In the series “Clippers Free Agent Retrospective”, we’re looking back at the players who left the Clippers in free agency this summer. This is a modified chapter in the series: a look at guard C.J. Wilcox, who, rather than signing with another team, was traded by the Clippers as part of their off-season shuffle.
Name: Brian Craig “C.J.” Wilcox
Key Clipper Facts:
Joined the team as the 28th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. 25-Year-old shooting guard who played two seasons with the Clippers
Played 44 total games and 268 total minutes in his career as a Clipper. Shot 38% from deep on 42 career attempts.
Played 21 NBA D-League games last season, averaging 32.7 minutes per game. Averaged 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 41.7% from deep.
It’s hard to play the expectations game with a draft pick. Unlike a free agent, the team doesn’t get to look at a wide market of players at different price points. At pick 28 in the 2014 NBA Draft, it definitely looks like, two years later, they could have done better than Wilcox talent-wise if they had won the lottery on a “reach”... but is it a complete gaffe?
Not really. The expectations for pick 28 have to be low, if we’re being reasonable, because it’s pretty uncommon to find NBA-caliber players that late in the draft, especially players who can help in their rookie year. Overall, while Wilcox was a fine “value” pick, according to the limited and speculative internet mock drafts, the same reasons that he was a dubious fit are the reasons that expectations were low.
C.J. Wilcox, at 6’5” with decent athleticism and a nice shot, is a shooting guard, through and through. And the Clippers needed a shooting guard least of any position, with J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford already on the roster. At every other position? Well, they could have used some help. Expectations were low for Wilcox to be in the rotation simply because he played a position where the Clippers already had two big-time core pieces. Now, Doc Rivers said after the draft that he picked for best player available, not fit, which makes sense late in the draft. But the truth of the matter is that nobody really expected to see much of Wilcox until year 3 when Jamal Crawford’s contract expired, and at that point we were generally hopeful that he’d be able to become a rotation player.
It’s harder to fairly judge Wilcox’s performance than other departing players, simply because we didn’t see much of him. That’s essentially what makes it impossible to break up three interconnected pieces of the C.J. Wilcox era and judge them separately. How can the pick be judged without looking at the player? How can the player be judged outside of the context of where he was picked? How can the trade be judged without both?
So isolating Wilcox’s on-court performance is impossible due to his small minutes total. And if the expectation was for Wilcox to contribute by year 3, as stated above, what does it mean that he was traded in the summer after his second season?
Either way, it’s both fine and not good, depending on how nice you want to be. Wilcox made a good percentage of his threes as a Clipper (good!) and didn’t look lost on the floor (low bar to clear). He didn’t look like he was a non-NBA player... but he also never excelled to the point that he was able to earn time... but he was also in a position depth-wise where earning minutes at his position would have been next to impossible.
The conclusion that we’re forced to come to is that (no matter whose “fault” it is, or if it’s anyone’s fault at all) Wilcox was never able to reach rotation-level with the Clippers, which is both disappointing and not exactly a failure given the low expectations of 28th overall picks and, specifically, Wilcox given his fit on the roster.
Legacy as a Clipper:
I’m going to stick with my title here: “Tragically Forgettable”. It’s always a shame when a first-round pick comes through and leaves nothing notable in his wake, but here we are. Yaroslav Korolev was a far poorer selection, but his legend lives on as an intriguing international lottery pick who was awful in his early NBA years, and played his last Clipper game before his 20th birthday. He also played the same position as Danny Granger, who went a few picks later... so, yeah. We remember that.
Even Al Thornton, a lottery pick who flared out of the NBA after three years, is remembered because he started over 100 games as a Clipper, and was pretty damn good, before falling off in year 3, getting traded, and just... disappearing out of the league forever.
The C.J. Wilcox will be far more forgettable, though, and that’s a shame. Even if the long-term impact on the team is no different from Al Thornton’s (who was good, but on a couple of really, really bad Clippers teams), and it’s actually a better value selection than Koralev, there’s just nothing to remember him by. Sure, he was part of a surprising garbage-time comeback against the Warriors, but it was a regular season game, and he missed the last have that would have forced overtime. Maybe if he made it we would have always remembered him fondly.
Of course, I doubt it matters much to the Clippers or to C.J. whether we remember him or not, but it’s always interesting to ponder a Clipper’s legacy as they leave, especially for those of us who have seen a ton of unspectacular players wear the uniform, and been forced to find different reasons to remember them. I can tell you about Nick Fazekas’ irrelevant 22-game tenure with the Clippers. Guys like Steve Novak rode the bench and became legends among fans.
So best of luck to C.J.. I don’t think anybody in the Clippers fan base has any reason to wish ill on him or his career. But I think we can all agree that it’s somewhat tragic to see a first-round pick spend two full years on the roster, and leave with a legacy best described as “forgettable”.