Name: Reggie Bullock
2013-2014 Key Stats: 2.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, .301 3p%
Years in the NBA: 1
Years with the Clippers: 1
2013-2014 Salary: $1,149,000
Contract Status: Signed next season, the Clippers hold team options for 2015-16 and 2016-17.
In a Nutshell
Of the 11 players who began and ended the season on the Clippers roster, none played fewer minutes than rookie Reggie Bullock. The 25th pick in the 2013 draft, coming onto a deep team that was hoping and planning to compete for a championship, there was never going to be much of a role for Bullock. Nor did it help that Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley were ahead of him on the depth chart at small forward. Not that Barnes or Dudley were were superstars -- but they were veterans whom the Clippers just happened to have spent some resources to acquire in the off-season (Barnes signing a new contract with most of the team's mid level exception and Dudley arriving in the Eric Bledsoe trade). Bottom line -- Doc Rivers had lots of incentive to play Barnes and Dudley, which dovetailed nicely with a plan to bring Bullock along slowly.
So there wasn't much of a role for Bullock this season. Early in the season when Barnes was injured and Dudley was limited by tendinitis, Bullock got his most sustained action, logging double figure minutes in nine consecutive games from late November to early December. He scored a season high 14 points in 26 minutes against Cleveland in mid-March. In short, he showed plenty of promise in the limited opportunities he received, but those opportunities became fewer and fewer as the team got healthy and added other vets capable of player the three (like Hedo Turkoglu and Danny Granger).
But those opportunities should increase next season and beyond. The Clippers, for all their up-and-coming buzz and Lob City athleticism, are actually getting a little long in the tooth at various spots in the roster. Barnes is 34 years old. Dudley is 28 going on 29 (going on 52 based on how he looked this season). At 23, Bullock is the youngest Clipper under contract. Barnes' contract is only partially guaranteed two seasons from now (when he'll be 35) and neither Barnes nor Dudley is under contract after 2016, when Bullock will be 25 and entering his fourth season in the league. In a perfect world, Bullock becomes a rotation player next season, and moves into the starting lineup shortly after that. That would be the plan anyway. We'll see.
The Clippers were looking for a 3-and-D specialist when the drafted Bullock out of the University of North Carolina -- a small forward who could be a plus defender on the wing and a deadly three point shooter to spread the floor for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Bullock showed signs that he could fulfill the promise that the team saw there -- but the jury is very much still out as to whether he'll get there.
I am of the opinion that he will be a very good three point shooter in the NBA. He made 22 of 73 three pointers his rookie season, which is a sub-par .301 conversion rate. However, he began the season just 4-23 before suffering through a 2-18 slump to end the season -- in between he made half of his 32 threes. Obviously those are some VERY selective endpoints, but it also happens to include the period during which he was getting some consistent minutes -- how a player shoots coming into a game for 90 seconds of garbage time is hardly a fair representation. But even ignoring his hot three point shooting in the middle of the season, the guy looks like a shooter. His release is effortless and lightning quick. Nor does he lack for confidence -- at 6.7 three point attempts per 36 minutes, Bullock took threes at the same clip as J.J. Redick this season. The guy is very very capable of making a lot of three pointers.
As for defense, he has the length on lateral quickness to be a solid wing defender. At times this season he looked good on defense -- and at times he looked very, very bad. NBA defense is as much in the head as in the legs, and there's no substitute for experience in becoming a better defender. Nor is there any guarantee. He has the tools to be a good defender, which is one of the reasons the Clippers were so happy to draft him -- but he'll have to work hard and learn quickly to get there.
Coming into the league, Bullock's ability to handle the ball was a question mark and it continues to be a problem for him. Ideally NBA small forwards are capable of making plays for themselves and their teammates (an area where all of the Clipper wings are lacking) and Bullock appears to be very limited in that regard. Plenty of NBA wings have had great careers as catch-and-shoot three point specialists -- Bullock will be able to do that. Whether he can do more than that remains to be seen.
There's not much of a sample size to know about his rebounding right now. His per 36 minute average of 4.9 rebounds isn't terrible for a small forward -- but it's not very good either. (It is a lot better however than Dudley.) The Clippers were frequently killed on the boards last season, despite having the best rebounder in the league at center and an excellent rebounder at power forward. The wings have been problematic on several levels for the Clippers the past few seasons, but rebounding is definitely one of the areas where the wings need to help a LOT more. Can Bullock eventually help to fill that need?
Beyond that, we don't know a lot. Bullock lacks experience -- and the only way to gain experience is to play meaningful minutes.
Future with the Clippers
There are three undeniable facts about Reggie Bullock -- he's young, he's signed and he's inexpensive. The Clippers have him for three more seasons for the paltry sum of $4.7M (and the final two years of that are at the team's option). Every good team needs guys contributing on inexpensive contracts, since the salary cap precludes filling the roster with eight figure guys.
Is he the starting small forward of the future for the team? We don't know yet. He could be. Then again, could a team with Reggie Bullock as the fifth best starter be a championship contender? It depends on where Bullock ends up as a player. I'm confident that he can handle the "3" part of his targeted 3-and-D role. Whether he can ever fulfill the "D" side of the equation remains to be seen.
By the end of this season, Dudley had fallen completely out of the rotation in LA. The Clippers would dearly love to move the remaining two seasons of Dudley's contract, though that will be easier said than done. At any rate, if Doc Rivers has to choose between playing Dudley or Bullock next season, he'll pick Bullock -- at least until such time as Bullock shows him he can't handle the job. For now Barnes remains the starter, but at 34 the Clippers clearly need a different solution before much longer. Danny Granger has a player option for next season -- but it's almost certain that he'll opt out and look for a bigger payday than the Clippers can afford to offer him. Small forward remains a problem area for the team and they'll try to shore it up this off-season, but the options are limited. Bullock could find himself penciled into the second slot on the depth chart -- and the Clippers are still hoping that he can grow into that starter's role eventually.
There are only four players currently on the Clippers roster whose contracts run beyond 2016 -- Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Bullock. The first three are clearly part of the core that Doc Rivers has put together to compete for a championship. If the Clippers are lucky, Bullock is as well.