Despite going into tonight without a pick to call their own, the Los Angeles Clippers still were able to make waves in the 2015 NBA Draft. It just didn't happen for nearly four hours as they had to let 55 other selections go by prior to making their own pick. Even then, they only made the pick because they purchased it from the New Orleans Pelicans. The player taken was Branden Dawson, a forward from Michigan State. According to the Orange County Register's Dan Woike, it cost the Clippers $600,000 to acquire the pick. With all that said, let's take a look at what Clippers fans can expect from the newest member of the team.
First things first, Branden Dawson is a 22-year old combo forward that weighed in at 230 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine. He also measured in at 6'7" in shoes with a 6'11" wingspan and 34½" vertical leap. This past season for Michigan State, he averaged 11.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.2 steals on 53.5 percent shooting in 30.1 minutes per game. In Michigan State's Final Four loss to eventual National Champion Duke, Dawson put up 12 points and 7 rebounds, as well as 2 steals and 2 blocks, on 5-for-12 shooting. Dawson was a four-year player at Michigan State and finished his career with averages of 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds in 26.6 minutes per game.
On top of running the floor and rebounding quite well for a guy his size, he also attacks the offensive glass and does a real good job of finishing putbacks due to his physicality inside. He shot 66.7 percent on putbacks at the rim this season, for the record. And 68 percent overall on any shot within five feet of the rim. If he gets his mitts on a ball around five feet, he's going back up and going back up with authority to score. He's also a lob dunking threat, which is always a plus.
The real calling card for Dawson might be his ability to defend, though. He was named to the All-Big Ten Defensive Team this past season and his tenacity on that end was nearly unmatched. Dawson times shots really well and is able to block them because of that. On top of that, he jumps passing lanes in an effort to dart-and-dive. Meaning, he darts in to jump the lane and dives to snatch the pass in order to steal the ball and lead the fast break the other way. Dawson's also able to stifle perimeter players one-on-one with his recognition of space and help defenders. He utilizes his length, brain, and athleticism to really be a force on that end and can also switch onto larger guys in the post and bang down low with them if required. He's strong, athletic, and has a defensive profile that could mean he develops into a rotational defender that the Clippers sorely lack at this moment.
The other issue with Dawson offensively is that he has no post game whatsoever. It's all putbacks and dunks from offensive rebounds or dump offs. You absolutely cannot trust him on the low block to get you a basket if the offense bogs down. Coincidentally, he will be part of the reason why the offense would, in fact, bog down in the first place because of his inability to space the floor in any way whatsoever. His offensive game does need a lot of work but he's also 22 years old and what you see is pretty much what you get. He's never going to learn how to shoot threes seeing as how he attempted just nine (total!) in four years at Michigan State. He made none of them.
Also, there is a little bit of a motor question with him. Dawson has been known to just float on the perimeter at times and just watch his teammates do the bulk of the work. I'm not so sure that'll be too much of a problem for him going forward since his only job will be to play with reckless abandon for the ten or so potential minutes he'd see per night. His size will also hold him back because it's hard to say whether he's a three or a four at the next level. Dawson seems like a small ball four in the Draymond Green mold but not as big and skilled. Draymond had skills whereas Dawson doesn't have nearly the same amount. He's too small to be a power forward but not skilled enough to be a small forward.
Lastly, there was a knee issue with him a couple years ago. Three years ago, in March of 2012, Dawson tore his left ACL. It occurred during Dawson's freshman season and, while it didn't really stop his college career from being worthwhile, it can be something to watch going forward. Not saying this will lead to more injuries down the line but red flags are red flags and an injury is an injury.
The good thing for the Clippers in this entire ordeal is that they didn't walk out of Thursday night empty-handed. While Dawson isn't anything sexy or of the longterm potential variety – like, say, Christian Wood or Cliff Alexander – he does do good things that can benefit the team in the short run. I'll be shocked if Dawson sees anything more than a few minutes in blowouts early on in his career but I wouldn't be shocked if he made a name for himself by just doing little things to stay on rosters. At worst, it was a worthwhile gamble for the Clippers and only cost them $600,000 to take a look at someone they liked. At best, the Clippers get a versatile defender who can stifle perimeter scorers while making life a living hell for them on the other end with his offensive rebounding and tenacious putbacks. Either way, the Clippers lose nothing here. And that's always good.