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2016-2017 Clippers Exit Interview: Brice Johnson

The Exit Interview series continues with Brice Johnson, the Clippers’ 1st round pick in the 2016 draft.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Brice Johnson

Age: 22

Key Stats: 1.3 points per game, 1.0 rebounds per game, 3.0 minutes per game in 3 games played in NBA

12.2 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 49/17 shooting in 19.3 minutes per game, 6 games played for the Salt Lake City Stars of the D-League

Years in NBA: 1

2016-2017 Salary: $1,273,920: rookie scale

Future Contract Status: $1,331,160 for 2017-2018, team options for approximately $1.5 and $2.5 million in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Summary: Brice’s season never get started. He suffered a herniated disc right when the preseason began in October, pushing his NBA debut all the way back to late February. Brice didn’t score his first NBA points until April 10, the second to last game of the NBA season. Only playing in three games (nine minutes) total, Brice somehow made even less of an impact than fellow rookie Diamond Stone, which is hard to believe given Stone played a mere 24 minutes all season. Brice might not have played many more minutes if he hadn’t been injured, but at least he would have had more practice time with the team, and might have at least gotten a shot in some garbage time contests. This season wasn’t quite the worst possible outcome for Brice, yet it was far, far from ideal.

Strengths: Brice was one of the best big men in college in his senior season at UNC. A dominant rebounder and strong finisher around the basket, Johnson showed in Summer League that he could step out and hit midrange jumpers as well. This was a surprise, as he didn’t shoot any 3s in college. His shot looks smooth, and he at least attempted a few threes in the D-League. While he’s an old rookie, far older players have moved behind the three-point line, and Brice has a good chance to become a plus shooter at the NBA level. He is a well-above average athlete, and that explosive leaping ability should make him a consistent threat for lobs, especially with a skilled point guard feeding passes to him (Chris Paul??). That athleticism could also make him a solid defender, though he has a lot of work to do to get up to speed at the NBA level.

Weaknesses: Brice has two significant weaknesses: age and size/position. He will be 23 going into his sophomore season, the same age as some players who are already established NBA stars. With just nine minutes of NBA experience on his resume, Johnson will effectively be re-doing his rookie season next year. While he might have more potential for growth than a 23 year old who has already been in the NBA for a few years, he’s closer to his athletic peak than a 20 year old, and that limits his upside. Similarly, while Brice is the build of a prototypical power forward, players at that position are increasingly smaller and more skilled than Brice. He could defend traditional power forwards well, but small-ball guys might be too quick for him to guard. Therefore, Brice might be better shifted up a position as a small-ball center. The issue there is he’s a bit small for that role as a rim-protector, and he isn’t used to it. Long-term, center is probably where his future lies, but it’s impossible to know whether or not he can make that adjustment.

Future with Clippers: Brice is under contract for at least one more year, and it is incredibly rare for rookie team options to not be picked up, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him around for another couple of years. The big question then becomes: does his career with the Clippers more resemble Austin Rivers, or Reggie Bullock or CJ Wilcox? If Brice has a strong summer, he could win a spot towards the bottom of the rotation depending on the other big men on the roster next season. There’s no reason to think he’s going anywhere soon, but his role on the Clippers in the near future is still very much up in the air.