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What to Expect out of CJ Wilcox

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CJ Wilcox has started receiving spot minutes, and also made headlines earlier this week for being retained despite some intriguing offers from other teams at the trade deadline. What exactly can he offer the Clippers?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The first time CJ Wilcox probably entered many people in the NBA's consciousness was a few days ago in the game against Golden State, where he helped key a rally to bring the game within 3 before missing the shot to tie. In that game he checked in for a banged up Chris Paul, and immediately showed his skills by playing solid defense on Steph Curry (!!) and hitting two three pointers. Prior to that game he had played just 34 minutes all year after playing in only 101 his rookie season. His performance in that game, however, earned him 10 minutes against Phoenix, where he once again made decent contributions despite an off night shooting the ball (2-7 and 1-3 from three). What can we expect from him going forward?

The simple answer is: it's really hard to tell. That might be a copout, but it's the only one that works right now. CJ has played a grand total of 150 NBA minutes in 1 and 2/3 of a season, and most of those have been in garbage time. With Austin Rivers out, CP3 banged up, and Pablo Prigioni being ancient, there is an opportunity for CJ to pick up a handful minutes a game for as long as Baby Rivers is sidelined. Of course, Doc needs to give him the court time, but in the last three games he has played 10, 5, and 9 minutes. As the minutes accumulate and the sample size grows, hopefully we get a better idea of what exactly CJ can provide (and if he can really help the team consistently).

The main asset CJ potentially promises is 3 point shooting. He has shot 42% from deep in his 20 D-League games, making almost three of them a game. That percentage on that many attempts is a very promising sign, especially since the D-League uses the same line as the NBA. His release is quick and smooth; his shots looks good almost every time he puts one up. The key is just to translate all that to actual NBA games. There are plenty of guys who shot well in college and the D-League, and whose shots looked good, but who never quite made it as true NBA snipers. As long as Wilcox makes the open 3s he will probably receive on the Clippers he will continue getting some minutes.

The real key for CJ's future, however, is to continue some of the flashes of above-average defense he has shown in his recent playing stints. He defended well against Steph at the end of the Golden State game, and had a nice possession or two in the other games as well. He wasn't notable on that end in college, but he wasn't a sieve either, and defense has a lot to do with sheer effort. CJ is also helped by a very large wingspan of 6'9.75 (for his height of 6'5) which allows him to contest shots and deter screens a bit better than similarly tall players. This size makes him a good play at SG (he is bigger and longer than Austin), and should allow him to defend smaller 3s if they don't have much of a post game. His athleticism isn't great, but it isn't bad either, and there is no reason he can't be a solid enough defender at the NBA level.

Basically, CJ projects as a "3 and D" type player. The rest of his game isn't great, and at age 25 probably isn't going to develop all that much (though one can never tell). Even in college he was more of a shooter than anything else, and so far his play in the D-League and NBA has borne that out. He has enough of a handle to attack closeouts, and he does have some passing ability, but he isn't really a 2nd ballhandler type, nor can he consistently create his own shot.

In the end, that stuff doesn't really matter. If CJ can hit his open shots and play acceptable defense, he should get minutes in the rotation going forward, possibly even when Austin returns. He is a bit bigger than the other 2 guards on the roster (outside of  Jamal, who is no defensive stalwart), and is much quicker than guys like Wesley Johnson or Jeff Green. In a matchup against Golden State, where Pablo Prigioni might be unplayable, Wilcox could be a good option to turn to alongside Rivers on the bench unit. Hopefully he shows out in the next couple weeks, as this team could really use him down the stretch to save Chris and JJ from too much wear and tear if nothing else.

I don't think Wilcox will stay in the rotation once Austin returns, as there are just too many players on the roster who need minutes (especially since it is highly unlikely Paul Pierce ever loses his). Nonetheless, a good stretch by Wilcox now could factor into this team's offseason plans. Doc really likes him, demonstrated by his shooting down a couple trades for somewhat bigger NBA names at the trade deadline last week. In this scenario, it is possible that Clipper guard and wing free agents are not brought back if they ask for too much money: Doc will have more confidence in Wilcox's ability to lock down a rotation spot next season. CJ's NBA future appears to be at somewhat of an early critical point, and it is vital he seizes his chance.