Nick Flynt writes for TalkHoops and tweets entertaining, enlightening basketball nuggets at an alarming rate. This is his first post for ClipperBlog.
Being a fan of the Los Angeles Clippers is an interesting experience. Sure, there’s the basic and accepted issue of having to watch a doomed franchise fail year after year after year after year after…you get the picture. And there’s the history of wasted lottery draft picks, Michael Olowokandi’s name being brought up over and over, followed closely by Danny Manning and injuries or maybe some jokes (before he returned with the ferocity of Charles Barkley bred with a winged lion) about Blake Griffin’s exploded knee. And, if you needed more fuel to power your depression, everyone knows the issues with our not-beloved owner Donald Sterling who spent years not paying anyone (fired coaches, scouts, what have you) while still making pure cash money and not giving a damn about the team.
I became a fan around the same time this blog was started in 2006, when the team was finding its first success since the days of Larry Brown, this time with Mike Dunleavy and (hilariously) Sam Cassell at the helm. Elton Brand was a franchise-type player and Cat Mobley and Corey Maggette were legitimate (if flawed) complements. Zeljko Rebraca was around for a while. Chris Kaman looked like a top-10 center in the league. A new era was beginning. Hope was springing. Then Tim Thomas was given a contract (bad, bad idea), injuries happened, player regressed after signing massive contracts and being expected to join with a beloved power forward who ran for the money in the East, Mike Dunleavy became the coach as we now remember him and sadness and gloom pervaded the franchise. And somehow, even worse information came to light regarding Sterling.
But then something wonderful happened. A #1 draft pick was awarded to the franchise in the lottery with one of the best players in recent memory available. Our old pick at #7 in 2008 turned out to not be a pretty darn good wing in Eric Gordon (unlike other mid-late lottery selections cough Al Thornton Yaroslav Korolev Chris Wilcox Melvin Ely I could go on and on coughcoughcough). Sure, we had to wait a year to experience that #1, but it turned out to be worth it. A young core has been established, rather than a gang of veterans due for too-big contracts. There’s a really bad coach that fans/apologists tell themselves is good at developing youth, so maybe there’s hope for these guys. There’s a bright-eyed new GM who actually went after LeBron James, which was pretty adorable. Things are looking up and people are believing! Baron Davis is gone!
The problem with all this is that while we talk about having a youthful core, only two of those guys have actually shown promise enough to garner a future long-term extension. Our two most recent picks seemed to regress (okay, they pretty much definitely regressed) over the course of the season rather than improve under the tutelage of Vinny Del Negro, which plays into my theory that it’s more his willingness to use rookies than his ability to develop them that gave him his reputation with some as a talent-farmer (or something like that).
One of my main fears is that Eric Bledsoe is not the point guard of the future (we really need one of those, considering we missed out on Kyrie Irving this year and have Mo Williams starting right now). Examining his numbers using basketball-reference, we can see who in the past has had similar assist percentage and turnover percentage as EB (we’re using rookie seasons only)-
1. Doc Rivers – Okay, not bad, but Doc was a much better shooter (from the field) and had a TOV% 6 points lower than EB. This is probably EB’s best-case scenario – A guy who could penetrate and get to the rim and draw fouls (Doc shot 6 free throws per 36 minutes in his rookie season, EB shot 2.6. Frown).
2. Paul Pressey – Another barely above average for his career guard (15.5 PER) and I honestly have no idea who this is.
3. Maurice Cheeks – Great defensive guard, #5 in career steals in NBA history. Turnover% was, once again, not nearly as high as Bledsoe’s comparing their rookie seasons.
4. Jrue Holiday – Far better shooter than Bledsoe, but comparable rookie season assist% and turnover% (however, at this point I should tell you only EB has ever had an assist % of 25 or less and a turnover% of 25 or greater in his rookie season). This gives us some hope that maybe EB can get those turnovers down, but he’ll never be the shooting threat that Holiday is, most likely.
5. Larry Drew – Career slightly-below average guard and current Atlanta Hawks head coach. Between the comparably low rookie season PERs (both below 11), TS% and pretty much everything else, this is seemingly EB’s closest comparison. This is not the franchise point guard you are looking for.
6. Junior Harrington – So utterly terrible I will not even go into detail.
Of course, it’s arguable that Eric Bledsoe has better physical gifts than any of these guys. He might be the fastest player in the league right now, and he showed us all a strong tendency to at least try to get to the rim and finish or distribute. Did he do either of those things well? No. He did them hilariously poorly, at times. But he has years ahead of him on a rookie contract, so he isn’t costing us anything. The point is that the Clippers need to understand that the current roster is not built to win now. It’s a roster that needs to be managed well, not handing out any more Brian Cook-like pointless 2-year contracts, or silly over-priced extensions. As we speak, only Blake Griffin is a guaranteed franchise player (with Eric Gordon probably joining him, barring the chance to acquire a Dwight Howard-type game changer). DeAndre Jordan made some pretty big strides with more playing time this season, and seems committed to working to improve his game. Al-Farouq Aminu has far more favorable comparisons with his rookie numbers and is an equally intriguing prospect (at least physically) to Eric Bledsoe, in my opinion.
These guys are young players to keep tabs on as they develop with the team, but it would be folly to count on them to be big pieces in the future, which I fear the front office may be willing to do. The last thing the Clippers need is to over-commit to the idea that this roster is one piece or even less than two years of development (as far as youth) away from contending at any relevant level in the West. Getting rid of Baron Davis was a must, but we now know the cost of not protecting our 1st rounders. Over-spending on a player in an attempt the team over the hump right now would be ridiculous. The extra cap space from ditching Baron is nice to have, but the team needs to manage money and manage future 1st rounders from here on out or risk squandering a strong core for the second time in the last decade.
Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickFlynt