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How C.J. Wilcox fits the Clippers

6/27/2014

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- In a bold and surprising move, the Los Angeles Clippers selected Washington shooting guard C.J. Wilcox with the 28th pick of the 2014 NBA draft.

The decision raised some eyebrows because the Clippers already have shooting guards J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Reggie Bullock under contract and needed help at other positions, particularly in the frontcourt.

Darren Collison (point guard), Danny Granger (small forward), Hedo Turkoglu (power forward) and Glen Davis (forward/center) are all entering free agency on July 1, and the rest of the bench is barren -- except at shooting guard, where the Clippers also have a team option on Willie Green.

According to head coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, the team wasn’t concerned with finding a player that fit positionally, and they instead focused on finding the best player available.

“C.J. is a great shooter and I value shooting,” Rivers said. “You know, when you're at [No.] 28, I don't think you can afford to pick [for] what needs you have. I have never thought that.

“We have Jamal and J.J., but [Wilcox is] the best player, and I think you can always make it work when you can get the best player. I thought as far as for shooting, in this league, you need it, you can never have enough of it, and I'm a big believer in it. I thought he may have been the best shooter in the draft, if not No. 1, No. 2.”

It’s not difficult to see Rivers’ rationale. Wilcox averaged 18.5 points per game and posted a 60 percent true shooting number last season. He’s certainly one of the best marksmen in the draft, shooting 39.1 percent on 7.2 3-point attempts per game. Already an elite spot-up shooter (he shot 43 percent on spot-up jumpers last season), he has the ability to pop out or curl off screens into open space and also pull up out of pick-and-rolls. He elevates nicely on his jumper and has a quick release and deep range.

For a team that ranked just 22nd in 3-point shooting percentage, Wilcox is a smart and useful addition. He is somewhat of a one-trick pony offensively, though he does his one trick exceptionally well. He isn’t much of a slasher -- 72.1 percent of his shots were jumpers last season, and 52.9 percent of his shots were 3-pointers -- as evidenced by his 4.1 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes, a below-average mark for a scorer of his stature.

Wilcox improved as a ball handler over the course of his NCAA career, and though he can’t create his own shot reliably or facilitate much, he takes advantage of unsuspecting defenders and lazy closeouts to penetrate into the paint. His 37.5-inch vertical gives him sneaky explosion, providing him with an edge when finishing at the rim in transition and half-court settings.

Though only 6-foot-5, he has a 6-foot-10 wingspan, implying he can defend small forwards at first glance. However, his thin frame holds him back. He’s easily overpowered when bigger wings drive or post up, and he can’t hold his own on the glass. Unless he bulks up another 10-15 pounds, Wilcox will probably only be able to defend 2-guards. He can feel asleep and lose his man occasionally, but on balance, he’s a solid defender who uses his length properly (he averaged 1.0 block and 1.0 steal).

In a conference call with reporters at the Clippers' training facility Thursday night, Wilcox compared his game to Danny Green, Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton. Green is the most realistic comparison, as he’s a 3-and-D specialist. Rivers was hesitant to praise Wilcox’s defense prematurely, as he said there’s a steep learning curve for all rookies defensively, but he sees his value as a two-way player.

“He’s long, he’s athletic, and it’s rare when you get a shooter like that, not only he’s a catch-and-shoot guy, too, that wants to defend. That’s a great combination,” Rivers said. “Like most of the time you get a shooter but [he] can’t defend or a shooter but [he’s] not athletic. We have a great shooter who can defend and is athletic, so I thought that was important.”

In many ways, Wilcox is a carbon copy of Bullock, who was selected with the No. 25 pick in last season’s draft.

Both projected as spot-up shooters with limited ball-handling and shot-creation skills. Neither was a stout defender in college, but both were average to slightly above-average because of their relative length. The issue, when comparing the two, is that Wilcox isn’t as good of a shooter as Bullock in college, is smaller in both height and weight, and is older by a few months.

Age is the main concern with Wilcox. He’s 23 and will turn 24 in December. Optimists will say he is more experienced and ready to contribute right away. Pessimists, however, will point to the fact that prospects that old rarely see significant improvement and that his ceiling isn’t much higher than his current ability. Wilcox disagrees.

“I come in with a different approach and a different understanding of how things work sometimes -- not always getting what you want,” Wilcox said. “I had to work from the bottom to the top. That's kind of always how I've been. Even though I'm 23, I feel like my game can expand in so many ways.”

Still, with Kyle Anderson (No. 19 on Chad Ford’s Big Board), K.J. McDaniels (No. 24), Jordan Clarkson (No. 29) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 26) all dropping farther than expected, Los Angeles could have drafted a player with just as much, if not more, talent that also fit more pressing needs. For comparison’s sake, Wilcox was No. 35 on Ford's board. It sounds like a minor difference, but compound it with the positional redundancy and it’s a questionable fit. Ford gave the selection a C+ grade.

Which leads to perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Clippers’ draft night: The team is likely going to trade one of its existing wings, either to dump salary and clear cap space, or to acquire a useful player at a different position (a big man or a point guard).

Crawford, Dudley and Bullock have all been rumored in potential moves to open up cap room to either sign outright or sign-and-trade for superstar free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. With a glut of wings on board and frontcourt holes lingering, it seems like a deal is imminent. The Clippers have something up their sleeve.

The end of the first round is ultimately a crapshoot, and the Clippers took the best available player with a NBA-ready skill in their eyes. If Wilcox can further develop as a defender, he has potential as a 3-and-D role player. While the fit is odd on paper, the Clippers coveted long-range shooting and took the prospect that addressed that need best.

Stats used in this post are from ESPN, Synergy Sports and Sports-Reference.