The Clippers did some unexpected things in the 2018 NBA Draft. First, they traded up, but not for a top-tier pick. Instead, they moved up just one slot, getting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from the Hornets in exchange for the 12th pick (Miles Bridges) and two future 2nd round picks.
I liked this deal. I honestly prefer Miles to SGA as a prospect, but Gilgeous-Alexander is good. He’s smart, he’s a versatile player, and if his shot improves, he could legitimately be a fringe All-Star level player. That’s a solid, solid pick towards the end of the lottery. There’s not much else to say.
Then the news came that the Clippers were taking Jerome Robinson at 13. That was less exciting. First, Robinson is another guard, and a guy who really needs the ball in his hands to be at his most effective. That not only conflicts with SGA (who can play off-ball, but is really a point guard), but also with the Clippers’ current roster, which is stacked with guards. At least two of Lou Williams, Pat Beverley, Austin Rivers, and Milos Teodosic will be on the move in the coming weeks, as there simply isn’t enough room on the Clippers’ roster for all these guards. But that’s fine: draft best pick, not need.
But my issues with Robinson are two-fold. First, he’s been projected towards the end of the 1st round for weeks. Even if some team in the late teens liked him, nobody within a handful of picks of the Clippers would have picked him. Therefore, if they loved him that much, a trade down to acquire other assets would have been preferable. Maybe they had intel that a team close on their heels in the order would have picked Robinson if available. It’s certainly possible. But on the surface, the pick seemed like a reach, and one that could have been made later in the draft.
Second, I just don’t think Robinson was near the caliber of prospects who were still on the board at 13. He can shoot from three, but he’s not that great at anything else. And even his shooting is a bit suspect, as he improved an exponential amount from his first two seasons in college to his junior year. Maybe the improvement was legitimate, maybe it was just an extended hot streak. For a guy who needs the ball in his hands, he’s not a great passer, though he is solid at operating the pick and roll. Worst of all, he’s a truly horrible defensive player, probably the worst of any perimeter player in this draft outside of possibly Trae Young. He can’t stay in front of anyone, and he’s too weak to hold his own against larger players in the post or going to the rim. As he bulks up he could improve, but he’s already 21, making it a little less likely that he fills out in a way a 19 year old might. The big hope will be that NBA coaching and teammates will get him to an acceptable level, but right now he gives up more points than he scores. He projects as a better shooting, worse creating, latter-day Jamal Crawford.
And while I trust and respect the Clippers’ front office, especially Jerry West, who is one of the smartest, most knowledgeable guys in the NBA, that doesn’t change how I personally feel. The appeal to authority — “so and so has been around and has all these accolades, so they clearly know best” — is a bad, tired one. NBA execs make terrible decisions all the time, yet they all rose to those positions through hard work and an incredible amount of time around basketball and the NBA. Sometimes even the best make bad decisions. Robinson, by consensus across respected online outlets, sites, and writers (ESPN, SI, The Stepien, The Athletic, etc) was not worthy of a top 20 pick. Many of those same sources didn’t even have him as a 1st round selection.
I hope Jerome proves me wrong. He’s a good, smart kid according to everyone who talks to him, and he was beloved by teammates at Boston College. Jerry West, again, knows what he’s doing. If anyone were to pull off a reach like this, it would be the Logo. But right now, I’m less happy than I might be.