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LA Point Guards in LA

Perhaps the seemingly redundant title of this post has something to do with the fact that I went to see "Spinal Tap; Unwigged and Unplugged" at the Wiltern this weekend, where they performed their classic, "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock Tonight".

But actually, after I posted about former Clippers in the playoffs yesterday, I started thinking about the parallels between Baron Davis and Andre Miller in their LA Clipper tenures. And then I wondered if it's a Thomas Wolfe sort of thing - perhaps in the case of LA point guards, you can't go home again.

Certainly the cases of Miller and Davis are eerily similar. Andre Miller was born and raised in LA, and played High School basketball at Verbum Dei, one of the legendary HS programs in the nation.  Baron Davis was born and raised in LA and played HS ball at Crossroads, not really a powerhouse until he got there.  Davis and Miller may well have played against each other some as youngsters, although Miller is a full three years older.  Davis even stayed in town to go to college at UCLA, while Miller headed for an All-American career at Utah.

Although Andre Miller has never made an all star team, the year before he joined the Clippers he posted all star worthy numbers.  In fact, I think you'd have to consider him a major snub in the 2002 ASG.  In a rather cool irony, it was Baron Davis who took Miller's spot that season - Baron had an 18.2 PER in 01-02, with 18.1 points and 8.5 assists while shooting 41.7%.  Miller on the other hand had a 21.8 PER, 15.9 points and a league-leading 10.5 assists while shooting 45.4%.  Of course, Baron's Hornets were a playoff team, while Miller's Cavs had one of the worst records in the league, so that explains the choice.

At any rate, when the Clippers traded Darius Miles for Miller in the 2002 off-season, it looked like a master stroke.  The 01-02 Clippers had won 39 games, and that was with Lamar Odom missing 54 games and Jeff McInnis manning the point guard.  With a bona fide star (and a local kid to boot!) at point guard, and Odom healthy and ready to play the small forward position in Miles' absence, the Clippers were all but certain to make the playoffs.  In retrospect, it's interesting that that season is generally viewed as a straight up disaster of chemistry, the conventional wisdom being that the six key players in contract years all took a 'me first' approach to the game that killed the team.  But looking at the stats, you can't help but notice that among the top nine scorers, the 02-03 Clippers lost 205 player games to injury or suspension. 

So, a promising roster, chemistry issues, injury woes, an LA point guard expected to lead the team to another level... it sounds familiar, doesn't it? Even more so when you consider that, among all the other issues like chemsitry and injuries, the point guard underachieved on a massive scale.  Miller's PER, 21.8 the season before, dropped to a career worst 15.1 - bear in mind that the PER score for an 'average' NBA player is by definition 15.  Looking at his career as a whole these six seasons later, we can see that while his 01-02 season in Cleveland was a bit of an outlier on the high side, his season in LA is completely out of line on the low end.  How about a career low 40.6% shooting for a career 46.6% shooter?  The second worst single season shooting percentage of his career is 45.6%.  But at least he stayed healthy, playing in 80 games - in fact, he's the only Clipper that season to have played in more than 70 games that season.  (Miller, in contrast to Davis, has been incredibly durable in his career, missing a total of five games in 10 seasons, with two of those being due to his mid-season trade from Denver to Philadelphia.)

The 08-09 Clippers did not have the same high expectations of the 02-03 edition.  There were too many changes to have any idea what to expect.  But whatever expectations there were began with Davis.  Although his career numbers don't necessarily outshine those of Andre Miller, his oversized personality does so by several orders of magnitude.  Before the season started, it was easy to dismiss the Andre Miller debacle as having no relevance to the Baron Davis situation - Miller simply didn't have the temperament or the personality to be the face of the franchise.  In hindsight, it made perfect sense that the sullen Miller was out of place back in the big city, carrying around the hopes of so many in his hometown.  But Davis was seemingly tailor-made to the task.  The Clippers needed a tier one point guard and they needed a mega-watt personality to get the attention of the media in a Laker crazy world.  Baron Davis was clearly the man for the job.  So even if the team left something to be desired, if they failed to gel given all the changes, it was almost certain that Baron would play his part in the renaissance of his local team in his homecoming year.

Of course, it didn't work out any better than it did for Miller - not in year one at any rate.  Just like Miller, Baron's overall productivity fell off the table the minute he arrived in LA.  After posting five consecutive seasons with a PER of 18 or better (three seasons in the 20s), he put up a 14.5 in his first season as a Clipper.  And like Miller, who suddenly forgot how to shoot, Baron's shooting percentage was a way-outside-the-standard-deviation career low of 37% (it pains me everytime I write it).  One is tempted to come up with some sort of pseudo-psychological explanation for why these players can't shoot in their hometown - too much partying might make sense for Baron, but doesn't seem to fit with Miller.  I got nothin.

After musing on all of this, I began to wonder if there was any historical trend for LA point guards playing for the LA Clippers.  So I started digging.

The short answer is, no.  The simple fact is, there just aren't a lot of LA point guards who have played for the Clippers. I really only came up with two others that fit the profile - Jason Hart (Crenshaw High) and Darrick Martin (Saint Anthony High in the LBC and UCLA).  Obviously neither Hart nor Martin have ever in their careers been considered at the level of either Miller or Davis.  But far from a detrimental effect, playing at home seems to have agreed with these journeyman, as they each posted career years in LA (Martin in 96-97 and Hart for 23 games in 2007). 

Pooh Richardson played point guard at UCLA, but he was hardly an LA product, hailing from Philadelphia.  (Now there's a Clips Nation post waiting to happen - what is the deal with Philly and the Clippers?  LOTS of Philly guys in Clipper history.  I mean, I know it's a basketball town, but it seems like a lot nonetheless.)  Another UCLA point guard, Henry Bibby, finished his NBA career in San Diego, but he was really a Carolina kid (and besides, the LA thing would seemingly only be relevant while the team was in LA).

Freeman Williams is an interesting case.  He played HS ball at Manual Arts, but for one thing, he was a shooting guard, not a point guard.  For another, he was never an LA Clipper, having played for San Diego for 3.5 seasons.  He was becoming a star in San Diego before he was traded, but his career ended shortly thereafter, scuttled by the excesses of the early 80s.

Dwayne Polee, another Manual Arts product who was later a star at Pepperdine, was  a shooting guard like Williams.  He managed to have his best game in the NBA for his hometown Clippers.  Then again, it was his only game in the NBA.

The only other example I can come up with is Robert Smith.  A 5'11" product of Crenshaw High who played on some great teams for Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV, Smith was strictly speaking a shooting guard.  His seven season, eight team, 229 game NBA career included a five game cup of coffee with the Clippers.  In 43 minutes with the club, he made 2 of 13 field goal attempts, so at least Baron isn't the worst shooting LA guard in Clippers history.

And that, as far as I can tell, is the sad history of LA point guards (guards, really) playing for the Clippers.  (Let me know if I missed anybody.)

Hopefully Baron can re-write that history starting next season.