C.J. Wilcox key stats (NCAA)
Doc Rivers has an obsession in terms of basketball personnel -- he loves shooting. And honestly, who can argue? For a fairly dreadful period perhaps a decade or so ago, most teams valued physical attributes far more than shooting, to ridiculous extremes. Some teams still do. But the pendulum has swung back to shooting for the most part, and with good reason -- the point of the game is still to put the ball in the basket. It certainly accelerated the trend when the Golden State Warriors advanced to the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs almost entirely on the strength of their outside shooting.
The dirty little secret of Doc's push to put shooters around Blake Griffin and Chris Paul is that it was a miserable failure in year one. It was easy enough to predict that Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison wouldn't exactly work out. But the real problem came on the wings, where the guys brought in to be the starters didn't deliver the floor-stretching they were supposed to. J.J. Redick actually finished the season at .395, above his career percentage of .390 -- but he just didn't play enough, missing over half the games and being limited in others. Meanwhile, Jared Dudley was not at all as advertised -- the .400 career three point shooter shot just .360 from deep -- maybe not terrible, but not nearly enough to justify court time for an otherwise mediocre player.
So the Clippers were decidedly meh from deep last year (which makes their league-best offensive efficiency all the more remarkable). Doc's primary off-season goal had been to improve the long range shooting of his new team, yet the first Doc Rivers Clippers team actually shot worse from deep (.352) than the last Vinny Del Negro Clippers team (.358).
Naturally Doc is trying it again this off-season. The two primary signings, Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar, both shot over 40% from deep last season. And picking late in the first round, Rivers made a rather surprising pick in C.J. Wilcox. Surprising, until you realize how much Rivers covets shooting.
It's not easy to know which shooters can translate from the NCAA to the NBA. The line is longer, and speaking from experience, some players simply don't have the strength to push their range another couple of feet -- a natural motion at 21 feet becomes a struggle at 24. More significantly, some guys simply can't get the shot off against NBA defenses. A slow release is death in the NBA.
So you don't really know who the impact shooters are going to be from year to year -- or at any rate, you can't simply look at their college stats. Among young players who took at least 300 threes last season, the top four three point shooters from the prior three drafts were Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, Terrence Ross and Damian Lillard: and looking at college statistics, C.J. Wilcox compares favorably with any of them.
It's interesting that two of those players come from the Pac-12, from the state of Washington no less. When you look at the NCAA careers of Wilcox and Thompson side-by-side, it's downright eerie. Thompson scored more than Wilcox -- but then again, on an otherwise mediocre Wazzou team, he needed to. Wilcox always had more talent around him (including Ross for two seasons) and wasn't the first option at UDub until his junior year.
Take a look at Wilcox's final three years in Seattle compared to Thompson's three seasons in Pullman, drilling in on scoring and three point shooting:
I'm not suggesting that Wilcox will be the NBA shooter that Thompson is. But it's interesting nonetheless. Same conference. Almost identical three point shooting numbers. It's difficult not to take notice. By the way, Wilcox was a MUCH better college shooter than either Beal or Ross, for whatever that's worth.
Obviously Thompson has much better size, and has shown to be a pretty decent NBA defender, which surprised more than a few observers. But Wilcox has good (if not great) size for an NBA two-guard at 6'5 and has the potential to be a good defender as well.
Still, those are just the reasons NOT to disqualify him as a first round pick. The one and only reason he went in the first round is as a deep threat.
To that point, I spent some time watching Wilcox in practice recently, and I'm not thrilled with his shooting motion. A right hander, he brings the ball to the left side of his head on his release. He is never going to be exhibit A in a "Shooting Mechanics" video. There are plenty of great shooters in the history of the NBA who had terrible mechanics -- if it works, the Clippers are almost certainly not going to try to fix it. But as compared to mechanically clean shooters like Thompson and Redick and even Reggie Bullock, one does wonder where Wilcox's shooting ceiling is. Neither is it clear that his release will be quick enough at this level.
This is the second season in a row that Rivers has used a late first round pick to try to find a 3-D guy who can defend the wing and make three pointers. Rivers certainly hasn't given up on Bullock, who has better size, better mechanics, and from what I can tell a quicker release. But shooters are shooters, and Wilcox may prove to be the better one of the two. Both of them will probably get some time this season -- if only because it's likely that injuries will create some opportunities.
You never know who is going to translate as a great shooter in the NBA. Salim Stoudemire? It didn't happen. Rivers clearly sees the potential for a great NBA shooter in Wilcox. We'll have to wait and see if he's correct.