Antawn Jamison key stats:
Antawn Jamison has twice made the All Star team, most recently six seasons ago with the Washington Wizards. He has averaged over 20 points per game five times in his career. Two seasons ago in Cleveland, he started 65 games and averaged over 17 points per game at the age of 35. Jamison is now 37, and he was always a dreadful defender. So the question is, can Jamison help the Los Angeles Clippers this season?
For most of Jamison's NBA career he was considered a tweener -- too small to play power forward, but not possessing the lateral quickness to effectively defend small forwards. On basketball-reference.com, where they attempt to discern a player's position based on who he played with on the court the majority of the time, he is listed as a SF for seven of his first eight seasons in the league (playing next to Troy Murphy with the Warriors for instance) but they have considered him a PF for the past seven seasons, when he spent a lot of time playing next to former Clipper Caron Butler in Washington.
The reality of that transition to the four spot is two-fold; (a) the NBA has tended towards smaller lineups and developed a fascination for "stretch fours" who can hit three pointers over the last few years, so paradoxically Jamison has increased his perimeter range and three point attempts even as he has played more and more power forward, and (b) he's not getting any quicker as he ages, and if he couldn't defend the wings in his 20s, he sure as hell can't do it in his late 30s.
So the good news is that Jamison might be the stretch four the Clippers have desperately sought for lo these many years. The bad news is that he's slow and undersized and will be a defensive and rebounding liability when he's on the floor.
The general feeling around these parts seems to be that if Jamison is a replacement for Lamar Odom as the team's third big, that he represents a downgrade and it will be a problem, but that's not necessarily the case. The fact is, Jamison is the polar opposite of last season's Odom, who was the Clippers' best post defender, but was a complete disaster on offense, shooting under 40% from the floor on the season. The game is played on both ends, and if Jamison is good on offense and disastrous on defense, then he could still balance out the loss of Odom -- it might even be a net gain if Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can step up their own defensive profiles as coach Doc Rivers is hoping, since Jamison is certainly a better complement to those guys on the offensive end.
I will confess to always having had an admiration for Jamison's game. He's one of the last players still in the league who looks like he learned to play basketball against his older brother in the driveway or perhaps at the local YMCA. Although he has developed a nice long range stroke (.361 from deep last season for the Lakers was a bit better than his career average) I would never describe him as a "shooter" -- Antawn Jamison is a "scorer", a guy who knows how to get the ball in the basket, one way or another. In the paint he has an array of flips and scoops and floaters that look completely improvised -- and many of them probably are. But he knows how to score.
I will also confess to having been very nervous when he signed with the Lakers. Given all that has transpired since, it's strange to recall how impressive the Lakers looked on paper last summer. After they had assembled that All-All-Star starting lineup, the question was whether they'd have any bench at all. When they signed Jamison, I feared he'd be exactly the front court bench scorer that they needed. Obviously, things didn't work out the way the purple and gold wanted, but as it happens, Jamison was fine there, at least as a scorer. His shooting percentages exceeded his career numbers, and he put up close to 16 points per 36 minutes, more than Butler scored per 36 for the Clippers last season -- and 150% more than Odom. Jamison dealt with an injured wrist much of the season with the Lakers, and it was obviously a trying season all around -- but he did more or less what he was supposed to do on that team, which was stretch the floor and score. He says he's healthier this year after off-season wrist surgery, so hopefully he can do the same for the Clippers.
The goal of pairing Griffin (and to a lesser extent Jordan) with a big who can truly stretch the court is a good one. As he enters his fourth season in the league, Griffin has essentially never had the opportunity to play next to a floor spacer. (There were scattered instances with a semi-healthy Chris Kaman during Griffin's rookie season and then spot minutes with Brian Cook, but other than that it was the likes of Jordan, Odom, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, etc.) Griffin has faced a de facto double team every time he's touched the ball throughout his career, as the second opposition big has been able to set up camp on the strong side and ignore his own assignment, a player incapable of scoring outside of the paint. In a small ball lineup of Griffin at the five and Jamison at the four, Blake should discover a world of space he's never experienced -- or Jamison will have wide open shots all day.
The Clippers had a very good offense last season, and Jamison's addition (along with several other changes) should make them even better this season. Will his offensive output make up for his defensive shortcomings and allow Jamison to produce a net positive for the team? Will he be able to stay healthy at the age of 37? These questions remain to be answered.