Diamond Stone hasn’t been able to get minutes for the Clippers this season. That’s not surprising and probably for the best—he’s a 19-year-old rookie, taken in the second round, who is seen as a “project” player. It seemed pretty clear from the beginning that Stone would spend plenty of time during his rookie season in the NBA D-League, getting game experience.
On December 26th, when the Clippers assigned Diamond to his current stint with the Salt Lake City Stars, Doc’s reasoning was simple: “We have enough bigs, he’s not playing, and I want him to play. I think it’s important for him to play.”
The sentiment is totally correct, and this is conventional thinking in the NBA: when teams have young players who aren’t good enough to get on the court, they send them to the NBA D-League where they’ll get more run and presumably be a focal point of the team. Just last year, Doc Rivers used the D-League regularly to provide opportunities to C.J. Wilcox and Branden Dawson.
Here’s the problem: Stone hasn’t been able to get on the court in Salt Lake City. After posting relatively decent stat lines in his first two games (17 points, 9 rebounds, 7-14 FG in 23 minutes; 7 points, 10 rebounds, 3-8 FG, 1-1 3PT in 22 minutes), he hasn’t played in the team’s last 4 games. Four straight “Did Not Play—Coach’s Decision” labels in the box score. This isn’t a criticism of Stars coach Dean Cooper. I don’t know anything about him, and I haven’t watched Stone’s game film. While those stat lines look decent, there’s certainly cause for concern—he fouled out of his first game and had 5 fouls in his second, and in that second game he also added 5 turnovers. And in the first game, even though he scored 17 points, his +/- was -24 in 23 minutes of a 1-point victory.
It’s entirely possible that Dean Cooper, doing his best to win basketball games, made a rational and fair choice to bench Diamond Stone. Coach Cooper isn’t the problem here—but the Clippers need to adjust to this reality and develop their prospect instead of letting him rot on a bench in Utah. They made an investment in this player by selecting him in the draft and the franchise owes it to themselves to maximize his development during the span of the two-year contract they signed him to.
When I asked Doc about this last night following the Clippers’ win over the Orlando Magic, he seemed fine with Diamond’s situation: “He’s gotta earn it. Just because you go down doesn’t mean that you’re gonna play, and it’s probably a good lesson for him. I think a lot of guys from our league, they go down to the D-League and they assume it’s gonna be all about them. There are D-League coaches that are trying to win too. He’ll play, but he’s gonna have to earn it.”
Here’s the basic truth though: Stone would be better off riding L.A.’s bench than riding Salt Lake City’s. I totally understand the desire to get Diamond playing time—and it’s a worthwhile goal. But at the very least, if he isn’t going to get on the court, he’d be better off not playing for the Clippers—sitting in their locker room, participating in their shootarounds, learning their gameplans, seeing the in-game adjustments their coaching staff likes to make. If the goal is for Diamond to contribute on the court someday, then certainly a more seasoned familiarity with Doc’s style and strategy is far more beneficial than picking up how Dean Cooper likes to adjust his help-side defense when the opponent’s center is passing out of double teams well.
If the Clippers didn’t like Diamond’s situation, they could easily change it. All they would have to do is recall him, and then assign him to a different D-League team. In his first stint with the Santa Cruz Warriors, Stone did a somewhat better job staying in the rotation—he played in four of the team’s five games while he was on the roster, and started two of them. Notably, he kept on turning the ball over (13 in 4 games) and had a game with foul trouble.
Diamond Stone is a young prospect that the Clippers are trying to develop. Right now, they aren’t making decisions that suit their own interest. The best course of action, obviously, would be for the franchise to finally step up and start their own D-League team so that they can have a team built around developing Diamond instead of worrying about Dean Cooper needing to win basketball games. Maybe they’ll finally make that move next year with two-way contracts entering the new NBA collective bargaining agreement. For now, at least, it’s time to get Diamond out of the Non-Development League.