The Los Angeles Clippers entered the 2017 NBA Draft with zero draft picks. Despite this, the Clippers emerged as one of the night’s biggest winners. No, they didn’t swing a trade for a player like Jimmy Butler or make a trade for a top five pick. Instead, they leveraged one of their major assets (owner Steve Ballmer’s deep pockets) and acquired the rights to the 39th and 48th picks for cash considerations.
With those picks, the Clippers drafted Jawun Evans of Oklahoma State and Sindarius Thornwell of the University of South Carolina.
Last season, Evans averaged 19.2 points, 6.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.8 turnovers per game, while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three-point range. The 5-foot-11 guard is limited by his lack of size, but has shown that he has the skill and feel for the game to become an effective lead guard at the NBA level. Evans has drawn comparisons to Chris Paul as he plays with a nice pace, is very effective in the pick-and-roll, can score from beyond the arc and in the midrange, and is able to both be a primary scorer and a facilitator/playmaker for teammates. Similarly, on defense Evans often manages to overcome his lack of size by effectively utilizing his strength and 6-foot-4 wingspan to slow opposing guards.
Evans arguably lacks the upside of other prospects, but there is reason to believe he could be a productive backup guard for the Clippers, which will be particularly important if they lose Raymond Felton in free agency. Specifically, Evans’ natural proficiency in the pick-and-roll makes him a natural fit for the NBA game and the Clippers’ offense, which has been powered in recent years by the pick-and-roll mastery of Chris Paul. Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times reported earlier today that Paul will exercise his Early Termination Option to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. It’s unclear whether Paul will ultimately re-sign with the Clippers, but if he does, he could serve as a mentor to Evans. If Paul leaves, Evans will likely have plenty of opportunity to prove that the Clippers made a wise choice in paying to acquire him on draft night.
What makes the acquisition of Evans so prudent for the Clippers is the fact that they stand to have little spending power and cap flexibility should Paul and Blake Griffin opt to re-sign with L.A. If Evans proves to be a capable backup to Paul, he will fill an area of need for very little financial commitment. The same logic applies to the Clippers’ other draft night acquisition, Sindarius Thornwell, who adds size and skill on the wing.
Last season, Thornwell averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals, while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc. Thornwell earned the 2017 SEC Player of the Year Award in his senior season and improved his three-point shooting significantly. Although Thornwell is already 22 years old and doesn’t have the athleticism or general upside of other prospects, he could fill a major area of need for the Clippers moving forward. For years the Clippers have struggled to find a small forward that could be a positive contributor on both ends of the court. The Clippers have cycled through players like Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Hedo Turkoglu, Paul Pierce, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson and others to fill this gap. Some of these players had some success, others simply weren’t up for the task. Thornwell likely isn’t the solution at the starting small forward position, but he adds some depth on the wing and the sort of defensive versatility the Clippers were sorely lacking in this year’s playoffs.
The Utah Jazz used Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood’s superior size and length to force the Clippers into problematic matchups repeatedly, which led to key baskets for Utah in big moments throughout the Clippers-Jazz matchup. At 6-foot-5 and with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Thornwell can’t matchup against someone with the size and strength of LeBron James or Paul George, but he should be able to compete against other high-scoring wings like Bradley Beal and Gordon Hayward. His combination of strength, experience and defensive effort should help him make a positive impact early in his NBA career and his improved three-point shooting will be a nice addition as well.
The Clippers have a lot of open ended issues moving forward. Griffin, Paul and J.J. Redick are going to test free agency and could ultimately opt to take their talents elsewhere, while DeAndre Jordan is only under contract for one more season. With Jerry West joining the franchise in an advisory role, the Clippers could opt to go through a full rebuild should the team’s star players and other veterans decide to move on, or they could seek to bolster the roster should these key players decide to return. However, the addition of Evans and Thornwell represents value in either scenario. Both players are more prepared to contribute at the NBA level than many other prospects from this year’s draft class and still bolster the team’s crop of young talent, which has been lacking in recent seasons.
Evans and Thornwell aren’t going to fix the Clippers’ biggest problems themselves. However, walking away with talented prospects after entering the night with zero draft picks is a nice step in the right direction for the Clippers, who have not prioritized acquiring or effectively utilizing draft picks in recent seasons. Whether they are bolstering a championship roster or rebuilding from the ground up, these types of transactions are the kind that will get the Clippers closer to achieving their ultimate goals.
PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More
Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.
Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia
Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.
After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.
On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.
Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.
When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.
“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”
While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.
“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”
The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.
Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.
Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.
So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.
“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”
In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.
Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.
“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”
On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.
“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”
After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.
“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”
Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.
“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”
NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics
With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.
After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.
“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”
Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.
“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”
While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.
“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”
With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.
“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”
While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.
“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”
With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.