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2017-2018 Clippers Exit Interview: Tyrone Wallace

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Ty Wallace came out of nowhere to become a key contributor to the Clippers’ surprising roster, and was a legitimately above-average NBA player in his rookie season.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Tyrone Wallace

Age: 23

Years in NBA: Rookie

Key Stats: 9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.5 turnovers in 28.4 minutes per game (played 30 games, started 19). Shot 44.5% from the field, 25% from three (1.3 attempts), and 78.2% from free throw line (2.6 attempts).

2017-2018 Salary: Just over $50,000

Future Contract Status: Restricted free agent if Clippers extend qualifying offer, unrestricted otherwise

Summary:

Ty Wallace’s journey with the Clippers started back in August, when the team signed him to a training camp deal. At the time, there was nothing to indicate that the Clippers had any particular affinity for Wallace—he was just another young, semi-interesting body to help the Clippers practice in camp. When the Agua Caliente Clippers traded for him so that he would stay in the organization even after training camp, it was a little clearer that the Clippers saw something there. But still, Ty didn’t get the Clippers’ second two-way deal (losing out to C.J. Williams), and he headed to Ontario with no real expectation to come back anytime soon.

It quickly became apparent that the fringe NBA prospect of the previous year had developed significantly, as Ty’s numbers with the AC Clippers absolutely dwarfed his stats from his rookie professional season with the Salt Lake City Stars. His performance got more and more buzz, and a call-up moved from unlikely to probable. When Jamil Wilson’s two-way deal ran out in early January, Wallace was a natural candidate to replace him, and the Clippers inked him shortly thereafter.

Unlike C.J. and Jamil, who were eased into NBA action, Ty was thrust into heavy-duty minutes right off the bat, logging over 31 minutes in his first game. He was starting by game four, and even after he was replaced by Milos Teodosic, he continued to be an important part of the Clippers’ rotation. His last two games on his two-way deal came in late February: Ty played over 30 minutes in each, scored in double figures on good efficiency, and was a strong plus in two Clippers’ wins. Instead of converting his two-way deal to an NBA minimum contract, however, the Clippers let him return to the G-League. Wallace wouldn’t return until late March, when the G-League season was over. By this point, the LA Clippers’ season was nearly at its end as well, and Wallace was not enough to help the Clips make the playoffs.

Strengths:

Ty is a versatile player on both ends of the court in a league that is becoming increasingly about players who can fill multiple roles. His size is the first thing that stands out. On a Clippers’ team that has long been on the small side on the perimeter, Wallace’s 6’5 frame with impressive length and wingspan is a refreshing change of pace. That size along with good lateral quickness enables Wallace to defend at least three positions (he could probably guard some power forwards too). In an NBA where switching is more prevalent than ever, that defensive adaptability makes Wallace a very useful player on that end. He has sneakily swift hands as well, allowing him to frequently strip ball-handlers. Ty being as good as he was on the defensive end (for the most part) in just his rookie season was truly a surprise.

On offense, Wallace has an equally diverse skillset. In his first handful of games in the NBA, he revealed himself to be a smart cutter, capable of diving to the rim without the ball at just the perfect timing for a sneak layup. He worked a nice synergy with Milos Teodosic and Lou Williams, both of whom were able to find him at the right moments for easy scores. As the season went along and Ty became more comfortable, he flashed more on-ball skills. He is legitimately deadly in transition, his long strides and length getting him to the rim and around defenders with relative ease. In the halfcourt, he can take smaller defenders in the post, utilizing a little hook shot as well as a stepback jumper. Most impressively, Ty demonstrated the ability to create of the dribble against a set defense, demonstrating a swift first step and impressive finishing inside.

While Ty played more as a lead guard in the G-League, in the NBA, he played a lot more off-ball, even when he was the nominal point guard. With experienced ball-handlers and better shot creators in Lou, Milos, and Austin Rivers, Ty played more as a secondary or tertiary playmaker. And in such a role, Ty proved a solid passer as well: He kept bad passes to a minimum, and generally made the correct reads. As a whole, Ty is just a smart, smart basketball player.

Weaknesses:

Ty only has three real weaknesses. The first, and most significant, is that he can’t shoot. Ty not only doesn’t possess three-point range, but doesn’t even have a real midrange shot. That came back to bite him (and the Clippers) numerous times this season, as defenders laid off him and dared him to shoot, and he couldn’t punish them. That cramped the Clippers’ spacing, making it more difficult for the entire offense to function. If Wallace is to take a step forward as a player, the biggest area of improvement must be as a shooter.

Ty’s second trouble spot is discipline on defense. He would frequently make questionable decisions to double non-threats, leaving good three-point shooters open from behind the line. For a player who is usually so smart, Ty needs to work on his awareness on defense, as he has all the tools and instincts to be a significantly plus defensive player. Further time in the NBA and knowledge of opposing players and play-calls should help. Finally, Ty’s ball-handling and playmaking needs work. While he has enough skills to fill in at point guard, he really doesn’t have the aptitude to consistently create shots for others at this stage, and that’s largely because his handles aren’t tight enough.

Fortunately, these are all things Ty can work on. And considering the massive leap he took between his first and second seasons as a professional player, he’s probably in a gym right now, practicing his jumpshot and improving his handle.

Future with Clippers:

The Clippers need to re-sign Ty. I don’t think it’s even a question. He’s young, he’s athletic (not explosive, but smooth), he’s got great size for the modern NBA, and he has a high basketball IQ. Ty was one of the 10 best rookies (by production) in an absolutely stacked class and has the potential to improve substantially in the years to come.

Right now, Wallace is in a unique situation due to his two-way deal. Never before has a player anywhere near Ty’s level hit free agency after their rookie season, and nobody seems to know what the market will be for him. He only played 30 games in the NBA, a tiny sample size, and his glaring deficiencies might scare some teams away. Still, at the end of the season, the Clippers had only offered Wallace (according to my knowledge and what’s known publicly) the same kind of deal C.J. got. That, frankly, isn’t anywhere near enough. I think there are teams who will throw multi-year, fully guaranteed deals at Wallace, and I think the Clippers should match. Even if he doesn’t improve, he’s a useful bench player. If he becomes a serviceable three-point shooter, and steadies on defense? The Clippers might well have a starter for years to come. Sign the man.