clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2016 Free Agency: Clippers MLE Wing Targets Part 1

New, comments

With the Clippers' new draftees now in the depth chart, the gaping hole on the roster is obvious: small forward. Here are three players the Clippers should try to target with the mid-level exception.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Mid-Level Exception is probably the primary avenue the Clippers have this offseason to acquire new talent barring a major trade and the draft. It is not worth too much, especially compared to how valuable it was a few years ago, but at around 4 years 25 million dollars, it is still a valuable tool for finding good rotation players. These three players could be good fits for the Clippers-- Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, and Chase Budinger.

Brandon Rush

Age: 31

Size: 6'6, 220 pounds

2015-2016 Numbers: 4.2 points/2.2 rebounds/0.8 assists in 14.7 minutes per game, 42.7/41.4/64.3 shooting, 72 games played

For Career: 40.3% 3 point shooter on 1186  attempts

Why the Clips Should Sign Him: Rush's numbers look unimpressive on first glance. He didn't play much, and when he did he didn't exactly light the world on fire. But several pertinent facts stand out. Harrison Barnes was injured for a couple months early in the season, and Rush took his place in the starting lineup. When he did, his numbers jumped up to 7/3.3/1 in 21 minutes a game, and an incredible 50% from the field and 49.4% from 3 (on over 3 attempts per game)! Most importantly, the Warriors didn't miss a beat with him starting vs "max player" Harrison Barnes. Now, this could partially be a detraction on Barnes. But it is also a definite endorsement of Rush. Even when he wasn't starting, he was a rotation player on perhaps the best team ever. That says something.

Rush is a typical 3 and D player. His size matches up better against shooting guards, but he is tall enough and bulky enough to guard most wings in the post and contest their jump shots. Brandon isn't exactly a lockdown defender, but he is solid enough on that end, and he rarely gets embarrassed. More significantly for the Clippers, he is a terrific three point shooter. At slightly over 40% from deep in his career, Rush can be counted on to make his outside shots consistently. He wasn't great from the corners this past year, but has made them in the past, and he is deadly above the break. While he probably won't get quite as many open shots on the Clippers as he did on the Warriors, he will still get plenty, and he will make them.

Likelihood of Getting a Bigger Contract: 30%. Rush's age and extremely poor 2013-2015 seasons will play against him. There is no "upside" in signing him—he is what he is. On the other hand, those downsides could lead a team to sign him to a shorter term but higher money deal, maybe around 1 year for 8-10 million. I don't see him getting a better long term deal than the MLE though, and he might well want the job security.

Richard Jefferson

Age: 36

Size: 6'7, 233 pounds

2015-2016 Numbers: 5.5/1.7/0.8 in 18 minutes per game, 45.8/38.2/66.7 shooting, 74 games played

For Career: 38% 3 point shooter on 2576 attempts

Why the Clips Should Sign Him: There is some risk of recency bias with Jefferson. He was absolutely huge in the playoffs for the championship winning Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring with efficiency, defending well, and providing bursts of energy and toughness when needed. But looking at his numbers, he was actually good throughout the regular season as well. Despite all the jokes about his age and length of career, Richard Jefferson seems to have moved past a weird middle age stretch in the NBA (his struggles on the Spurs) and is enjoying a picture perfect denouement.

Jefferson is a small ball power forward in today's NBA: he has an inch and a dozen pounds on Rush, and is just more suited for defending big men. While his defense was good against wings in the playoffs, he would provide more versatility to the Clips by moving to the 4 alongside DeAndre Jordan (giving Blake more time with the 2nd unit). Unlike Rush, Jefferson would probably be a better fit among the Clippers reserves, but there is no question minutes would be found for him.

Likelihood of Getting a Bigger Contract? Even more than Rush, Jefferson is a candidate for a very short but high money contract. No team will want to give him a four year deal with any significant amount of money, as that would cover his age 40 season. His game shouldn't age too badly: the shooting will probably remain good, and the lack of quickness won't matter as much if he is covering big men. However, every year at his age could bring a precipitous fall off a basketball cliff (just look at Paul Pierce), and there is a high chance he wouldn't be anywhere this good even next year. I think he stays where he is comfortable, in Cleveland.

Chase Budinger

Age: 28

Size: 6'7, 209 pounds

2015-2016 Numbers: 4.1/2.3/1 in 14.1 minutes per game, 43.5/27.9/69.6 shooting, 66 games played

For Career: 35.2% 3 point shooter on 1172 attempts

Why the Clips Should Sign Him: Budinger is by far the riskiest of these players. As you can tell by the numbers, he shot really poorly last year, and is a worse outside shooter in general than the other two. He did make 36.4% the year before though, and is generally a pretty solid marksman. As we will see with another Pacers wing player (coming in a day or two), the Pacer's offense was awful—poorly spaced and lacking in ball movement—which dragged numbers down. I think it is safe to say Budinger won't shoot that poorly from three again, especially on a team run by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

The bigger issue with Budinger is his defense. Once one of the more underrated athletic wings in the league, knee injuries have not only sapped him of a lot of his explosiveness off the dribble, but also effected his quickness on the defensive end. He still has decent fundamentals, but his ability to be an above average player on that end is probably over. Budinger is still big enough and long enough to be a viable deterrent on that end, however, and there is a possibility that he regains a bit of his athleticism as he moves further and further away from his injuries. Nevertheless, he is the biggest question mark of these three guys on defense.

Likelihood of Getting a Bigger Contract: <5%. After the year he just had, I can't imagine too many teams are going to be running out and giving Chase Budinger 20 million dollars. At the same time, with the incredible amount of cap space available, some teams aren't going to get who they want, and will be willing to be pay a lot of money for players who aren't necessarily worth it. Budinger could be worth the MLE over the course of his deal, and would be a solid roll of the dice for Doc to take.

Who I prefer the Clippers sign in order: Rush, Jefferson, Budinger

Who the Clippers have the best chance to sign in order: Budinger, Rush, Jefferson