We're running a series of "exit interviews" of the 2011 Los Angeles Clippers. An overview and analysis, player by player, of all 14 Clippers who finished the 2010-2011 season on the roster. In this edition: little used rookie guard Willie Warren.
Name: Willie Warren
2010-2011 Key Stats: 1.9 ppg, 1.4 apg, 7.1 mpg
Years in the NBA: 1
Years with the Clippers: 1
2010-2011 Salary: $500,000
Contract Status: Signed through 2013 to an unguaranteed contract.
In a Nutshell
No Clipper played fewer NBA minutes in 2010-2011 than Willie Warren. A late second round pick, 54th overall, not much was expected of him, and that's more or less what happened. He did have the distinction of being the first Clipper ever assigned to the D-League (former Coach and GM Mike Dunleavy Sr. seemed to believe that players would benefit more by being in his practices than by playing in actual games) where he showed he could score at that level. But can he play at the NBA level? We don't know much about that.
We just don't have a lot of data points here. Warren was a hot commodity after his freshman season at Oklahoma (a season during which, not merely coincidentally, he had a guy named Blake Griffin commanding double and triple teams in the post), and was projected as a possible lottery pick at that time. But a poor sophomore season saw his stock drop to the point where he very nearly went undrafted. He was a decent gamble for the Clippers so late in the draft - an Oklahoma kid and friend of Griffin's, there was at least a chance that he'd regain some of his freshman swagger back by Blake's side - but the simple fact is that most picks in the 50s don't make it in the NBA. Of the 55 players drafted at position 50 or later in the last five drafts, Ramon Sessions is by far the most accomplished. After Sessions, you're down to guys like A.J. Price and Patty Mills - and 37 out of 44 from prior to this year's draft are now out of the league.
As I said, we don't have a lot of data points. He does not have great athleticism, and he's a little undersized for an NBA two guard (he's listed at 6'4", but measured 6'2.5" without shoes at the pre-draft camp). But he doesn't really have great point guard skills either. So it's far from clear that he has a position in the NBA.
Still, if he can shoot, he could make a spot for himself. Warren made 37% of his threes as a college freshman - but then made only 31% the next season. He made 5 of 15 in his limited NBA minutes - but then made 40%, 28 of 70, in the D-League shooting from the same distance as in the NBA. If he can do that, he's got a chance to help the Clippers.
Although his NBA minutes were severely limited, he did put up a respectable assist-to-turnover ratio in those minutes - 27 assists versus just 8 turnovers, over 3 to 1. That's a really tiny sample size, but as bad as the other Clipper rookies were about turning the ball over, Willie's relative sure-handedness was a welcome contrast. For instance, Eric Bledsoe turned the ball over 3.8 times per 36 minutes - Warren was at 2.1 per 36. It's not much, but it's pretty much all we've got as far as NBA stats.
For what they're worth, Warren did put up impressive D-League numbers: 19.2 points, 5.7 assists and 4 rebounds in 27 minutes per game in his 15 appearances with the Bakersfield Jam. He ran the point some, and then played shooting guard as well, and he was productive in both roles. He had 10 assists twice, and scored 20 or more in eight games, including a 34 point night. He also showed a very nice knack for getting to the line, which he did an average of 7 times per game. With his 40% three point shooting and his frequent trips to the line, his D-League True Shooting percentage is a bit above 60%. That's good. His D-League per game averages compare favorably on a per minute basis (points are basically identical, Warren averaged more rebounds and more assists) with his Bakersfield teammate, Trey Johnson, who was a legitimate D-League MVP candidate and who's currently playing for the Lakers in the playoffs. In other words, Warren's D-League production would be enough to get the attention of GMs who need a D-League call up if he wasn't already property of the Clippers. So he's right there on the bubble between the D-League and the big time.
Warren's biggest issue may be that he's simply not an NBA talent. He doesn't have the elite athleticism. He's not big enough to be a shooting guard. He's not skilled enough to be a point guard. He looks a lot like a guy who could be a great college player, or even a terrific D-League (or EuroLeague) player, but can't do the things that will get him NBA minutes.
Consider that the Clippers roster for much of the season featured these five other guards:
Eric Gordon - injured 26 games;
Baron Davis - injured 14 games;
Randy Foye - injured 19 games;
- Eric Bledsoe - also a rookie;
Rasual Butler - waived on February 28th because he was ineffective.
Coach Vinny Del Negro had the opportunity and the incentive to play Willie Warren this season - but he barely did. It's a bit of a cyclic argument, but if Warren couldn't earn any minutes this season, it doesn't bode well for his future with the team. Twelve of Warren's 19 NBA appearances occurred in November, when Davis was out the whole month and Foye was also injured. Whatever Warren did in those dozen games, not to mention countless practices, wasn't giving VDN the confidence to put him back out there the rest of the season. Al-Farouq Aminu got minutes at shooting guard down the stretch ahead of Warren.
Future with the Clippers
Although it was in response to a question about an ill-advised Tweet on his Twitter account after being sent down to the D-League a second time (since deleted, it spoke to his frustration and implied that he was ready to quit basketball), VDN may have tipped his hand about Warren when he said "He's a kid. He's got a long way to go." It's not at all clear he can get there.
Which makes Warren's future with the Clippers cloudy at best. While he's signed for two more seasons, his contract is completely unguaranteed meaning that the Clippers can waive him and use his roster spot on someone else without any financial penalty. Nine Clippers have guaranteed money lined up for next season (including Brian Cook, who's certain to exercise his player option); assuming they re-sign DeAndre Jordan, that's a tenth contract. Four of those ten are guards ahead of Warren on the depth chart. They'll have at least one and at most two more guards on the roster when (if?) the season starts - and they'd love to have at least one who's a legit 6'5", since none of their top four guards are particularly tall. Warren's contract calls for him to make the minimum, so he's not expensive - but if think they can do better at that price, or even at a slightly higher price, they won't hesitate. Especially if they can find a wing with more size.
It's very unusual for an NBA team to turn over as few as four roster spots - even more so for a lottery team. The Clippers are in a unique situation, with such a young roster that they'd very much like to keep together. But if they can keep the true core together, and also bring in more talent, they'll do it. Is it an advantage for Warren that he's pals with Griffin? Well, it couldn't hurt. Is it an advantage for Warren that he's the same age as Griffin, Gordon, Jordan, Bledsoe and Aminu - probably not, because the team would no doubt also appreciate some veteran types, some guys who've been there and can be solid influences in the locker room. So it's my guess that Willie Warren will not be with the Clippers next season.
Other 2011 Exit Interviews