Now that Antawn Jamison is the newest Los Angeles Clipper, I have to decide how I feel about that. Through the rumors of the Clippers' interest in Jamison, I've remained mostly on the sidelines. Lucas Hann managed to handle the "con" side of the argument pretty well -- and it's not really clear that there's much of a "pro" side.
First, here's what we know as tweeted by our friend Ramona Shelburne:
Antawn Jamison has signed with the Clippers. Done deal.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) August 26, 2013
Antawn Jamison's deal with the Clippers is for one year at the veteran minimum.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) August 26, 2013
Doc Rivers and Jamison had a great mtg in early Aug. He was in then, just had to be patient. Doc wanted vet w/out ego, & chasing a ring— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) August 26, 2013
Let's start by saying that there will always be a place in my basketball heart for Jamison. Why? Because 13 years ago he single-handedly saved my fantasy basketball team. Jamison was entering his third season in the NBA in 2000-01, and he had averaged 19.6 points per game as an NBA sophomore. Moreover, the Warriors played at a high pace and didn't have a lot of options beyond Jamison, so I picked him up in the draft thinking he might work out. It was a raw numbers league and minutes and pace were huge, and Jamison figured to be productive if not overly efficient. I don't remember what round I got him in, but I know this -- he wound up being a steal.
With some of my best players hurt, Jamison absolutely carried my team early in the season. In December, he scored 51 points -- in back-to-back games!!!! No matter what else happens, we'll always have the fantasy time of December 2000, Antawn.
It's 13 years later, and Jamison has been on the downside of a 15 year career for a while now. His production in virtually every significant statistical category has decreased every year for four years now, and at 37 there's no reason to think that trend is going to reverse itself.
One area that didn't decline last season was three point shooting, where he made over 36 percent of his shots beyond the arc in his one year as a Laker. That ranks among the four best seasons of his career shooting the three -- but at the same time, it's not necessarily a number that thrills you. Yes, he can nominally be a "stretch 4" -- but he's not exactly great at either the "stretch" part or the "4" part.
Jamison's NBA problem has always been that's he's a tweener -- not really big enough to play power forward, but not really quick enough to play small forward. Being a tweener isn't necessarily a problem on offense, where Jamison has usually excelled in his career. Creating matchup problems for opponents by being a little different is a good thing on offense -- but it's a very bad thing on defense.
With the current NBA vogue for small ball, Jamison is no longer a tweener -- he's theoretically a perfect small ball four. I say theoretically because it's not as if he's gotten better defensively over the years. If he struggled to guard bigger four's or quicker three's back in the day, well now he's got a different problem: he just can't guard anybody.
Still, if I think back to when the Lakers signed him last summer, I really believed he could help that team. He's not really a pure shooter, contrary to the "stretch 4" profile -- but he is a scorer. In addition to our magical time together in 2000, I also have a fondness for Jamison's old school game. He's one of the few NBA players who still looks like he's a kid playing in his driveway. I love the combination of little junk moves he has around the basket -- flips and floaters and floodles (I made that last one up, but I like alliteration). The fact that he still torched the Clippers for 35 as recently as February 2011 while playing in Cleveland probably skews my opinion of him as a scorer more than it should.
Jamison struggled with a wrist injury playing for the Lakers last year, yet still manged to put up decent numbers on offense -- almost 16 points per 36 minutes on 56 percent true shooting. After off-season wrist injury, it's perhaps not unreasonable to think he could be even better this season. But that defense.
Am I against this signing? Bear in mind that teams aren't going to get superstars for the veteran's minimum and that the Clippers literally can't afford to pay more than that (though they do still have a small trade exception they could use). A 37 year old former All Star with some obvious blemishes is about what you might expect for the money. The idea of getting a big who can both score and defend was probably unrealistic -- but I think I would have preferred it had the Clippers focused on defense with this roster spot.
Doc Rivers had better be the defensive wizard he's made out to be if he expects to stop any opponent from scoring with a second unit that could feature a front court of Jamison and Byron Mullens. If neither Mullens nor DeAndre Jordan can make huge strides as defenders this season, the Clippers will almost certainly be looking to add another defensive big before the trade deadline, assuming they don't do so before the season starts.