For second-round draft picks there are no guarantees.
No guaranteed money. No guarantees you’ll ever find yourself on an opening night roster. No guarantees you’ll ever see a minute of NBA playing time.
For a second-rounder to defy the odds and stick with the club that selected him, he must have an NBA-ready skill or a special glimmer of potential, etc.
Over the past couple of seasons, the Clippers have decided to take calculated risks in the second round. DeAndre Jordan, the 35th selection in 2008, was a potential lottery pick who tumbled down the draft board because of motivational issues. Three years later he’s due to become the Clippers’ center for the foreseeable future. Willie Warren, the 54th pick in 2010, faced similar criticism and took a free-fall in 2010, but was still the same kid who was projected as a lottery talent in 2009.
Jordan and Warren personify the Clippers’ recent philosophy, which has been to opt for raw talent in the second round, even if the promise is packaged with red flags. Thus far, Jordan has developed into an NBA-caliber center, while Warren has yet to produce, though still potentially might.
Therefore, it didn’t come as much surprise when the Clippers selected Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie with the 37th and 47th respectively. Choosing among a draft pool nearly unanimously tagged as weak, the Clippers did a more than adequate job of abiding by their strategy of finding guys with high ceilings. Unfortunately — for the draftees — there is not a high probability that both will make the opening day roster.
Thompkins is in good company, though, as players recently selected in the No. 37 spot include DeJuan Blair (2009), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (2008), Ronny Turiaf (2004) and Mehmet Okur (2001). That said, expectations must be tempered — there’s usually a reason a player lands in the second round.
The 6-foot-10, 239 -pound Thompkins has the desirable height and size to play the power forward position, with the possibly of moving over to play center in certain small-ball lineups. He is a jump-shooting and scoring big man in the mold of Channing Frye who can also post up smaller defenders. In many ways, he is similar to current Clipper forward Brian Cook, although Thompkins’ skill level and potential are unquestionably much higher than the present-day Cook. Jay Bilas characterized Thompkins as a first-round talent and smart second-round value who just needs to coalesce his skills and get in better shape.
With Thompkins, the Clippers have gone away from their traditional big man that simply plays down low (Griffin, Kaman, Jordan, Smith, Diogu) and are taking a more modern approach with a perimeter-oriented big. This approach will give the Clips the kind of positional flexibility they’ve never really had, though have gotten a taste of with Al-Farouq Aminu.
Consequently, the likelihood of the Clippers returning Craig Smith or Ike Diogu has dwindled a bit. With Griffin, Jordan, Kaman (presumably), Cook (who’ll likely exercise his player option), and Thompkins (who’ll command a much cheaper salary than Smith/Diogu), there isn’t much room in the frontcourt for the return of Smith or Diogu, especially when neither player can really tread water from at 5, in the event the Clippers move Kaman.
Despite his notable strengths, Thompkins is far from a finished product. He is noticeably out-of-shape (15.5 percent body fat is a little excessive), not very athletic (only a 30.5 inch vertical), and lacks the agility and quickness to guard faster and more athletic big men. Additionally, Thompkins’ conditioning and work ethic have been brought into question. When you’re a second-round pick, there’s not a lot of tolerance for listlessness.
Falling considerably compared to his draft projections, Leslie is an uber-athletic guard that Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey called a “6-foot-4 DeAndre Jordan” and a slightly smaller version of Jason Richardson. Leslie is widely considered one of the top two or three athletes in the draft (40.5 inch vertical, 6-foot-10 wingspan), capable of finishing in transition and posterizing an opponent. Olshey suggested that Leslie could make immediate contributions defensively with his athleticism.
On the other hand, there are major concerns about whether Leslie’s game translates to the NBA. He has almost no outside or 3-point range — he shot only 30.2 percent from beyond the arc his junior season (0.4 makes out of 1.3 attempts per game), tends to think too much instead of reacting to a play, has little to no dribbling skills, and seems too content with taking a background or complementary role on the floor.
His NBA comparison is a poor man’s Kelenna Azubuike, which means his chance at making the NBA is marginal. With Gordon, Bledsoe, Williams and Foye under contract, Leslie is a long shot to make the team, though his athleticism alone might tempt the Clippers to take a flyer.
Once again, the Clippers swung big in the second round. Despite taking Thompkins and passing on Jeremy Tyler and Chandler (two other potential first round draft picks) at No. 37, the Clippers chose upside by snagging the rawest and most talented players available.
If neither player pans out for the Clippers in the long haul, they’ll return to the uncertain depths of free agency. That’s the ugly truth of being a second-round pick, there are no guarantees.