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A Clipper a Day - Dan Dickau

I still think Dan Dickau can be a good NBA player, I really do.  But I am beginning to have my doubts.  

As an avid Pepperdine fan, I watched a lot of Dickau when he was at Gonzaga, usually as he was burying my dreams.  These days, everyone seems to think that Gonzaga's basketball success was a straight line from John Stockton to today.  In reality, Stockton was a great player on a bad team, and the Zags never even made the NCAA tournament until 1995, more than a decade after Stockton had left Spokane.  The Elite Eight team in 1999 was a lot of fun, but no one from that team was drafted.  It was Dickau, who transferred to Gonzaga from UW in 1999, who actually made the program.  They went from being the best team in their small conference, to a national level program year in and year out.   Since Dickau, Blake Steppe, Ronny Turiaf and Adam Morrison have all been drafted, and Gonzaga signs a couple of HS All Americans in every recruiting class.  The Elite Eight team got the ball rolling, but Dan Dickau made Gonzaga a premier program.

Dan Dickau was a great college basketball player.  Not just great for the WCC.  Great.  And he was recognized as such, earning first team All American his senior year, when he averaged 21 points and 5 assists a game.  I've watched Stockton, Steve Nash and many other great WCC players up close over the years.  Some times you wonder if they're really that good, or if they just look good against lesser competition.  But Dan Dickau was the best combination of scorer, passer and leader I've ever seen in college.

Interestingly his college career got off to a slow start when he went to UW and sat on the bench his first two seasons.  When he found the right situation for him in Spokane, he became an All-American.  The same thing can happen in the NBA.  Steve Nash played 10 minutes a game his rookie year, and was still a backup, behind Robert Pack of all people, 4 years into his NBA career.  He finally became a full time starter at 26 and the MVP of the league at 30.

When Dickau was drafted with the 28th and last pick of the first round in 2002, the Kings immediately traded his rights to Atlanta.  If you're an undersized scoring point guard, you do NOT want to be playing behind Jason Terry.  Since that rookie season, he has been traded an astounding seven times in 3 plus years.  The Clippers will be his sixth NBA team, he was the property of the Warriors and the Knicks briefly though he never played for either, and he's had two different tours with the Blazers.  In addition to the seven trades, he was waived once and missed most of the 05-06 season due to injury.  

I suppose there are two ways of looking at all this instability.  Either he's had his chances by being with eight different organizations, and he just must not be that good.  Or maybe he's never gotten enough of a chance anywhere to show what he can do.  

So what about the player?  It's certainly not news that great college players sometimes turn out to be busts in the NBA.  And it's true that Dickau's size (he's barely 6'0" with perhaps the slightest build in the NBA) and his lack of athleticism make him a candidate to be a bust.  Can the guy play in this league?  The answer is a resounding 'Maybe.'

There's little question that he can be effective on the offensive end of the floor.  The one place in all his travels where he got a chance to play consistent minutes, in New Orleans in 04-05, he averaged 13.2 points and 5.2 assists per game while starting 46 games and playing 31 minutes per.  Just to give you a little perspective, only 10 NBA point guards averaged more points than that last season.  ClipsNation remembers his time in New Orleans for the career-high 27 he hung on the Clippers in an 88-85 Hornets win.  He scored 17 points in the final quarter, including a go ahead three with 17 seconds to go, and the game winner with 2 seconds left.  As we know from our experience with Sam Cassell, the NBA hungers for guys who are willing to take big shots and capable of making them.  Dickau is one of those guys, but he's had rare occasions to show it in the NBA.

And he's not just a scorer.  He is a very effective floor leader and passer.  It's interesting to note that splitting minutes with Sam Cassell, a former second team all pro, and Brevin Knight, second in the NBA in assists a couple seasons ago, it was Dickau who led the team in assists, assists per game and assists per minute in the pre-season.  The other interesting stat from his pre-season is that he had his best games when the team needed him to.  In the two games where Cassell was resting, he averaged 14 points and 7.5 assists.  In the two games where Knight was hurt, it was 10 and 5.  Unfortunately, he also had some real clunkers in between - like 1 point and 4 turnovers against the Suns.

He is also a very poor defender.  Of course we're used to poor defense from the point position after a couple years of Sam Cassell, but Dickau is arguably worse.  He can't stay in front of quick point guards, and he gets physically abused by big point guards, making him the worst possible combination.  (He's listed at 6'0" 180 while Knight is listed at 5'10" 170, but looking at the two of them it's clear that Knight is much stronger, and probably heavier also.)  I should note that during several abysmal stretches during the pre-season, particularly during the second quarter of games, invariably Dickau was on the floor when the opposition went on a game-changing run.  

Which is why, despite what MDsr has said about not being sure who he will go with from night to night, I think Brevin Knight will get the lion's share of minutes as the backup point guard.  MDsr has always shown a preference for steady, unspectacular point guard play (think Howard Eisley, Rick Brunson, Jason Hart).  He'll take solid defense and low turnovers over a three point shot every time.

Which is not to say that Dickau won't get minutes and a chance this season.  With Cassell's age and Knight's injury history, it is almost inevitable that Dickau will be pressed into service for substantial stretches of the season.  The fact that he stepped up when Cassell and Knight each sat out pre-season games bodes well in that sense.  The other four players on the floor will have to help cover for him on defense, but he will definitely bring a lot to the offensive end.

Unfortunately for him, when and if Shaun Livingston returns to the lineup, he'll likely be pushed to 4th on the depth chart.  Dan Dickau hasn't been to training camp with the same team two seasons in a row since 2003.  It remains to be seen if that streak will end with the Clippers.