Check out the Clippers top rookie point guards here.
Check out the Clippers top rookie shooting guards here.
Check out the Clippers top rookie centers here.
Check out the Clippers top rookie small forwards here.
#3 - Al Thornton (2007-08)
Draft: 2007 1st Round, 14th Overall, Los Angeles Clippers
Key Stats: 12.7ppg, 4.5rpg, 1.2apg, 42.9%fg, 33.1%3pt, 31 games started
Last week, there was some controversy as to why Al Thornton did not make the list for best rookie small forwards, and this week, we now know why. At 6’8”, 220 lbs., Thornton was the prototypical small forward. Unfortunately for the Clippers, an off-season injury to Elton Brand meant the team was lacking a productive power forward. The only real options at the position were veteran Tim Thomas, and second year man Paul Davis. About 1⁄4 of the way into the season, Davis would injure his knee, reducing the depth even more. Other players got their shot to contribute throughout the season, including Josh Powell and Nick Fazekas, but it was Al Thornton who played the biggest role along with Thomas as the teams big forward.
Although Thornton played a lot of minutes at small forward, the majority of his minutes were as a power forward his rookie season. Even though he was always at a disadvantage in size, he held his own. He would end the season as a starter at his natural position when Elton Brand would come back from his injury and start the final 8 games of the season. After his solid rookie season, Thornton was awarded a spot on the NBA All-Rookie 1st team.
#2 - Charles Smith (1988-89)
Draft: 1988 1st Round, 3rd Overall, Philadelphia 76ers, traded to Clippers for Hersey Hawkins and 1989 1st round pick (Kenny Payne)
Key Stats: 16.3ppg, 6.5rpg, 1.5apg, 1.3bpg, 1spg, 49.5%fg, 56 games started
In the 1988 NBA draft, the Clippers got not one, but two great forwards. With the 1st overall pick, the team would draft Danny Manning* out of Kansas. Six picks later, the would draft Hersey Hawkins out of Bradley. Hawkins would never suit up for the Clippers though, as they traded him to the 76ers along with a future 1st round pick, for Charles Smith. Smith was a 6’10” forward out of Pittsburgh, who averaged 19 points and 8 rebounds in his senior season, in which he lead the team to the NCAA tournament.
To start their rookie season, Smith beat out Manning for the starting PF spot. He would start the first 12 games of the season, before Manning was handed the starting spot. Unfortunately for Manning, his time as a starter was cut short due to a season ending (and career changing) knee injury. Smith would resume his spot as the starter, and hold on to it for the remainder of the season. He would finish the season strong, averaging 21.5 points per game in April and was named the rookie of the month, his second such honor (was also rookie of the month in February). In the off-season, he would be named to the NBA All-Rookie 1st team.
Before we get to the number one rookie power forward in LA Clippers history, here are a couple honorable mentions:
Maurice Taylor (1997-98)
Draft: 1997 1st Round, 14th Overall, Los Angeles Clippers
Key Stats: 11.5ppg, 4.2rpg, 47.6%fg, 3 games started
Maurice Taylor joined a Clippers team that had just made the playoffs, and had a pretty reliable and popular starting power forward. The 97-98 season got off to a rather slow start, with the team losing 12 of their first 13 games. On top of that, Loy Vaught, the starting power forward, suffered a season ending (and career changing) injury 11 games into the season. With the injury to Vaught, the Clippers relied on a natural center, Lorenzen Wright, and a natural small forward, Rodney Rogers, as the starting power forward.
As the primary backup power forward, Taylor had a solid season, averaging 21 minutes while playing in 71 games. He had some nice stretches at times, including a 5 game stretch in January where he averaged 20 points and 3 game stretch in February where he started and averaged 15 points per game. He would be named to the NBA All-Rookie 2nd team.
Michael Cage (1984-85)
Draft: 1984 1st Round, 14th Overall, Los Angeles Clippers
Key Stats: 7.1ppg, 5.2rpg, 54.3%fg, 41 games started
After a solid 4 year career at San Diego State, including a senior year where he averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds, the Clippers, having just relocated to Los Angeles from San Diego, drafted Michael Cage as a potential starting power forward. To start the 1984-85 season, the Clippers used a 2 center lineup with James Donaldson and Bill Walton. They also tried Rory White as the starting small forward. Eventually, Michael Cage would earn the starting job.
In his 41 starts, Cage would average 9.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
#1 - Blake Griffin (2010-11)
Draft: 2009 1st Round, 1st Overall, Los Angeles Clippers
Key Stats: 22.5ppg, 12.1rpg, 3.8apg, 50.6%fg, 29.2%3pt, 82 games started
Due to an injury in the 2009 pre-season, Blake Griffin was forced to miss the entire 2009-10 season, which moved his rookie season back a year. For many fans, the delay was difficult. Griffin was seen as the centerpiece of a franchise that had never had a true centerpiece to build around. Memories of career changing injuries to high hope players, such as Danny Manning, made many Clippers fan nervous for the future of Griffin.
Griffin would start strong, and never look back, scoring 20 points while grabbing 14 rebounds in his first game, in a start against Portland. He would score double digits in his first 67 games played, including his breakout game against the New York Knicks on November 20, 2010. Do you remember where you were that day?
His season would see many highlights like the dunk on Mozgov. He would be the first rookie to be named an all-star since Yao Ming in 2003. He was named Rookie of the Month 6 times, and named to the NBA All-Rookie 1st team, while also being voted the NBA Rookie of the Year
The fact that Griffin had such a spectacular rookie season while playing in all 82 games, helped erase Clippers fans fears. Griffin was the future, and Clippers fans just prayed that the future would be free of the team’s “curse”.
*Danny Manning did not make the list due to the limited number of games he played in his rookie season, due to a major knee injury. If he would have stayed healthy, he could have ended up as one of the best Clippers rookies of all time.
Danny Manning (1988-89)
Draft: 1988 1st Round, 1st Overall, Los Angeles Clippers
Key Stats: 16.7ppg, 6.6rpg, 3.1apg, 1.7spg, 1bpg, 49.4%fg, 26 games played, 18 started
Do you agree with our list? Is there someone we left out? Let us know in the comments, and check back next week for the 3 most disappointing rookie point guards in LA Clippers history.