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.
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