The Clippers held their first draft workout in Playa Vista Wednesday, with the headliners being three wings that are likely to be available when the Clippers pick eighth, but may or may not be worthy of that slot in the draft.
There were six draft prospects in the gym today, and one presumes that three of them were considered possibilities in the first round at number eight, while three were thought of as possibilities in the second round at number 54. The big three were Paul George or Fresno State, Gordon Hayward of Butler and Xavier Henry of Kansas. The other three prospects at the training facility were small forward Lazar Hayward of Marquette, and scoring point guards Scottie Reynolds of Villanova and Marquez Haynes of UT-Arlington.
Most of the time, the 54th pick in the draft doesn't make a roster. But with the Clippers having 9 or 10 available roster spots, and wishing to hoard their money to spend on a small number (read one) of high profile free agents, it's entirely possible that the roster could be filled out with whoever is drafted there. It's also worth noting that one or more undrafted rookies might stand a good chance to make the LA roster. So the Clippers would be wise to research well the players at the very bottom of the second round.
But of course for now we're all much more focused on the lottery pick. The conundrum of course is whether or not to draft according to need. Neil Olshey has sent out some mixed signals on this subject. In a conference call with reporters after the lottery, he implied that the team would go with the proverbial 'best player available' - "I think we can be a little bit more open to just adding talent and ability and a guy we can build with for the future no matter what the position is." But in a conference call with Season Ticket Holders, when asked about Ekpe Udoh he said "you don’t want to look at back-ups with the 8th pick in the draft." While both seem like reasonable statements, they would seem to be mutually exclusive. Let's face it, picking 8th, they're not going to find a player that can start for them at the 1, 2, 4 or 5. That leaves small forward - and you're back to drafting for need. In the end, while you may not WANT to look at back-ups with the 8th pick, the reality is that you may have to.
The good news is that while it seemed before the draft that there was a vast chasm between the top two small forwards in the draft (Wesley Johnson of Syracuse and Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest) and the rest of the candidates, that gap seems to be narrowing a bit. Of course, this sort of thing always happens during the pre-draft machinations - some stocks rise, some fall. And far too frequently, those changes stem from competitions against measuring tapes and assistant coaches. It's always a bit of a concern when a player who was considered unremarkable in college suddenly starts getting raves from scouts based on things that have little to do with competitive basketball.
Having said that, if Johnson and Aminu are indeed gone at eight (not assured one way or the other right now), the other small forward options do look better today than they did two weeks ago. Gordon Hayward of course got plenty of attention leading Butler to the Championship game of the NCAA tournament, and it's clear that he's a ballplayer and a winner. Probably because he's white (and looks a little like Opie from the Andy Griffith Show), people automatically assume he lacks elite athleticism. As it happens, his combine numbers were respectable - his 34.5" vertical is better than Aminu's, and his sprint time was one of the best of the small forwards. However, he is not what you would call long, and everybody is crazy for the long right now. The rule of thumb says that one's wingspan is roughly the same as one's height. The reality is that for elite basketball players, the wingspan is usually several inches longer than the height. Hayward on the other hand stands 6'8" in his shoes, with a wingspan of 6'7.75". So comparing him once again to Aminu, Aminu is only about a half inch taller - but with a wingspan over 7'3", his standing reach is 5 and a half inches longer than Hayward's. Still, it's hard not to like Hayward based on his on court results.
Paul George seems to have the entire package. He can shoot from range, he's super athletic. But he's at the other end of the spectrum from Hayward in terms of team success. Fresno State was 15-18 overall and 7-9 in the WAC this season. Shouldn't they have done a little better with a lottery pick in their midst? Likewise, while some of George's highlight dunks are indeed eye-popping, his underwhelming 17 points per game on 42% shooting are less so.
Xavier Henry seems more like a shooting guard than a small forward in the NBA. He's an inch or two shorter than the other candidates. He's also more one dimensional - primarily a range shooter. Still, the Clippers clearly need help on the wing, both at small forward and at shooting guard, and finding a player who could help at either spot would not be a bad thing; nor would finding someone who can make three pointers, so Henry is certainly worth looking at.
Though not in Playa Vista Wednesday, Luke Babbitt of Nevada is another small forward who is moving up the draft boards, and one presumes the Clippers will have him in for a workout in the near future. Like Hayward he's white and so also got labeled unathletic. In Babbitt's case, it's flat wrong, as he turned out to be one of the most athletic players at the combine. It's also worth noting that playing in the same conference, for a team that won 21 games, Babbitt's numbers eclipse George's in every way (22 points, 9 rebounds, 50% shooting, 41.6% from three, etc.)
Hayward, Babbitt (and yes George) all look like stronger picks now than they did a few weeks ago - but for the time being, they still look a bit like reaches at eight.
Maybe the Clippers will fall in love with one of them. Maybe Hayward is just a winner - the kind of guy you want on your team. (In the last two years he's led Team USA's U19 squad to a FIBA championship and Butler to the NCAA championship game - that counts for something in my book.) For his part, Chad Ford has the Clippers picking Hayward in his latest mock draft. Maybe the Clippers will trade down rather than using the eighth pick on one of them. Or maybe they'll take the 'best available' after all.
While we're on the subject of the draft, there are rumors that several picks in the 20's may be for sale - the Clippers could go a long way towards making me (and I suspect many other fans) feel a lot better about the Marcus Camby trade by buying one of those available picks. Of course I highly doubt it will happen, for several reasons - including he fact that the guaranteed salary of a second first round pick would cut into the team's available cap space.
At least there appear to be some options.