OK Citizens, let's talk draft. We didn't think we'd be talking draft this soon and I myself have more or less ignored the subject for two full seasons now, but it's time. Oh, and I don't know much about what's out there, so I need you guys to help me out. Let's get the discussion going.
The Clippers find themselves in most unfamiliar territory this season: with a late first round pick. As it happens, it's been over 20 years since the Clippers went into a draft where their only first round pick was in the bottom half of the round. In 2006 and 2012, following playoff seasons, the Clippers did not have first round picks at all, having traded their picks in those seasons for Corey Maggette and Eric Bledsoe, respectively. And when they have had a pick, it's invariably been somewhere in the lottery. (Technically the Mo Taylor pick in 1997 wasn't in the lottery, but it was 14th, still in the top half of the draft; the NBA in 1997 only had 29 teams, so there were only 13 lottery picks.)
Not only is this the first time in 21 years that the Clippers' first pick is late in the first round, it's also the fist time in three years that the Clippers have had a first round pick at all. Between the Mo Williams trade, the Chris Paul trade and the Bledsoe trade, the Clippers have traded away three first round picks in the last two drafts, rendering the draft a second-round-only distraction since 2010. For the record, those traded picks wound up being Fab Melo (the Bledsoe trade), Austin Rivers (the Minnesota pick in the Paul trade) and of course Kyrie Irving (the Williams trade).
As it happens, the types of players available late in the first round are similar to a type of player with which the Clippers do have some experience -- early second round picks. The Clippers will be picking 25 in this draft; in the past decade they've acquired DeAndre Jordan at 35 in 2008, Paul Davis at 34 in 2006, Daniel Ewing at 32 in 2005, Lionel Chalmers at 33 in 2004 and Sofoklis Schortsianitis, aka MBFGC, at 34 in 2003. Unfortunately, other than Jordan, the Clippers have not done particularly well in this range.
Of course, that's not unusual. Few players picked 25 and below ever have much impact in the NBA. But looked at another way, there are always those few quality players available at 25 -- you just have to find them.
Here's a partial list of players picked at or below 25 from the last several drafts:
~ 2012 -- Festus Ezeli (30)
~ 2011 -- Jimmy Butler (30); Chandler Parsons (38)
~ 2010 -- Quincy Pondexter (26); Greivis Vasquez (28); Lance Stephenson (40)
~ 2009 -- Taj Gibson (26); Chase Budinger (44); Danny Green (46)
~ 2008 -- Nicolas Batum (25); George Hill (26); Mario Chalmers (34); Nikola Pekovic (31); Jordan (35); Omer Asik (36)
Some drafts are certainly deeper than others, and the 2013 draft is not nearly as deep as 2008, a draft that has produced five All Stars and at least eight starters taken at 25 or below so far. But there are sleepers in every draft. The trick is finding them.
There is one significant difference between a late first round pick and an early second round pick -- the first round pick gets a guaranteed contract. First round picks get at least two seasons guaranteed, while second round picks can be waived without any repercussions. Since a first round pick is going to be taking up a roster spot it's tougher to take a flyer on a project player. You want to find someone who has upside, but also who can help in the first two seasons, or at least demonstrate that he should be kept around. That makes it more costly to take big risks late in the first round than it is early in the second round.
So, with all of that as the background, what should the Clippers be looking for in this draft? In Chad Ford's mock draft 2.0 at ESPN.com (insider required), he has the Clippers taking Pierre Jackson, a 5'10 (if that) point guard from Baylor. Here's Ford's reasoning:
The Clippers can't afford to keep Eric Bledsoe, so most likely he'll be traded this summer. The Clippers will need a cheap replacement, and Jackson could fill that need. Clippers fans will love Jackson, an elite athlete who plays with reckless abandon. He's got the potential to be another Nate Robinson.
I have to admit, I know nothing about Jackson. It's reasonable to think about a backup for Paul on the assumption that Bledsoe will be gone (or FSM forbid, a backup for Bledsoe if Paul is gone), but then again, the Clippers need a starter or a backup at basically every position at this stage, don't they? And I must admit that I'm more than a bit concerned when I see Jackson as the 56th rated prospect at Draft Express. It's also unusual to see a first round pick who didn't play DI ball until he was 21, but maybe he was a late bloomer. Finally, with Paul already on the small side, there's a disadvantage to having a small backup point, even given the success of players like Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas. So call me skeptical on Pierre Jackson.
If it's me, there's one overriding factor for any Clippers draft pick this year it's this -- they have to be able to shoot. Jackson shot about 36% from beyond the arc last season at Baylor, and he certainly wasn't shy, taking almost seven per game, so he fits the bill there.
But the priority for me would be a wing who can stretch the floor and has a chance to contribute next season. That's a lot to ask from the 25th pick, but I do see one name that intrigues me that might be available: Allen Crabbe of Cal. Crabbe's an L.A. guy, he's got good size for a shooting guard at 6'6 and he's had a solid career in Berkeley. He has a clean stroke and made 38% of his threes in college and appears to have NBA three point range.
What about you guys? Who's on your radar for the Clippers in the draft? What do they need most? Let me know in the comments.