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: journeyman small forward Jamario Moon.
Name: Jamario Moon
2010-11 Key Stats: 3.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 14.6 mpg (in 19 games with the Clippers)
Years in the NBA: 4
Years with the Clippers: 1
2010-2011 Salary: $3,000,000
Team option for 2011-2012 Unrestricted Free Agent (see comments)
In a Nutshell
For being a salary throw-in in the Baron Davis-Mo Williams trade, Jamario Moon performed about as well as ... well, a salary throw-in. Even when Vinny Del Negro made the somewhat head-scratching choice of starting Moon over Al-Farouq Aminu for the last seven games of the season, Moon underwhelmed, which isn't all that surprising, considering he's always been a low-usage player and suffered from the Clippers' lack of a creative distributor.
But that doesn't answer this question: why didn't Del Negro use the final two weeks to take an extended look at Aminu? Granted, the rookie had been struggling mightily, but at 20, he needed all the extra seasoning he could get -- more so than a 30-year-old player with fading NBA prospects -- and the waning moments of 2010-2011 provided an opportunity for just that. Veteran forward Ryan Gomes, who had just trudged through the worst season of career, was sidelined with a swollen knee, opening up even more would-be minutes for Aminu.
Perhaps Del Negro knew something we didn't, even as he was consistently giving more playing time to Moon. Vinny did say he wanted to take the last several games of the season "to see what guys want to compete, get coached and be developed."
Maybe Aminu just wasn't bringing it and Del Negro wanted to send a message. Even so, it's difficult to tell if Moon fits into the Clippers' plans going forward beyond serving as a vague extension of Vinny's coaching arm, or if he stays with the team at all. At the very least, Moon didn't make the team's dismal small-forward situation any worse. But he didn't offer any real solutions, either, and that should figure into the FO's upcoming decision about whether or not to bring him back next season.
After getting a late start in the NBA, Moon already looks to be on the downside of his career, but he's retained some of the athleticism and defensive chops that got him into the league in the first place. Though a step slower than he was a couple years ago, he still showed plenty of bounce while using his 6'11.5" wingspan to make 76 percent of his shots in the restricted area last season (though that stunning figure is less impressive when you consider he averaged right around one close-range shot per game).
With the Clippers, those qualities made him useful as a low-mistake player who could get out in transition and bother opposing wing scorers with his lanky frame. And when he wasn't cutting to the rim on offense, Moon displayed a decent shooting touch from deep, making 11-of-28 3-pointers for a percentage that, if drawn out over an entire season, would have been the best of his career.
The change of pace Moon brought -- compared to Gomes' ice-cold shooting and tendency to disappear from games, or Aminu's propensity for committing charges and other youthful blunders -- was a slight but welcome difference. Moon rarely turned the ball over, defended, ran the break well and generally only took open shots. His contributions didn't seem like much in a system that neglected the small forward more than any other position, but Moon still managed to be quietly effective from time to time.
For all of Moon's relatively error-free play, his deficiencies are obvious. Credit Moon for knowing his limitations, of which there are quite a few, enough that the Clippers would never in their right mind consider him a long-term option. More on that in the "Future with the Clippers" section.
In theory, Moon at his best fits with what Del Negro's Clippers want in a small forward. You can camp him in the corner, where he shot 39 percent on 3-point tries last season (including his games with the Cavaliers). He's effective cutting to the rim, where, as alluded to earlier, he's a strong finisher -- among the best in the league, actually. He leaks out for dunks and easy scores in transition, which goes along nicely with the Clippers' athletic fast-break attack. On defense, Moon is quicker and anticipates better than Gomes, and he's far savvier than Aminu at this point, though the rookie has a higher ceiling. All in all, a solid player who doesn't need many touches to do his thing.
But that's Moon at his best. When he's his normal self he's nothing special. Yes, he's not a bad outside shooter, but he's not a particularly good one, either. The 3-point percentage he logged in 19 games with the Clippers represents a small sample size, and Moon was shooting just 28 percent from 3 before he was traded to L.A. For his career, he is shooting just 33 percent from deep.
Then there's the reality that Moon, a timid ball-handler who can't generate quality looks on his own, needs other players to create for him. When Moon played in Cleveland in 2009-2010 the Cavaliers had that in LeBron James. As currently constructed, the Clippers don't have anyone close to James' caliber as a distributor.
And while he still plays solid defense, Moon's lack of bulk prevents him from being a top-notch stopper. This wouldn't be such a big deal if he still had the same quickness from his "younger" years, but right now, he's not quite as strong a defender as advertised.
In the end, there's just not enough production here to make Moon more than anything but a temporary stopgap. Age is also a factor; Moon seems to have fallen off quite a bit from his peak -- basically when he entered the league in 2007. It's difficult for a player as reliant on natural athleticism as Moon to adjust when the years start catching up, and looking at the way Moon's PER has dropped every year (from 15.21 in 2007-2008 to 10.09 last season), that statement certainly seems true in this case.
Future with the Clippers
While the Clippers are still searching for an answer to their small-forward woes, Moon clearly isn't it. He's on the wrong side of 30, and giving him a new deal just wouldn't make a lot of sense next to all the other things the Clips have done to put the future in the youngsters' hands. A veteran presence does bring some stability, but you also need to receive enough production along with that experience.
Moon made $3 million last season, so signing him to a new contract would take a similar amount of money, unless Moon tests the market and finds he can't latch on with another team (though I'd be surprised if that's the case; he still has value). Would it really be worth it? I don't think so, not when you have the more expensive Gomes returning and Aminu needing developing and thus more playing time. And with all the three-guard lineups the Clippers played last season, you'd think they'd want to go back to at least some of that next season.
In short, there doesn't seem to be much room for Moon in this picture. The Clippers certainly could use the flexibility gained from shedding Moon's salary to re-sign key players like DeAndre Jordan or even target a free agent small forward to shore up the wing once and for all (that sounded wrong as soon as I typed it, but for the sake of boundless optimism, I'm leaving it in). It's unfortunate, in a way, because by all accounts Moon has been a true professional in his time with the Clippers, but he'll likely be continuing his improbable NBA journey somewhere else next season.
Other 2011 Exit Interviews