Maalik Wayns dresses the part.
He emerges from the Clippers’ locker room sporting a Lob City shirt. Dangling just above his ears are his head phones, red white and blue Beats by Dre that have a distinct “L.A.” logo on the side. The team gave out those huge, noise-canceling headphones last year, when Wayns was just an NBA rookie, already on his second professional team.
But for now, Wayns is a man with basketball memorabilia and without a basketball home.
The former Villanova guard has no guaranteed contract, though he does stand a legitimate chance to make the Clippers’ roster, one that has point guards Chris Paul and Darren Collison without a clear second backup ball handler. Wayns might be that guy. He might not. And we’re finding out in Las Vegas just where he stands.
He’s modest. He’s a bulldog, but the ego doesn’t seem to be there off the court. His answers with the media are political, his responses clearly calculated in a “How can I answer this question in the smartest fashion?” kind of way. But he’s tough. Clippers’ summer league coach Tyronn Lue likes him as someone that “competes”. But that’s a Philly thing.
Wayns is a Philadelphia native. He went to Roman Catholic High School in Philly. He went to college at ‘Nova in Philly. He even signed his first professional contract with the 76ers. Those Philly guys – they’re relentless. We know this because they tell us that and don’t let us forget. There’s a sort of community with the Philadelphia basketball scene, one similar to the connections we see between New York and Chicago ballers. And it’s just Wayns’ luck that his main competition for a spot on the Clippers’ roster seems to be Chicago-native Jerome Randle. But in typical Wayns style, he says that doesn’t faze him in the least.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not even thinking about making the team or anything like that,” Wayns reckons. “I’m just trying to focus on summer league. I’m not even worried about it.”
The problem for Wayns is that he has gotten competition from his diminutive counterpart. Randle is playing well – really well – in his 19.8 minutes per game off the bench. But Wayns does have one inherent advantage over Randle, who is listed at a dubious 5-foot-10: a four-inch advantage to be specific.
The Clippers’ roster is loaded at point guard with Paul and Collison manning the vast majority of the duties. But as dominant as that tandem could potentially be in the upcoming season, it is lacking in one specific area: length. As brilliant of a defender as Paul is, he isn’t always great when he guards bigger guards. Point guards with size can shoot over him. Point guards with bulk can figure out ways to overpower him. And unless Collison completely transforms as a player under Doc Rivers, he won’t provide much relief on the defensive end. That means the Clippers need a complement and Wayns fits the mold.
This isn’t an argument facilitated by height bias. There are plenty of small point guards in the NBA that have become successful players, all the way from Nate Robinson to Isaiah Thomas. So this isn’t height bias; it’s versatility bias. If a team is like a puzzle, then it needs different shaped pieces and three point guards cut from the same cloth don’t necessarily fit that bill. With that in mind, Wayns provides a change of style.
“On the court, just pushing the ball, getting other guys a shot, just bringing a different tempo,” explains Wayns about what he would best provide the Clippers. “Off the court, I’m a great teammate. I like being around my teammates.”
Don’t underestimate the teammate aspect. Wayns already has a strong relationship with Chris Paul and the Clippers already like him. He doesn’t need to worry about carving out a social niche in the locker room. That nook already exists.
The Clips know how he practices and practice ethic is something that means more for a third point guard who often won’t get high-stress minutes. Good practice players shouldn’t – and, in many circumstances, don’t – get written off by organizations. Randle could fall under the same category, but Wayns is a known quantity, something that is often less scary than the unknown.
The known is already wearing his red, white, and blue. The known already has his headphones. Randle and Wayns both look like they could be legitimate NBA players and because of that, the Clippers are stuck having to choose between talent and style.