Robert Flom: A+
The Clippers paid millions of dollars in cash to acquire two 2nd round draft picks. While picks in the second round don’t pan out very frequently, buying them (with the money of the owner) is generally something that good organizations do. The Clippers (Steve Ballmer, really) ponying up the money for acquiring draft picks is just one of many signs this summer that even without the services of Chris Paul, the organization is a quality one, and one equipped to operating in the modern NBA. That alone is worth an ‘A’ grade in my book.
Even better, however, is what the Clippers did with their picks. They didn’t waste them on draft-and-stash players (who sometimes come over, but more frequently don’t), a frequent strategy of teams in the mid to late second round. They took real, legitimate NBA prospects: Jawun Evans was my highest rated prospect at 39, and Sindarius Thornwell was my highest rated at 48. The consensus around NBA media circles was that the Clippers had pulled off a very successful draft night, something that hadn’t been said about them in quite a few years. Summer League is relatively meaningless, but both Evans and Thornwell at least looked like they belonged—and showed flashes of skills that could reasonably translate to NBA play. While I doubt either becomes a star, I have genuine hope that both can be rotation-level NBA players in the years to come.
The cherry on top of it all is that the Clippers were able to sign both players to great deals. Each signed a virtually identical $2.2 million deal over three years (Evans has a player option for year three, while Thornwell does not), using up part of the MLE—but not all of it. The Clippers somehow preserving a part of their MLE during these transactions is just a further indication of their expertise, and bodes well for cap endeavors in the future.
There is virtually no way to spin the Evans and Thornwell signings as anything but a positive. They might never play real minutes for the Clippers. They might never play real minutes in the NBA at all. But if they do, it will be a win for the Clippers. It would be the type of victory at the bottom of the roster that has consistently eluded them over the years, and plagued the Chris Paul era from start to finish. The 2017-2018 season marks a new beginning for the Clippers’ franchise. Even if Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell aren’t a significant part of the next great Clippers’ team, their signings this summer are a symbol of optimism for what the Clippers’ future will hold in store.
Lucas Hann: A
Oddly enough, the least important part of these draft pick transactions to me are the players who the Clippers actually picked. Sure, I like Evans and Thornwell as prospects, and I was a fan of Thornwell during his spectacular NCAA Tournament run for South Carolina last season, but I'm not sure that I really consider either of them as favorites to be "steals" in the draft. The second round is a crapshoot, so it's almost entirely guesswork at this point to say definitively that the Clippers got above-average value on both of these picks. What really makes this a no-brainer "A" grade for me, however, is that it's essentially a freebie, like an extra credit assignment. The Clippers purchased both of these picks with Steve Ballmer's cash, so it's like buying two scratch-off tickets at the gas station. You can hardly blame the user for "scratching poorly" with these odds, but you can certainly credit the user for taking the initiative to buy two lottery tickets, and that's what the Clippers did in this draft. I'd also like to give them a little credit for finding room in the Mid-Level Exception to give both of these guys three-year deals, which will help with long-term control if either does pan out as an NBA player.
Max Jeffrey: B+
For the past several years, the Clippers have failed to deliver even a serviceable rotation player whom they acquired through the draft. Though they only had chances at second-round and low first-round talent, the reluctance to develop youth or draft at positions of great need have rendered the draft useless to them anyway. But something felt very different about this year's draft for the Clippers. Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, both second-round picks acquired for cash, appear to have been potential draft day steals.
Evans, a quick and crafty point guard out of Oklahoma State, has often drawn comparisons to Chris Paul because of his ability to score and facilitate exceptionally-well (while maintaining great efficiency). His 6-foot, 185-pound frame may end up giving him difficulty at the NBA level, but he plays with a level of tenacity that should never leave fans questioning his effort.
Thornwell, a wing player with great instincts, looks well-equipped to be able to contribute at the NBA level immediately. At 6'5" with a 6'10" wingspan, he has the tools to complement his already-developed defensive instincts. Last season at South Carolina, he scored plentifully, rebounded well, and shot the ball efficiently from basically everywhere. And, like Evans, Thornwell is certainly not lacking a motor.
Evans and Thornwell both signed 3-year, super cap-friendly rookie contracts and, if they manage to crack the rotation, could become crucial components of the new identity the Clippers have begun forging.