been a Los Angeles Clippers fan since I was about 6 years old. I was born in Los Angeles in 1995 to a helicopter mother, who tolerates and pretends to like sports, and a sports-crazed former semi-pro tennis player father. My dad grew up in L.A. from a young age thus, he has been watching the Lakers since the early sixties. Every time I bring the Lakers up he laments about how he watched every Showtime Laker game and remembers where he was when they finally broke through in ’72.
My half-brother Landon was born to another Laker-crazed man in my mom’s life before my dad and thus is also a Laker fan. I still remember how excited he was when his dad took him to the first championship parade in 2000 and how he came back home re-creating Mark Madsen’s dorky dance. Growing up, everywhere I turned it was Purple and Gold. Kobe and Shaq. Kareem and Magic. West, Chamberlain, and Baylor. What was it in my being to want to be the contrarian and root for the Clippers instead?
Why do I bring this up? This is an analysis website after all and I’m supposed to be crunching numbers over here. I bring this up because this offseason has set in place the second most exciting time in my Clippers fandom. While the most exciting, Lob City, started with a great nickname, three All-Star’s and the resurgence of the Clippers brand; it ended in bad relationships, no development of younger players and little playoff success.
What the Clippers have done, in trading away the expensive and injury-prone Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons during the middle of last season, is create the most cap space in the league for 2019. They also acquired the Clippers current starting SG and SF in Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris and acquired a lottery pick as well. They used this pick, and their own pick, to draft two young guards with oodles of potential. They are in a position to both contend for a low playoff spot in the West this year and also build for the immediate, potentially winning, future as soon next offseason.
The two new rookies on the squad, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Jerome Robinson, are looking to contribute immediately and I fully expect them to. They are both the future and the present for a team that is loaded with guards but can afford to be flexible with lineups this year and to develop young talent.
In my last article I mentioned how SGA and Robinson fit into the guard rotations developing in L.A. I stated that I think SGA should be the second guy off the bench after Lou Williams and could potentially steal some starting time from incumbent Patrick Beverley with consistent play. After watching SGA’s performances in the Summer League, where he averaged 19 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4 assists a game on 46% shooting, I think the future is incredibly bright for the 20-year-old out of Canada.
What SGA flashed in his four games in Las Vegas screamed incredible two-way potential. He is a true point guard, but at 6’6” with nearly a 7-foot wingspan (6’11.5”), he can guard 1-3 and switch any guard-to-guard action. He flashed defensive potential by coming up with 2.3 steals on average in these four games in Vegas and also added a block a game as well.
The Clippers legion have attempted a re-brand of “lob city” to “lock city” this year given the amount of defensive-minded wings and bigs that dot their roster. After only ranking 19th in defensive rating this past season, I am totally for this new nickname and SGA provides rabid perimeter defense to uphold the name.
Not only did SGA impress on D, his offensive game showed strides from his days in Lexington as well. SGA was routinely beating his man off the dribble. When he didn’t see daylight in the paint, he had no problem pulling up in the mid-range and knocking down his shot. He used a flurry of dribble and hesitation moves to free himself of his man and get into the lane where he was impressed with his vision, especially in finding Robinson, Sindarius Thornwell and other wings on the perimeter for open threes.
Another aspect of his game that was slept on at Kentucky was his burst. I was impressed with his ability to know when to turn on the gas and get by a switching big man off a screen for a layup. He also knew his mismatches well and would take advantage with a quick dribble pull-up or attack of the rim. He also knows how to use this length against smaller guards and is not afraid to mix it up in the post.
His most impressive game in the S.L. was against the Houston Rockets. He put up 25 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists. Take a look at the video below. He is blowing past everybody, including De’Anthony Melton who some considered to be the best perimeter defender in the draft. He makes bigs look silly for switching, guards look silly for reaching and was finishing in the lane with ease. He kept getting to the rack over and over and finishing with both hands. His length was on full display as he was able to get the ball on the glass before bigs could get their hands on the shot.
I look for SGA to be a real force for the Clippers second unit to start the season. I think he would be able to cook some of the bench 1’s or 2’s that try to defend him, especially if they are undersized. Clippers Nation writer Eric Patten argued for SGA to play a lot this year and I couldn’t agree more. However, with the current depth at guard, I wouldn’t be surprised if he averages around 22-25 minutes a game. I expect for him to be hyper-efficient when doing so and becoming one of the best backup point guards in the league by the end of the season. If he can develop a consistent enough shot, both mid-range and from three, he is going to be something serious and a huge piece for the Clips moving forward.
I know getting too excited over Summer League games is a rookie move, but it’s hard not to be excited about the play of both SGA and Robinson. In Robinson’s Summer League play, I saw a guy who will be an above average deep threat, can score in a multitude of ways and is athletic enough to defend 1-3 with some added defensive improvement.
For the S.L., Robinson averaged 13.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists a game. He was hampered by knee soreness and thus held out of two contests but showed some great promise in these appearances. His best game was a 15 point, 3 assist showing against the Washington Wizards squad. It was his best game shooting wise and he also showed his ability to get in the lane and finish with floaters and at the rim. Robinson has some deep range and this will most likely be his calling card his rookie season.
Robinson absolutely lit up the ACC last year at Boston College averaging 20.7 points, 3.3 assists, and 3.6 rebounds a game. He finished as the runner-up for ACC Regular Season MVP and finished as an Honorable Mention AP All-American. He averaged a career high in points, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and minutes. Robinson was a surprise selection for the Clippers at pick 13 as he was considered a late first round pick. This is a true “Trust the Logo” moment and based on what I’ve seen from college tape and in the S.L., I have every reason to trust Jerry West on this one.
He fits the Lou Williams mold of a “professional scorer.” He won’t kill you with size, speed or athleticism but just knows how to put the ball in the hole. He shot 41% from three at BC his senior season and 48% overall. He made it look easy too. This included a 46-point effort against Notre Dame, 29 points, against the best defense in the country in Virginia, and 32 against Virginia Tech. He actually averaged more points in conference play, averaging 24 points a game over the 18 ACC games they played last year.
I see Robinson fitting in as the 8th or 9th man this year and being a really solid scoring threat off the bench. A lineup including him and Lou could potentially be an issue on defense but would be scary scoring wise. Considering that Doc gave Milos Teodosic and Lou extended minutes together last season, this would be a considerable upgrade and would result in better scoring off the bench.
The defensive end of the floor has been the one hit against Robinson his whole college career. At 6’5” he’s big enough to guard 1-3 but doesn’t have the quickest of feet. His intensity and effort on that end have been questioned in the past and he will need to prove that he can stay on the floor for long stretches with improved defense. He also seems to get a little lost playing the help and will need to improve his defensive awareness. I believe he has the athleticism to be an average-to-good defender and can become quicker with NBA training. For him to become an important player for L.A., he will need to improve in this capacity moving forward. Look for this to either be the reason he doesn’t see the floor more or the reason he shows excelled development throughout the season.
This upcoming season may not translate to immediate success or a playoff appearance but there truly is much to be excited about if you are a Clippers fan. They have two 20-point-a-game guys in Tobias Harris and Lou. Two of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Beverley and Bradley, two exciting rookies with crazy potential and a coach who knows how to win. And you know what the best part of all of this is? They could potentially have $50 million in cap space next summer, projected to be the highest in the league. Take a look at this SB Nation article on the 2019 Free Agency class. A lot of nice names on there. I am currently Milly-rocking down Park Ave in a Darius Miles Clips jersey writing this outro in excitement.