The Los Angeles Clippers have been dealing with injuries all season. At the moment, the Clippers are still waiting for the return of combo guard Austin Rivers and forward Danilo Gallinari. Rivers should be back relatively soon and recent reports place Gallinari’s return as imminent. Even with their respective returns, what the Clippers would look like with their roster at full strength will remain unknown with starting point guard Patrick Beverley out for the season.
The Clippers have turned to less heralded players to step into key roles to supplement a core of players that has been shuffling in and out of the lineup with injuries all season. One such player is rookie guard Tyrone Wallace. The Clippers called Wallace up from the Agua Caliente Clippers as the team did with prior G-League call-up C.J. Williams, who had success with the Los Angeles Clippers before suffering a severe ankle injury. Like Williams, Wallace is playing on a two-way contract and is making the most of the opportunity.
Wallace recently spoke to Basketball Insiders and discussed how he values the chance to play and start for the Clippers.
“A great opportunity,” Wallace said. “You know, [a] good opportunity to play real minutes.”
Indeed, it has been a great opportunity for Wallace so far. With Rivers [and Beverley] out, Wallace quickly took advantage. In his fourth game, Wallace joined the starting lineup, which came a day after playing 34 minutes in a surprise win against the Golden State Warriors.
On January 28 against the Pelicans, Wallace put up 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and had a plus/minus of 22 (a team high for the game). Coach Doc Rivers placed Wallace into the game to help hold onto a lead that had shrunk to six from a game-high of 11. With Wallace, the Clippers weathered a run that, at one point, cut the Clippers lead to three points. Towards the end of the game, Wallace calmly stepped to the line to hit two free throws to put the game completely out of reach after a Blake Griffin three-pointer. The free throws punctuated a successful night for Williams in which scored 11 points in the first quarter.
On a team with many talented offensive players like Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams and Griffin, Wallace makes himself useful as a player who brings energy on both sides of the court without needing the ball in his hands too often. For the season, Wallace has a 15 percent usage rating, which is certainly on the lower end for a starting combo guard.
Wallace also described some of the logistical hurdles and frustrations that are unique to two-way players called up from the G-League. Two-way players are limited in terms of how many days they can spend with their NBA team. These restrictions can affect a player’s ability to have the same continuity and structure as full-time NBA players. Wallace described some of these difficulties.
“You know, it’s basically, I can’t practice with the team and be on the floor while the players are on the floor, but I can get my treatment at the facilities and I can lift weights as well,” Wallace stated. “So, it’s not always literally going back and forth. But, it’s basically where I can’t do anything with the [Clippers].”
If the limitations of being a two-way player have been a source of frustration off the court, the results on the court have nevertheless been positive. Wallace may not always fill up the stat sheet, but since being named a starter he is yet to have played less than 30 minutes in a game. Wallace is earning his playing time by making meaningful contributions on both ends of the court consistently. This is all the more impressive when you consider all of the hurdles that players on two-way contracts have to endure, such as traveling.
“[T]he travel is bad, you know, sometimes I can’t travel with the team because it’ll take up a day. And so, I don’t go with them, I have to fly up the next day or the same day of the game, which is rough,” Wallace said. “I fly commercial instead of private with the teammates.”
While he focused on the frustrations that come for someone in his position, Wallace made it clear that despite all of the above he remains optimistic.
“But the great thing is that, you know, you get an opportunity. You get a chance to play,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You’re a player and you’re still playing the NBA games. So, I think that’s always a positive aspect, the biggest thing that you could ask for.”
In years past, the Clippers would typically rely on outside veteran talent to fill out fringe roster spots. This season, the Clippers have found success using the Agua Caliente Clippers as a source for players that can come in, apply what they have learned from the Clippers’ G-League affiliate and make a meaningful impact. Two-way players know they have a limited window to show they are worthy of a season-long roster spot. For now, Wallace continues to take advantage of his opportunity.
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