When the Los Angeles Clippers acquired him on draft night, Branden Dawson immediately became a piece for the future. While a whole lot of nothing is expected out of second round picks, there might be some things that Dawson can do at a reasonable enough level that will get him minutes at some point this season. So, just what exactly can the Clippers expect out of their recent draft acquisition this season?
|2014-2015 (at Michigan State)||11.9||9.1||1.7||.535||.490||.168||23.8||.533||.535|
|Career (at Michigan State)||10.1||6.9||1.4||.559||.558||.176||22.9||.562||.559|
Dawson was considered one of the stars during his time at Michigan State. It was a career that spanned four seasons and saw him endure a torn ACL during his freshman season. While it was a substantial injury, it never impacted what he was able to do on the court during his final three years at the university. His career-high in points per game (11.2) came during the 2013-14 season and he helped lead the Spartans all the way to the Regional Finals. This past season, though, the team made it to the National Semifinal before ultimately falling short against Duke. Despite never finishing higher than third on his team in scoring, he still was a vital cog; mostly due to his nonstop motor and defensive aptitude.
In spite of Dawson’s inability to adequately hit jumpers from any discernable distance, his value on the offensive end is quite evident. Whether he’s making rim runs on the break, slicing in for offensive rebounds, or just being in the right place at the right time, Dawson can make an impact on offense. Even with spacing being such a huge deal, he presents a combo forward who has all the ideals of a power forward in the body of a small forward. In that aspect, he could be considered the reverse Draymond Green. He has nowhere near Green’s overall skill set or even basketball intelligence, but he does do the little things that help whatever team he suits up for. Guys like that can stick in this league. With that said, we will take a look at where Dawson might be able to help the team this season; albeit in limited minutes – if at all.
On this play, you see one of the ways that Dawson can make his bones on offense. When the initial pick-and-roll action is taking place, Dawson notices that his defender creeps up to stop the ball-handler. As a result, Dawson inches along the baseline and calls for the ball. The ball-handler ignores him and takes a not-so-easy mid-range jumper instead. Dawson never quit on the play and perfectly times the offensive rebound for a putback slam to help increase the Clippers’ lead. While he’s only 6’7”, Dawson’s timing and above-average athleticism make him a capable offensive rebounder and dunker despite traffic being in the way.
Here, Dawson acts as the ball-handler and uses his athleticism and guile to finish at the rim against a longer defender. When the cross-pick comes into play, which is solidly set by C.J. Wilcox, Dawson turns the corner abruptly and makes a dart for the rim rather than just taking a wide open pull-up mid-range jumper. He knows his limitations from that range and knows better than to take them. He power dribble gathers as he comes near the restricted area and switches hands as the defender comes to meet him. By doing so, he negates the perceived advantage that the defender had and scoops it in off the backboard. It’s a savvy play by Dawson and one that shows what he can possibly do if given space. Dribbling is not his forte, which you can see by the wide turn he takes around the screen before coming downhill towards the rim, yet he found a way to still finish.
Though not gifted with dazzling athleticism or freakish length, Dawson still makes waves defensively no matter who he guards. Most players who are devoid of those talents usually have to make up for it in other areas and Dawson does that without a shadow of a doubt. On the following plays, he showcases the ability to stymie what a player wants to do against him and also his never-say-die attitude. Plays like these are the type of stuff that could keep Dawson in the league for quite some time.
While the talent in Summer League isn’t always the best, it was on this play where Dawson has to guard fellow rookie Justise Winslow of the Miami Heat. Winslow was a top ten pick and a widely popular draft prospect this year. In college, Winslow had no problem using his size, handle, and frame to bully opposing defenders so he could get wherever he wanted on the court. He tries to do the same thing to Dawson, but Branden stays with him the whole way. Winslow uses a left-handed dribble to try and turn the corner on Dawson, but he can’t do it whatsoever. So, Winslow goes to Plan B. Unfortunately for him that doesn’t exactly work out for the best.
Winslow throws a quick between-the-legs dribble to try and create space between him and Dawson, but it goes for naught. Seeing his options running out, Winslow slides into a stepback jumper that Dawson reacts quickly to and gets a fingertip on. Dawson was credited with a blocked shot on this play, but it goes far beyond the block itself. The sheer ability to stay with Winslow on a lateral drive to Winslow’s dominant side is a big deal. Dawson walls Winslow off, stays with him throughout the myriad of moves, and then contests the jumper beautifully to a point that he actually blocked it. It’s pristine defense.
Later on in the game, Miami tries to take advantage of Dawson’s aggressiveness. They dribble the ball to his side and his man makes a small stutter step move towards the ball-handler. This causes Dawson to try and cut off the passing lane. However, this takes Dawson out of position; or so you think. Rodney McGruder slices baseline after Dawson overreacts and Joshua Smith hits him perfectly in stride for what looks like a dunk. Alas, Dawson amazingly recovers fast enough to come from behind and block the ball over the rim as a help defender comes from the weakside to support him. It’s one of those plays that makes your jaw drop. It’s extremely rare to see a defender get beat like that backdoor and still have the wherewithal to recover. Dawson did that here and showcased his proficiency defensively.
To be perfectly blunt, the Clippers season is kaput if Branden Dawson has to see any semblance of major minutes. He’s not ready to play key minutes or substantial minutes and the team couldn’t survive him doing so. The only way he’d see those levels of minutes, though, would be if there would be an influx of injuries that hit the roster that no one could have possibly ever foreseen. Barring that, Dawson will likely only play in extreme blowout situations and, even then, he’ll only see a couple minutes once every so often. There’s literally zero expectations tied to Dawson for this upcoming season.
Looking even further into the future, it’s hard to say what Dawson will be. No one has any idea and the percentage of late second round picks panning out is historically miniscule. The odds are against him. I’m sure the comparisons between him and Draymond Green will be made because they’re both combo forwards who went to Michigan State. While that analogy was sort of made here, they are nothing alike as players. Dawson is in the Luc Richard Mbah a Moute mold of a forward who is defensively strong, but offensively challenged. LRMAM has managed to carve out a solid career despite his shortcomings and it’s possible Dawson could do the same. The issue is that Dawson has no jumper to speak of right now.
According to Shot Analytics, Dawson shot just 29 percent on any shot taken from 10 feet and beyond this past season. It was 29 percent in 2013-14, as well. However, it was an even more dreadful 23 percent when moving the distance to at least 12 feet. It seems rude to say that the guy can’t shoot, but all data and tape shows his inadequacies on that front. He struggles at the line and struggles on jumpers in general. In the spacing era of the NBA, a player without a viable jumper is a death knell for an offense. After all, just take a gander at Tony Allen and the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round against the Golden State Warriors for all the evidence you’ll ever need.
In total, Dawson could develop into a quality rotational player in due time. For the Clippers to be successful this season, that time cannot be right now. It’s as simple as that. Several minutes in a blowout isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but anything more than that will have people questioning Doc Rivers’ sanity, as well as the overall health of the Clippers from both a physical and mental standpoint. It’s nothing against Dawson. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles at this juncture.