Name: Milos Teodosic
Years in NBA: Rookie
Key Stats: 9.5 points, 4.6 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game (42% FG and 38% 3PT) in 25.2 minutes per game (45 games played, 36 starts)
2017-2018 Salary: $6,000,000
Future Contract Status: Player option for next season valued at $6.3 million. If he opts in, only $2.1 million is guaranteed.
Coming to the NBA for the first time is always an adjustment. Whether coming from college or overseas, players have to adjust to different styles and bigger, more athletic opponents. Milos’ season was pretty impressive by those standards—despite some issues, he had a strong positive impact as a rookie—but it’s actually even more impressive when we consider the other contextualizing factors. Not only did Milos have to deal with adjusting to the NBA game, but his role had to evolve as the season went on, from the team’s opening-night starting shooting guard to eventually handling major point guard duties after Patrick Beverley was injured.
Additionally, Milos spent the entire season struggling with a plantar fascia injury that he suffered on just the second night of the season. It initially kept him out for over a month, and after his return it restricted his minutes, forced him to sit out back-to-backs, and ultimately cost him almost half of his rookie season. Even when it wasn’t forcing him off of the court, that injury may have been limiting him on the court—explaining some times when his already-poor defense was almost so bad as to make him unplayable.
There are a lot of good things that Milos brings to a basketball team, but maybe the simplest way to put it is that the Clippers were simply better when he played. They had a 29-16 record in Milos’ 45 appearances, compared to just 13-24 in the 37 games that he missed. Now, there are some other factors at play here—both the Clippers’ early 9-game losing streak and their 1-6 stumble to close the season came with Teodosic sidelined.
Still, the eye test confirms the notion that Milos made the Clippers a better team. Whenever he was able to stay on the floor defensively, his offensive presence seemed to inspire a contagious increase in ball movement and offensive production that went well beyond plays that he actually scored or assisted on. On an individual level, Milos brought a dynamic wrinkle to the Clippers’ offense that was in short supply at the guard positions—phenomenal passing in the pick-and-roll. The only Clippers who averaged more assists than Milos were Blake Griffin and Lou Williams, who each averaged over double Milos’ shot attempts. His 26.2 AST% was right with Griffin and Williams for best on the team, while he had the highest 3PAr on the team with one of the best percentages from deep.
There’s also reason to believe that Milos’ shooting would improve if he returned for a second season—he shot just 28.6% from deep in December before drastically improving his percentages as the season went on. His combination of quick release, high volume, and high efficiency makes him a really valuable floor-spacer when he isn’t on the ball.
Look, there’s no hiding it. Milos doesn’t defend. It’s never been a strength of his in Europe, and passing 30 years old, moving to the NBA, and suffering a chronic foot injury wasn’t going to help matters. It seems as though fast, high-scoring guards are becoming more common on NBA teams, leaving fewer opportunities for the Clippers to hide Milos defensively. At times, especially when it seemed that Milos’ foot was troubling him, there were times when his offensive presence failed to make up for him being a sieve defensively, causing his presence to be detrimental to the team. Fortunately, it should get a little bit easier next season, when Patrick Beverley should be available to take on the tough defensive assignments, allowing the Clippers to play Milos and Lou Williams together much less.
Beyond the defensive woes, Milos definitely struggles with turnovers on the offensive end. He has a tendency to try for flashy, no-look passes, or to attempt to fit the ball into tiny windows—amazingly impressive displays of passing when it works, but significantly less likely to work than simpler plays. His TOV% was significantly higher than the Clippers’ other ball-handlers.
Future with Clippers:
Milos has a pretty unique contract situation, where both parties have the opportunity to sever ties this summer. First, Milos will have to make a decision on his player option in late June. If he chooses to opt in, the Clippers will have until July 15th to release him and only owe him a third of his $6.3 million salary for 2018-19.
Ultimately, I think Milos takes the money to come back to the Clippers—he’d have to really be homesick for a move back to Europe to pass up that salary, and he won’t top it in free agency this summer. Once he opts in, I expect that the Clippers will keep him. He’ll be a useful veteran roster piece for next season as they attempt to balance competing for a playoff berth with developing young talent.