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LA Clippers 2017-18 Player Previews: Brice Johnson

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Can Brice Johnson make up for his lost rookie season?

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

Height: 6’10”

Weight: 230 lbs

Age: 23

NBA Experience: 1 year

Position: Power Forward

Key Stats: Three games played in rookie season (2016-17), along with six games in the D-League (now the G-League). In the D-League, he averaged 19 minutes, 12 points, and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Contract Status: Johnson has two more years left on his three-year rookie contract. For the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons, the Clippers will have a team option.

Expectations: Although Clippers have had quite the roster over-haul since last season, their big-men roster dynamics are quite familiar: We will still see DeAndre Jordan anchoring the team at center, and Blake Griffin featured at the “four.” Surely Blake’s role will be expanded with the departure of Chris Paul, but, regardless, Brice Johnson is still firmly slated behind Blake in the power forward depth chart.

As far as who else Johnson will be backing up, we do not have a clear outline. We will likely see Danilo Gallinari receive more minutes at the four than Johnson, though his role is more flexible than Johnson’s and it is conceivable that they could play at the same time. This dynamic can also be applied to Willie Reed and Montrezl Harrell: It is not clear where Johnson ranks in the big-men depth chart compared to them because their positions do not cleanly overlap.

If this summer’s Summer League is any indication, we can expect Johnson to be much healthier than last season (a low bar, considering he missed most of the season with a back injury). And he should be able to use that health to get back to his athletic and active playing style. He was the “leader” of the Clippers’ Summer League delegation, according to Sam Cassell: “Brice is our team leader,” said Sam Cassell, the Clippers’ summer league coach. “As Brice goes, we go. It’s just that simple” (First reported by Helene Elliot, LA Times).

But Brice wasn’t only a leader in the intangible sense. He averaged 24 minutes per game, 14.4 points per game, and shot an efficient 57.7% from the field, which are nice numbers to finish with, even though the competition is lesser than an NBA regular season atmosphere. He looked athletic, yet still showed the ability to score outside of the paint and/ or with “touch.”

The below video, I believe, shows a nice summary of the variety of things Johnson was able to do during Summer League (though it was one of his better games, so the highlights might provoke more optimism than what is warranted). Oh: And he dunked on Lonzo, which was fun to watch.

Johnson, because of the reasons outlined above, will be a big test for head coach Doc Rivers: He is a player the Clippers drafted, which Doc does not always value as much as other coaches; due to injury and lack of opportunity, he will need Doc’s staff to help him develop; and, finally, the Clippers won’t likely be so good that playing young guys aren’t useful. Johnson is in a precarious position — but one that a good coach, with some vision and attention, could help get over the hump. It seems like Brice has done the initial work; let’s see if Doc can map out his next steps.