Considering the serious damage that Pablo Prigioni did to the title hopes of the Los Angeles Clippers during that ill-fated Game 7 against the Houston Rockets, it seems a tad humbling to welcome him to the team with open arms. It’s akin to getting bullied for thirty minutes in front of your parents only for your parents to welcome the kid over for dinner. Shortly after the final game of the year, there was a Film Room session that diagnosed what went wrong and stuff like that. A lot of the reason stuff went wrong was because Prigioni was in the mix and making helpful contributions for his team. Now he’s on the Clippers and it's only right to give him his own Film Room. While he might not play that much, we still need to go over the possible positives he can bring.
To put the career of Pablo Prigioni into some sort of perspective, you have to understand that he only came over to the NBA back in 2012. He signed a one-year contract with the New York Knicks for nothing more than the rookie minimum. At his advanced age – 35 years old when he came over – Prigioni became the oldest rookie in NBA history when he eventually suited up for the Knicks. His NBA career has seen him have three prior stops but only two with playing time. Prigioni was with the Knicks for two-and-a-half-years before the Houston Rockets acquired him at the trade deadline this past season. He was a marginal player, at best, for the Rockets but did help them in crucial situations from time to time. Roughly three weeks ago, the Rockets traded Prigioni – plus other pieces – to the Denver Nuggets for Ty Lawson. Prigioni was immediately waived and the Clippers officially signed him one week ago.
However, before he arrived in the states, Prigioni amassed a vast international playing career that even saw him help Argentina win a gold medal during the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship and take home a bronze medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Whether overseas or in the states, Prigioni has pretty much seen it all. Nothing seems to faze him and he has the same demeanor on the court throughout the entire game. That’s what the Clippers are going to be getting; a grizzled veteran who doesn’t get rattled and can still give you a few plays every couple of nights that help your team win a close game.
There’s no telling how many minutes per game Prigioni will even see this upcoming season but somewhere in the five to ten range seems like it’d make sense. He’s versatile and can play alongside ball-dominant guards like Lance Stephenson, Jamal Crawford, and Austin Rivers. Having Prigioni as an off ball spot-up shooter is likely going to be one of his roles; as will him being a viable pick-and-roll ball handler and general pest on defense. The following plays will showcase some of ways that Prigioni is able to display his worth to the team; even in a limited capacity. We’re going to start with a look back at one of the vexatious methods in which Pablo Prigioni makes his presence felt.
I’m sure it seems way too soon to even bring up this play but this is the kind of stuff that Prigioni did during that "win or go home" game in the Western Conference Semifinals. On this play, all Prigioni does is be smarter and more aware than everyone else. He knows that the Clippers love to inbound the ball quickly, so he jumps all over it. Blake Griffin throws an extremely lazy inbounds pass that Prigioni darts inbetween Chris Paul to steal. After Prigioni steals the ball, he brings it out and hits James Harden in stride for a layup that puts the Rockets up by six. Prigioni then jumps in there again and attempts to steal the next inbounds pass but the Clippers avoid that from happening through only the grace of the basketball gods. It was a mental breakdown by the Clippers entirely and Prigioni took advantage of that.
Now, plays like these don’t happen all that often. Usually it takes a player throwing the ball away entirely while trying to inbound it nearly thirty feet down the court. Instead, we just have a huge lapse in judgement and a player who feasted on it. We’re not going to see this transpire a lot. Prigioni might only get one or two of these every few months. However, they can make a difference in a game and they can propel a team with easy buckets just off of hustle alone. Prigioni is 38 years old and can still accomplish the hustle plays from time to time. That’s something the Clippers could use out of a guy for five to ten minutes a night.
This is a play from the same series but from the opening game. Here, we get to see what Prigioni is capable of as an outside threat. Despite his lack of shooting from corners throughout his career, Prigioni has been an adequate enough three point threat. While he’s not going to revert back to making 46.4 percent of threes he takes, which was his percentage in 2013-14, he can still be a guy who gives you 35 to 38 percent from beyond the arc. For his career, he’s a 39.8 percent shooter from deep. Last season he shot 34.3 percent overall from three but just 27.5 percent with Houston. Going back to the lack of corner threes, just 82 of Prigioni’s 440 career three point attempts have been from a corner. He’s primarily an "above the break" specialist. On this particular play, we see Prigioni’s prowess from the top of the arc area.
The possession starts with Josh Smith dribbling the ball into the frontcourt and running a slight dribble handoff with Trevor Ariza. Prigioni curls around the left side of the arc and receives the ball from Ariza before accepting a screen from Dwight Howard. Prigioni dribbles around the screen and into the paint which forces DeAndre Jordan to get low in a defensive stance. Due to the penetration into the paint, Hedo Turkoglu has to leave Smith open in the corner and Prigioni hits him with a solid pass. Turkoglu closes out on Smith and Smith has to put the ball on the floor. He goes baseline, gets solidly underneath the basket, and fires a pass to Corey Brewer in the other corner. Jamal Crawford closes out on Brewer so Brewer passes to his left to Ariza who gets closed out on by Austin Rivers. Ariza kicks it once over to Prigioni who puts the ball up and in for a huge three. J.J. Redick was left hunting for a man to close out on and was too far away from Prigioni on the shot to make a difference. The great thing that Prigioni does here is that he penetrates into the paint and then backs off to his comfort zone after passing. When he sees the ball get passed around the far side, he spaces himself out just a little bit further in order to create a larger area for the defense to cover on any closeout attempt. It worked beautifully.
Against the Washington Wizards this season, Pablo Prigioni nails another one of his patented threes. The ball enters the frontcourt in the hands of Prigioni who quickly passes the ball off to Josh Smith between the right elbow and three point line. Prigioni runs through the paint and sets a quick slip screen for Corey Brewer to run along the baseline. As soon as Prigioni makes contact with Bradley Beal, he darts through to the left wing. The Wizards mess up drastically here as Ramon Sessions, who is trailing Prigioni on the play, thinks that there was going to be a switch with Beal. Instead, Beal chose to continue along with Brewer and this left Prigioni open after Joey Dorsey gives a little rub screen to Sessions, who is attempting to recover for the screwup. The instant Smith sees Prigioni peak out from his cut, he fires a pass right into Prigioni’s ideal catching zone and Prigioni steps back for a three that he sinks.
As mentioned a few paragraphs above, Prigioni lives in these areas. He rarely ventures into the corners. That’s not to say that he cannot hit corner threes; he simply just doesn’t go to that area of the court all that often. Prigioni’s attempted 354 "above the break" threes during his career and made 39.83 percent of them. Conversely, he’s only attempted 82 corner threes but made 41.46 percent from there. That number was actually higher – 26-for-55 (47.27 percent) – prior to last season when he shot just 8-for-27 from the corners. Prigioni has an ability to nail threes at an effective rate and does so from an area of the floor that could create spacing for others – i.e. Wesley Johnson in the corner(s), Jamal Crawford on the opposite wing, and the triumvirate of Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson, and Josh Smith with their pick-and-roll and paint penetrating ability.
One of the other interesting aspects to Prigioni’s game is his propensity to be an above-average passer. For his career, Prigioni has 635 assists to 208 turnovers; giving him an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.05. The guy that the Houston Rockets just traded Pablo Prigioni for – Ty Lawson – has a career assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.94. While the sample size is greatly skewed here, it still is interesting to note. Prigioni is a quality passer and has displayed such talent before. According to Basketball Reference’s play-by-play data, Prigioni has made 153 bad pass turnovers in 3743 career minutes. Michael Carter-Williams, the former lottery pick who was traded at the deadline this past season, made 234 bad pass turnovers during the 3805 minutes he played for the Philadelphia 76ers in a year-and-a-half. While Carter-Williams has definitely handled the ball more, it still says a lot about how protective of the ball Prigioni has been.
For the above play, Prigioni dribbles the ball into the frontcourt against the New Orleans Pelicans and point guard Norris Cole. Josh Smith walks into the frontcourt and points out Anthony Davis to Dwight Howard. Howard then walks up to set a tap screen on Cole for Prigioni. Before Howard even set the screen, or forearm to the kidney area, Davis had to move for fear of getting screened and giving up a backdoor lob to Smith. Instead, what happened was that Howard was the lob man; not Smith. Howard slips to the hoop after setting the screen. Prigioni attacks Howard’s man – Alexis Ajinca – which forces the Pelicans into a pretty pickle. Prigioni recognizes the situation and lobs it up to Howard for the easy jam. This is a play that you could definitely see the Argentine running with either Smith, Griffin, or Jordan next season. He exhibited spatial awareness and an understanding of situational basketball. Ajinca almost got back in time to recover and swat the lob but the ball was placed perfectly. It’s just another way for Prigioni to stay on the floor and provide ample productivity.
For the final play of this session, we get another Prigioni assist. The possession for the Rockets starts with Trevor Ariza having the ball just beyond the halfcourt line. The Rockets are in the midst of a secondary break and Ariza passes back to a jogging-up-the-court Josh Smith who then quickly passes to Prigioni on the left wing. Before the Denver Nuggets defense can even react, Prigioni curls around a slip screen from Smith and penetrates into the paint. Jameer Nelson, who is trailing here, looks as if he’s expecting help from Darrell Arthur. Arthur meets Prigioni at the free throw line but instead of forcing Prigioni into a tough decision, he allows Pablo to continue pushing the ball closer to the rim. Due to this, it allows Smith to slice in right behind both Ty Lawson and Arthur. Prigioni sees Smith, dumps the ball off with a nice bounce pass, and Smith lays it up and in with zero resistance.
The Nuggets clearly played this possession poorly from the start as they never stopped the ball and also let Prigioni dictate where he was going with the ball rather than making him give it up sooner. You have to make the smaller guard actually feel like he’s, well, the smaller guard. They didn’t and the Rockets made them pay for that grave mistake. As we have seen, though, Prigioni can be quite the passer and also quite the shooter. Yes, he’s not exactly a defensive dynamo but he can make contributions on that end of the floor by being pesky and getting into your grill when you least expect it. Sometimes just being a gnat is better than being a wasp; one quickly recognizes the wasp whereas the gnat goes unnoticed and can still give you fits. Prigioni’s got the skills to be a quality rotational player for a few minutes each night depending on the matchups.
With Prigioni, you know what you’re getting. You’re getting an adept passer, solid hustle player, and three point shooter who can stretch the defense just enough to allow others to have spacing for their own personal gain. On catch-and-shoot shots last season, Prigioni shot 39.4 percent from three. In 2013-14, he shot 44.0 percent on them. When he didn’t take a dribble in 2013-14, he shot 42.7 percent from three; it was 38.4 percent this past season. These are positives for a Clippers bench that was devoid of a true outside threat coming into the offseason. With Johnson potentially in the corners and the Stephenson-Smith tandem running possible variations of the pick-and-roll, there will be room up top just for Pablo Prigioni to roam. There’s no doubt he’ll be solid at it as that’s all he’s ever been; and solid is an upgrade over what was there before.