Over the next several days, starting today and ending on Thursday just before the draft, I'll be doing brief pieces that take a look at the various routes the Los Angeles Clippers could go in the 2014 NBA Draft if they do indeed decide to keep the 28th overall pick. In this issue, to kick it off, I'll be discussing the prospects that the Clippers could look at who would provide an immediate impact to the team. While Doc Rivers isn't keen on playing rookies, drafting late in the first round is one of the few ways the Clippers can fill a roster spot with minimal money so it is sort of a big deal. First up, the five guys who can provide some impact now but probably not do enough to improve as they get older.
THE "WE CAN PLAY NOW" CANDIDATES
Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee: It's not every day that a possible pure power forward finds his way to you late in the first round but Jarnell Stokes could be the guy this year. At 6'8½" and 263 pounds, Jarnell Stokes puts the "power" in power forward. While 6'8½" isn't noticeably tall, he does feature a 7'1" wingspan. He uses his size and strength to bully defenders down low, which in turn allows him to get off and score due to his post-up game. Stokes is also an adept rebounder that understands angles and position very well for a guy his size. He attacks both the offensive and defensive glass by using his strength to wall off and then his long arms and large hands to snag the rebounds. His hands are the second largest in the class, only behind Noah Vonleh. And despite being 263 pounds, he only had 8.2% body fat which was lower than Julius Randle's 9.4% at 250 pounds. Despite the fact that he played three years in college, he's still just 20 years old and features some roleplayer potential. That's not to say that he's an unflawed prospect, though. He has trouble with his perimeter game - only 25% (18 of 72) on 2-point jumpers - and generally is not a good defender and has problems using post moves against guys who are lengthier than he is. But he can play now. And he could make some impact as a rotational big for about 10-15 minutes a night when needed due to his hustle, rebounding, size, and ability.
Jordan Clarkson, CG, Missouri: When breaking down some of the most athletic guards in the draft, Jordan Clarkson is pretty much towards the top of that list. At 6'5" and 186 pounds, with a 6'8" wingspan, he has all the measurements of a guard with great size. Then you factor in his 38½" max step vertical leap, 10.76 lane agility, and 3.28 sprint time. You realize he's one hell of an athlete. The 38½" max step vertical leap ranked sixth among all guard prospects who competed at the combine - only Markel Brown, Jahii Carson, Nick Johnson, Zach LaVine, and Deonte Burton were above him. The 10.76 lane agility ranked third among guards, with only Dante Exum and Zach LaVine ahead of him. And the 3.28 sprint time was right on par with Deonte Burton, just outside the top ten for guards. Clarkson has great size for a combo guard, can attack in transition, and can get to the rim almost at will because of his size and athleticism. There are a ton of issues, with him, though. Namely, he shot just 33.2% on all of his jumpers this past season (88 of 265), isn't a great facilitator, has problems creating for both himself and others off the dribble, and isn't that great of a defender. He's also 22 years old. So the upside is extremely limited. However, as noted, there are positives because of his size and athleticism. He could be an option as a backup combo guard who excels in the open floor and cutting to the rim on the perimeter.
Patrick Young, FC, Florida: The poster child for why guys should come out early rather than later. Young actually measured in at 6'10" and 247 pounds with an almost 7'2" wingspan, which is fantastic, but his standing reach was only 8'7½" which is incredibly short for a guy who stands 6'10". Young is an excellent worker and competes his butt off night in and night out. He's a good, but not great, rebounder and uses his size and strength to box guys out and attack the class with his good, but not great, athleticism. Physically, he almost looks like a Greek god. The upside with Young is that he can bully guys down low and finish around the rim as well as be a great team defense guy with individual defense abilities. That and he really does put the team first. He won't get too big of a head and do more than he can. Young knows what he can do, works hard, puts the team first, and plays with great energy. The problems with Young are kinda interesting, really. He's not a great defensive rebounder and is limitations offensively can kill you. He has problems catching the ball due to his hands being on the small side. And that hurts him in both areas. The fact that he has problems catching the ball on offense tends to lead to him only getting the ball directly around the rim and finishing, which is fine, but it hinders the offensive flow of the team when you have a guy who can't do anything outside of the rare finish. As for defensive rebounds, his hands hurt him there, as well, because he can't get to them like other guys can. He boxes out fine but he doesn't go after the rebounds hard enough and can't grab them like he'd like to. I don't think Patric Young goes in the first round but value is there with him. You won't rely on him for offense but his size and strength on defense and around the rim could be useful in the right situation.
Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State: I don't know if Early will be there when the Clippers get on the clock but he very well could be and it's because of a myriad of reasons. First off, the positives. Early's 6'7" and 209 pounds with a nearly 6'11" wingspan, which is solid size all-around for an NBA small forward these days. He's also pretty damn athletic, with a 40" max step vertical leap, 11.15 lane agility time, and 3.18 sprint time. Guy is an athlete. The other positives with Early is that he is a very good catch-and-shoot three-point shooter, making 39% of them on the year, and he can take smaller defenders into the post and exploit them a little bit. Because of these things, he's a good offensive player at times. However, there are some huge negatives surrounding him. Early is already 23 years old and that's a huge cause for concern with him. He, basically, is what he is. Not much room for improvement. The other question marks surrounding him are that he's not a good ball-handler, doesn't create his own shot at all, isn't a good defender, is a poor passer, and doesn't provide you much of anything outside of being a catch-and-shoot guy and athletic finisher either on transition or against smaller defenders. His defense, as mentioned, is not good. Guys get by him with ease quite a bit and he loses track of his man when off the ball. Early makes bad decisions with the ball as a passer and has issues using his left hand to do anything at all which makes his ball-handling below-average at best. It wouldn't shock me to see Early go higher than the Clippers just because he can wow a team but it also wouldn't shock me to see Early not go in the first thirty-five or so picks because of the issues with him. He could develop into a solid roleplayer but anyone expecting him to be a key piece is sorely mistaken.
Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut: The point guard for the National Champion Connecticut Huskies measured in at 6'1" and 175 with a 6'3" wingspan at the scouting combine. In a way, that's solid size for a point guard. Outside of the 175 pounds, there's not too much fault to find there especially when noticing his 37½" max step vertical leap and 3.2 sprint time. His 11.6 lane agility time, however, was not that good at all for a point guard. In reality, there probably was not a player who helped his stock more in the tournament this year than Napier. From a scoring standpoint, he gets the job done. It's hard to find fault with a point guard who shot 43% from the field and nearly 41% from deep. His scoring prowess and playmaking are both pretty top notch. His handles are phenomenal, which allows him to get wherever he wants, and he can bring you other positives like rebounding, defense, and experience. There are some downsides with him, though. He's not a good decision maker, can be extremely selfish at times, and doesn't finish that great around the rim. Napier's selfishness is totally understandable, to some degree, but he's also had a lot of talent around him and minimized them to some degree because of his "score first" mentality. While his defense is good, he can get blown by and abused by bigger, stronger guards who take advantage of his size. While he is a good athlete, he's not a great one and his lack of raw explosion hurts him when finishing around the rim. Napier is more of a one-on-one style player who gets his own while sometimes trying to create for the team. In a way, it's almost sorta Jamal Crawford-ish. The other downside to Napier is that, while he is experienced, he'll be 23 years old in mid-July. He's pretty much a finished product and is what he is. He'll give you offense in bursts because of his scoring ability but the lack of decision making and selfishness he possesses could be a reason he falls a little bit in the draft, as well as his age.
One Final Note
I want to use this first piece to talk about a prospect I've long had a soft spot for; Isaiah Austin. Yesterday, news came out that Austin will never play basketball again. During the NBA combine's genetic testing process, it was revealed that Austin suffers from Marfan syndrome. It's a very serious issue that is life-threatening and is one that has proven to be career-ending. It was also found out that Austin has aortic enlargement, which is one of the side effects of Marfan syndrome. Austin did an interview with Holly Rowe of ESPN and was, rightfully so, in tears. For those who don't know the story of Isaiah Austin, he's had to overcome some major hardships in his life. Besides Marfan syndrome, Austin has had to deal with only having one functioning eye. He's fully blind in his right eye as a result of an injury suffered as a teenager that detached the retina. Austin was hoping to be the first player to ever play in the NBA while partially blind. But that dream is now shattered for him. As a person who has followed Austin throughout his college career, I've always been intrigued by the fact a 7'1" center could look as good as he looked shooting the basketball. Then you realized he had one eye and it made it all the more incredible. I just want to say that I'm rooting for Isaiah Austin. I hope he goes on to live a long, productive life and suffers no ill effects of what he's going through. It breaks my heart to see this. And, as a fan of not only his but also of basketball, I hope a team late in the second round makes his dream come true and selects him. It would make for one of the best stories in a year. Not just in the NBA, but in sports. I wish you the best, Isaiah Austin.