The Los Angeles Clippers are no stranger to the NBA Draft. Over the last few decades, their annual lottery appearance had become a tradition. But they’re not in the lottery this year, and more importantly, won’t be for the foreseeable future.
For the first time since 2000 (Quentin Richardson, No. 18), the Clippers have a non-lottery first round selection (pick No. 25). Besides the no-brainer No. 1 overall Blake Griffin pick in 2009, the Clippers have had recent success acquiring undervalued talent on draft day -- Eric Gordon (2008, No. 7), DeAndre Jordan (2008, No. 35) and Eric Bledsoe (2010, No. 18) -- and will try to find another gem on Thursday night.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), rookie contracts have become extremely significant as teams look to add contributing role players for below market value. While pick No. 25 isn’t likely to yield a franchise player, or even a starter, there is still potential for the Clippers to find a good rotation piece.
Heading into the offseason, the Clippers only have Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Willie Green under contract. Assuming Chris Paul re-signs now that Doc Rivers has been hired as the head coach and Senior VP of Basketball Operations, the Clippers have to add interior depth behind Griffin and Jordan, as well as address their lack of size, 3-point shooting and defense on the perimeter.
Since there are plenty of cheap big man options on the free agent market, the Clippers will likely target a 3-point shooting wing player with length and athleticism first. If none of their ideal candidates are available, they’ll select the best big man remaining.
With the Clippers looking to contend immediately, they’ll likely pick a NBA-ready contributor over a player who still needs a few years to develop. Given the nature of this draft, though -- there isn’t a strong consensus on players ranked outside the top-10 -- it’s certainly possible that a solid prospect slips to the late first round and the Clippers end up with a steal, even if he’s more of a long-term project.
Here are 10 players that fit the Clippers’ priorities and should be available in the late first round (in no particular order):
Jamaal Franklin - San Diego St. | SG | 6-5 | 191
Franklin has drawn comparisons to another Aztec -- Kawhi Leonard -- for his length (6-11 wingspan), athleticism and defensive versatility. He has the mindset and toughness to compete right away, but will need to improve his shot selection, 3-point shooting (28 percent) and ball-handling first.
Allen Crabbe - California | SG | 6-6 | 197
Crabbe is an elite scorer and shooter who thrives coming off screens and spotting up, but often struggles to create his own shot. While he has the size and length to be a good defender, his effort wanes and he isn’t explosive athletically. He has admitted to being too passive throughout games.
Glen Rice Jr. - NBDL | SF | 6-6 | 211
An explosive athlete (40.5-inch vertical) with deep shooting range and good finishing skills, Rice Jr. already has experience at the professional level (D-League). There are questions about his maturity -- he was kicked off the Georgia Tech team for disciplinary reasons -- and lack of defensive fundamentals.
Tony Mitchell - North Texas | PF | 6-9 | 236
Mitchell has the above-the-rim athleticism scouts drool over, can play either forward position and has been compared to a longer version of Kenneth Faried. His declining statistics as a sophomore and raw offensive game are worrisome, but he could be a steal this late in the draft.
Tony Snell - New Mexico | SF | 6-7 | 198
With a potent 3-point stroke (39 percent) and elite athleticism, Snell fits the profile of the “3-and-D” player so many teams covet. He lacks assertiveness and has a limited offensive game outside of catch-and-shooting, but his physical gifts and defensive potential are difficult to pass on.
Rudy Gobert - France | C | 7-2 | 238
Gobert’s 7-8.5 wingspan and 9-7 standing reach were the longest ever measured at the combine. Though he’s not a great athlete, he has the mobility and instincts to become a defensive game-changer. To earn playing time, he’ll need to add strength and refine his offensive skills.
Tim Hardaway Jr. - Michigan | SG | 6-6 | 199
If not for his lack of consistency, Hardaway Jr. could be a lottery pick. He’s equally dangerous attacking off the dribble or shooting over opposing defenses, and has good court vision. Questions persist over his shot selection and ability to stay engaged defensively, but he’s one of the most NBA-ready prospects.
Gorgui Dieng - Louisville | C | 6-11 | 230
Similar to Hardaway Jr. and Rice Jr., Dieng is ready to contribute immediately. He has the length and athleticism to become a good rim protector, but isn’t much of an offensive threat outside some solid shooting and passing. Already 23 years old, he isn’t likely to improve much.
Ricardo Ledo - Providence | SG | 6-6 | 197
Academic issues prevented Ledo from his playing in his freshman season, which makes him one of the most difficult players to project. He has an excellent handle, can effortlessly create his own shot and has lottery-level talent. However, his inconsistent energy and enigmatic attitude are red flags.
Mike Muscala - Bucknell | PF | 6-11 | 230
Muscala is a skilled post player with a shooting touch that extends to 20 feet. Despite his lack of strength, he has a knack for rebounding and is an underrated defender. This may be a reach, as there are concerns over the level of competition he faced in college and his ability to put on weight.