At the Clippers First Summer League Practice

The Clippers just finished their first summer league practice.  I'm not sure that anyone is going to get a whole lot out of a run like this, but it's useful if only for the opportunity for Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor to play together. 

There were fifteen players on hand - the 10 that were already announced by the Clippers and five more.  The five new guys were:

  • Korvotney Barber SF Auburn
  • Corey Belser SF San Diego
  • Travon Bryant PF Missouri
  • Jamar Butler PG Ohio State
  • Kibwe Trim C Sacred Heart

These guys may or may not accompany the team to Vegas, may or may not get any burn.  Usually what happens in Summer League is that the coaches go with a regular rotation for a couple of games, and then go deeper for a couple of games.  So I wouldn't be surprised if most of these guys end up there.

The coaches broke the 15 players into three squads. 

  • The Blue team was the four players with contracts, joined by Nic Caner-Medley at the small forward.   
  • The White team was mostly made up of the guys that had already been announced.  Kyle McAlarney at the point, Marcellus Kemp and Sean Banks on the wings, and Kevinn Pinkney was joined by Bryant at the bigs.
  • The Red team was mostly the new guys (Butler, Belser, Barber and Trim) joined by Dionte Christmas.

Thoughts. 

How crazy is it that the three youngest guys (Griffin, Gordon and Jordan) on this summer league team are already under contract and expected to be major contributors next season? 

Eric Gordon didn't do much today.  Of course, this is a guy who averaged 20 points per game the last 4 months of the NBA season, so he doesn't have a lot to prove against some guys trying to get a camp invite.  He was willing to hang back and facilitate today.

Mike Taylor is still Mike Taylor.  He's quick on quick, and he can make things happen.  But those things may be good or they may be bad, and he's really got to figure out how to increase the percentage of good things he's making happen.  Summer League is either the best possible environment for him or the worst possible environment for him, depending on your perspective.  A wide open, up and down game is ideally suited to his current game - BUT it's not the style he should be practicing this summer.  Oh well.  He may lead the Summer League in assists simply by throwing the ball near the rim, because either DJ or Blake is going to get there and finish. 

Jordan looked pretty good.  He made a couple of honest to goodness offensive moves (in addition to finishing lobs from Taylor), and he's clearly been working on his game already this summer (I've seen him here on several occasions).  The truth is, there wasn't anyone opposite him with the size or strength to challenge him physically, so it wasn't surprising that he dominated the boards.  But it was good to see.

And if Jordan was physically dominant, Griffin was even more so.  Within seconds of entering the gym, I saw him atttacking the offensive glass as if no one else was there.  He's so strong, and jumps so well and so quickly, he is just up on the glass sooner and higher than anyone else on the court. 

Caner-Medley looked to be a good complement to the big four.  He made some shots, spaced the floor, moved the ball, set screens.  He is, in his way, a 'glue guy'.  But he's probably not an NBA level 'glue guy'.

Banks was clearly the class of the White team.  He was able to get to the rim several times, and he hit the only jump shots he took.  He's got the size and athleticism to be an NBA 3 - I could imagine him sticking on this team, if the Clippers choose not to pursue a veteran.

McAlarney had a really nice series of plays, albeit against the Red squad.  He made a great left-handed bounce pass on the pick and roll, made a jump shot on the next possession, and then made a floater on the possession after that.  But he's got to be considered a long shot at his size.

No one else really stood out.  I don't think Christmas took a shot while I was watching, which is disappointing.  (He had one really nice game playing for the mixed Sixers/Nets squad in Orlando.)  The Nevada guys didn't do much today.

During the practice, I was able to speak with Neil Olshey a little bit.  I asked him about MBFGC, Sofoklis Schortsianitis.  If you'll recall, Olshey stated shortly after the lottery that the Clippers were looking at bringing MBFGC over to play in summer league this year, but obviously he's not here.  Citizen xxxxxx found out from Sofo's website that he also was planning to play, but that FIBA had stepped in and blocked it.

Olshey confirmed that story.  The Clippers were planning on having MBFGC in Vegas this summer - in fact, they had puchased the plane tickets.  In years past, players under contract have played in Vegas as long as they had the permission of their club team.  Olympiacos had granted their permission, but for whatever reason FIBA made a blanket ruling this season that no players under contract would be allowed to play.  (As you might imagine, this ruling affected plenty of teams beyond the Clippers.)  The Clippers' front court is still pretty crowded with some big contracts and some promising youngsters, but with Randolph on his way to Memphis, Skinner opting out and Camby in the last year of his deal, suddenly the idea of taking an extended look at MBFGC doesn't seem quite so crazy.  According to Olshey, he's been maintaining a much lower weight each of the times he's seen him recently, which is significant.  Sofo was recently named to 17 player preliminary selection for Greece's entry in the European Championships to be held in Poland in August - he may or may not make the final selection as there are SIX centers currently on the list.

One other quick aside - I asked if coach would be looking to replace Jim Eyen on his staff but there wasn't much information on that.  It's also worth noting that Neal Meyer is a candidate for a position with Mike Brown in Cleveland and is on working with the Cavs team during summer league (Brown and Meyer are both from the University of San Diego - they're Torreros - so there's that.)

After the practice was over, the Clippers made MDsr, Gordon, Jordan and Griffin available. 

Coach was looking for conditioning more than anything else during the session.  In fact, the team was at Sand Dune Hill training yesterday.  In earlier editions of the Clippers, Corey Maggette always dominated these types of physical tests - say what you will about Corey's game, but he is an amazing physical specimen.  Coach says that Griffin and Taylor would both beat Maggette on the dunes, and that's saying something.

Coach is impressed with Griffin's work ethic ("He's been doing his own two-a-days") and is already seeing progress in his jump shot (I concur - more on that later).  He's also pleased with his ball-handling and passing, and continues to believe that Griffin can play some three.  He's looking forward to seeing what he can do in Vegas, as are we all.

On the assumption that Gordon and Griffin were more known quantities, I asked him what he was looking for from Taylor and Jordan this summer.  He wants Taylor to make better decisions and to develop consistency in his jump shot, and he believes that he's making progress in those areas.  He also wants Taylor to be a leader when he's in the game.  For Jordan, he wants him to work on his conditioning and his free throw shooting, as well as developing some post moves.  For both of them, he originally viewed them as players who could help the team in their third NBA seasons - he believes that they are well ahead of schedule, and sees incredible potential in Jordan in particular.

This is the first off-season that the Clippers have had the training facility (it opened just before training camp last season), and MDsr is hopeful that it will help to engender a culture around the team.  Players aren't required to be in here working out outside of practice - but many of them are.  (I myself wonder if they might develop a schism between the young guys and the vets - are Ricky Davis and Quentin Richardson going to be doing voluntary "two-a-days"?)

EJ is excited to be working with Griffin, Jordan and Taylor, and sees a real opportunity to build team chemistry that was lacking last season.

Jordan, as we've heard and seen from his vlogs, is just an incredibly engaging kid.  He seems to get along with everyone on the team (especially Taylor and Griffin) and everyone in the organization (he gave Rob Raichlin a big sweaty hug after walking off the court).   I asked him about catching lobs from Taylor and about have Griffin there now to go up after those balls.  He said that Taylor told him he was just going to throw the ball up there and assume someone was going to get there - that's what I would do.

Griffin was the last to speak to the media.  Why?  Because he was shooting jumpers with Fred Vinson.  For those of us who were here for the workout last month, the difference is night and day.  Vinson's got him using a much more efficient motion - before, he was jumping way up in the air, and tended to release the ball on his way down.  Now, it's just a little rise off the floor and straight into his shot - and the results are much improved.  He made six straight from the top of the key as I was watching - which is not necessarily great with no defender, but (a) it is SO much better than he did last month, and (b) his motion looks SO much better.  It's actually pretty amazing, the difference in so short a time.

It may seem like he's losing something by not using that elevation on his jump shot, but let's be clear.  This is Blake Griffin - his perimeter shot only needs to set up the rest of his game.  He'll have a significant quickness advantage over almost any opponent, and the jump shot just needs to keep defenders honest.  A smaller, more efficient shooting motion is exactly what he needs - Tim Duncan doesn't elevate more than 3 inches on his bank shot.  If Griffin can make the 18 footer consistently (and what I saw today was very encouraging), he will be very difficult to defend. 

We asked him how it felt, and he said it felt better.  He's very pleased with his progress, and said he has had some great shooting days recently.  In fact, the one thing his teammates are telling him to do is to shoot when he's open.  As we can tell from Twitter, he's been hanging out with DJ a lot, and has been in the training facility almost daily since arriving in LA two weeks ago.  This guy is just an amazingly hard worker and in incredible shape.  After running dunes carrying sand bags in San Francisco for weeks, Sand Dune Hill was a walk in the park for him. 

Next stop - Vegas.  Let's get this show on the road.

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