Well, the Clippers' draft operation appears to be getting into high gear. They've added a Draft Central page to Clippers.com, and most importantly for the die hards like us, they have a section covering the workouts.
So far they've had a look at seven players. Jerryd Bayless kicked off the process on Saturday with a private workout, and then a group of six players were in El Segundo yesterday, June 10th. Those six were Russell Westbrook, Anthony Randolph, Chase Budinger, Jamont Gordon, Malik Hairston and Justin Hawkins.
What does all of this tell us? Well, not a lot really. By the time the draft rolls around on June 26th, the Clippers will workout upwards of 30 players (last year they saw 26 prospects) but of course they only have two draft picks. But with picks at 7 and 35, the team has an obligation to look at a LOT of players.
We know that they are treating the backcourt as a priority, which is only common sense, but still it's good to see the approach verified. Of the seven players they've looked at so far, six of them are guards. The lone forward, Anthony Randolph, won't be a Clipper barring a crazy turn of events between now and June 26th - but he could well be a player that another team covets highly in that tier of the draft, so the Clippers could conceivably draft him as a trade piece if they think he's clearly the 'best player available'.
Bayless and Westbrook are the two prospects they've seen so far who are possibilities at 7. Although Bayless will likely be gone by the time the Clippers pick, it's still wise to work him out, because at least one projected top 5 pick almost always drop as the draft approaches. Jamont Gordon and Malik Hairston are possibilities at 35. Justin Hawkins is most likely someone they might look at for a summer league roster spot, but it's unlikely that he'll be drafted.
Budinger would appear to be in no-man's land as far as the Clippers' existing picks. Once projected in the lottery, he's dropped into the mid-to-late first round. If the draft handicappers know anything (which is certainly a big if), then 7 is too high to draft him (especially since point guard would appear to be the biggest 'need'), but it's highly unlikely that he would drop all the way to 35. Furthermore, if he thought he was going to drop that far, he'd almost certainly withdraw from the draft and return to Arizona since he has not yet hired an agent. (The deadline for withdrawing is next Monday, June 16.) If you want to read something into Budinger's presence, then maybe the Clippers are considering swapping first rounders with another team as part of a larger deal. All indications are that the Clippers are actively pursuing deals, so it's certainly a possibility. Bear in mind also that strange things happen, and you never know who is going to become available for whatever reason. Both Nick Fazekas and Marcus Williams worked out for the Clippers last June, despite the fact that both were projected into a similar dead zone between Clipper picks (14 and 45 last season). They were drafted 33 and 34 by other teams, but they each finished the season in LA.
At any rate, check out the Draft Workouts page on Clippers.com on an ongoing basis. It gives an overview of the player, some stats and highlights, and in some cases a brief interview conducted post workout. Nothing revelatory, but it's better than nothing. Unfortunately, I was told by the team that they will not release the workout schedules in advance. So we won't officially know who's coming beforehand. Ramona Shelburne (the new beat writer for the Press Telegram / Daily News, replacing Joe Stevens) tells us that there's another group of six coming in today, followed by the big mini-camp in Oakland with a couple dozen prospects working out for the Clippers, Warriors, Suns and other teams. Jonathan Abrams also took some time to check in on the workouts and has a few quotes from MDsr on the top prospects he's seen.
For my part, I am all the more intrigued by Eric Gordon. He's reminding me a little bit of Al Thornton's situation last year - all the facts about the guy make me think he's the real deal, but for some reason the pundits are interpreting the same information differently. With two more weeks left before the draft, a lot can still change. But I'm surprised that Gordon hasn't started to climb up the boards yet. Most mock drafts have him falling to the Clippers with that seventh pick, or at least available there.
It boils down to two factors - with six teams picking ahead of the Clippers, if Rose, Bayless and Mayo are considered the top guard prospects, while the Timberwolves and Grizzlies are likely to draft a big because of need, if Beasley is picked first or second, then Gordon will likely still be on the board for LA. If however, Miami ends up trading down as has been rumored, it could throw a wrench into everything.
But back to Gordon's stock for a minute. Let's compare him to the two top prospects the Clippers have seen this week, Bayless and Westbrook. Everything you read about Bayless and Westbrook talks about what great athletes they are.
Chad Ford's Mock Draft says "Bayless is an excellent athlete" and "[Westbrook's] athleticism ... would ... be welcome in Indiana." But he uses nary a single athletic sounding word to describe Gordon.
Similarly on their NBA.com profiles, Bayless' strengths include 'quickness' and 'athleticism' while Westbrook's include 'explosiveness', 'quickness' and 'leaping ability.' Gordon does get a mention of his 'leaping ability' but nothing about quickness, athleticism, explosiveness and the like.
Yet at the Draft Combine, it was Gordon who rated the highest of the three in every athletic metric. He jumps higher, runs faster, is quicker (based on the lane agility test), and has longer arms. We knew he was stronger than those guys (Ford and others like to use words like 'big' and 'strong' to describe him, which is likely why he is perceived as less athletic than the others), but we didn't know he'd bench press 185 pounds 15 times (for some perspective, Kevin Love lifted it 18 times, while Brook Lopez and Anthony Randolph were only able to manage 7 times each).
Yet somehow, Ford came away from the combine and singled out Gordon as the player who was HURT the most. Huh? His reasoning is that Gordon's standing reach of 8'3", while longer than either Bayless' and barely shorter than Westbrook's or even O.J. Mayo's, is insufficient for an NBA shooting guard. So even though it's far from certain that either Bayless or Westbrook can actually handle the NBA point, they're safe from size scrutiny because they'll be forced to play a position where they'll probably fail miserably. Gordon, a clear scoring guard who nonetheless has an excellent handle, gets singled out for being 'too small' to play his natural position. Bear in mind that we're talking about a guy who goes 222 pounds, is strong as an ox, and has a 40 inch vertical leap and a 6'9" wing span. In exactly what universe is he too small?
(By the way, his standing reach measurement seemed a little strange to me. He's only a quarter inch shorter than Westbrook while his wingspan is more than an inch longer, yet Westbrook has an inch on him in the standing reach. I understand that 'no neck' guys like Elton Brand play taller than their height, and that's a good thing. But of Westbrook and Gordon, I would have said that Gordon has 'less' neck, so to speak. Still, you take the good with the bad. Since leaping ability is figured by subtracting the standing reach, he gains leaping ability by having a shorter reach. So I guess it all comes out in the wash.)
Gordon had a dismal end to his college career, and his draft stock certainly took a hit as a result. It is unlikely that he'll ever recover to the level he was at - he was once considered the third best player in this draft after Rose and Beasley. But I think he's currently underestimated in this draft - which is fine by me. If he's available at the seventh pick, the Clippers have a shot at the 'steal of the draft' for a second consecutive year.