Name: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Key Stats: 6.1/2.2/0.5 (points, rebounds, assists) per game on 50.5/39.1/67.8 (field goal, three point, free throw percentage) shooting, averaged 22.3 minutes per game in 80 games (76 starts).
Playoff Stats: 7.6/5.0/1.0 per game on 39.5/31.3/70.0 shooting, averaged 32.0 minutes per game in 7 games (7 starts).
Years in NBA: 9
2016-2017 Salary: $2,203,000 - signed using bi-annual exception (BAE)
Future Contract Status: Player option for next season (2017-2018) then an unrestricted free agent.
Summary: A veteran’s minimum signing just two seasons ago, Luc Mbah a Moute has blossomed into one of the Clippers’ most reliable role players thanks to his lockdown perimeter defense and much-improved offense. For a team playing a constant game of chicken with the salary cap, Mbah a Moute was a godsend. He quickly forced his way into the starting lineup, and by the start of this season, had established himself as the clear-cut best option to play alongside the Core Four. Though his game is by no means free of limitations, Luc proved to be a critical cog of a Clippers’ starting group that finished the season with the highest regular season net-rating (15.8) of any qualified, non-Warriors unit.
Above all else, Mbah a Moute should be lauded for his consistency, as, in a season full of injury tumult, he played 80 of 82 games and lent a steadying presence to a team that suffered through stretches of uninspired, discombobulated play. To the casual observer, Luc may have appeared to be the odd man out of the Clippers’ star-studded starting five, but those of us who closely watched this year’s team know much better than that. His stats don’t jump off the page and he may never take over a game or wow anyone with a series of flashy plays, but his dogged commitment to making opponent’s lives hell on defense while always making the right play on offense is an absolute joy to watch.
Strengths: Defense, defense, and more defense. It’s a shame that the All-NBA awards were voted on before Luc’s smothering of Gordon Hayward in the first round of the playoffs, because what he was able to do the Jazz All-Star almost certainly would have earned him recognition as one of the league’s fifteen best defenders. He uses his body and long arms exceptionally well as an on-ball defender, and his stellar instincts were on display all season long as he covered for a Clippers squad that too often struggled to rotate and help off the ball effectively.
Though his defense has always been, and always will be, his calling card, what really made Luc such a vital piece of the Clippers machine was his upgraded touch from behind the three point line. His 39.1% from deep was an 8.6% improvement from last season and a career high by a mile. While it was on only 1.4 attempts per game, that mark was the second highest of his career (after only his season with a Philadelphia 76ers team that was actively trying to lose basketball games) and an almost threefold increase from last season.
Noted tireless worker and all-around good guy, one of Luc’s underrated abilities has to be how well he has always seemed to fit in on a Clippers team replete with contrasting personalities. Never the center of any drama, Mbah a Moute appears to be unwaveringly well-liked by teammates and coaching staff alike, and his veteran leadership should not be understated.
Weaknesses: Though his shooting saw a drastic uptick, Luc remains a below average offensive option, and opponents were more than happy to let him shoot the ball. While he was better able to make teams pay for their willingness to give him wide-open corner threes and midrange jumpers, at times his hesitancy to pull the trigger and reluctance to put the ball on the floor bogged down the half court offense. Since arriving in Los Angeles he has shown an ability to cut effectively off the ball and finish around the rim, but his opportunities to do so are often few and far between with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan occupying the lane. As opponents adjust to Luc’s increased threat from the outside and close out more aggressively, he’ll need to work harder to take advantage of opportunities to drive the ball, thereby creating good looks for himself or teammates.
Future with Clippers: Luc’s continued improvement on both ends of the ball has allowed him to so far surpass his expectations that his signing has to be viewed as Doc Rivers’ most impressive maneuver during his tenure as general manager. To find a small forward in the bargain bin that has, at least temporarily, put a halt to the Clippers’ revolving door of retread veterans is an undeniable hit in a sea of misses.
Luc has a player option for next season that he will likely decline given the reality that his solid regular season capped off by an impressive playoff performance should have him in line for a significant raise. Resigning him will likely be a priority for the Clippers, as his continued contributions on the wing will be key for next year’s playoff prospects. Prospects that, of course, greatly depend on how this summer of uncertainty plays out. They do have his Early Bird rights, which allow them to offer 104.5% of this season’s average salary (just over $6 million) without having to dip into any non-existent cap space, but only time will tell whether or not that will be enough to retain him or if we’ve seen the last of Luc in a Clippers jersey.
As Mbah a Moute plays a vast majority of his minutes alongside offensive juggernauts like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick, any one of their departures could shake up the offensive balance of the starting unit, putting more pressure on Luc to score efficiently and create off the dribble. For the past two seasons, his mission has been clear — to put the opponent’s primary scorer through the ringer. Any offensive contribution has been a welcome, but not entirely necessary, gift. If the Clippers find themselves attempting to fill an offensive void in the absence of one or more of the aforementioned free agents, Mbah a Moute’s liabilities on that end of the court could only be further exposed. His role will likely become increasingly clear once the roster begins to crystallize after a period of much-anticipated stress in early July, but regardless of offseason ambiguity, Luc has more than proven his worth and carved out his niche as a truly elite defender.
For a fascinating read on Luc and his involvement in the development of Joel Embiid and the burgeoning world of Cameroonian basketball, check out this fantastic piece from Jackie MacMullan at ESPN.