The NBA Draft may have only been two weeks ago, but man, am I ready to see Shai Gilgeous -Alexander and Jerome Robinson make their Clipper debuts. We need to temper our reactions to any player’s summer league performances (I know better than anyone), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be excited to get a chance to watch the two highest-drafted Clipper rookies take the court.
And, unlike with some past Summer Leagues, every Clippers fan will be able to check out the rookies’ debut: this game is Friday’s nightcap, being broadcast live on ESPN at 8:30 PM Pacific time. The Clippers’ other two LVSL preliminary games, on Sunday and Monday, will be shown on NBATV.
In fact, SGA and Jerome aren’t the only two prospects who we’ll be excited to see get plenty of burn in Las Vegas this week. Second-year players Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, each of whom contributed as rookies after being second-round draft picks a season ago, are also set to be on the roster, joined by David Michineau, the Clippers’ 38th overall pick from 2016 who has been stashed in France for the last two seasons.
Summer league success is often heavily guard-dependent: a lot of undrafted free agents and second-round rookies struggle majorly in match-ups against top prospects and older players with more experience and physical maturity. This was put on display with the Clippers’ 2016 team in the Orlando Summer League, whose entire guard rotation was built from undrafted free agents, with the exception of second-round rookie David Michineau. All of those guards struggled immensely, and the talent disparity was so large that the Clippers were unable to run any kind of consistent offense and they ended up losing every game. Last summer, the Clippers brought in Kendall Marshall, an experienced NBA and G-League guard, to bring a steady hand to the offense in case Jawun Evans and David Michineau had growing pains. It was effective, and while the Clippers won’t have a player with Marshall’s level of experience this summer, they will have a pretty strong guard core featuring five drafted players, including Evans and Thornwell’s NBA experience from last season and Michineau’s two prior summer leagues.
While the talented guard prospects are certainly the highlight of this Clippers’ summer league team, there’s reason to expect that head coach Casey Hill, who is the head coach for the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, will employ some pretty fun strategies. The only other guard on the Clippers’ SL roster is Jordan Matthews, a local, undersized sharp-shooting off-guard. The roster also only features two real big men: monster rebounder Angel Delgado, who is on a two-way contract with the Clippers for next season, and stretch big man Grant Jerrett.
That essentially guarantees that the Clippers will spend most of their time in Vegas playing a small, up-tempo style around Delgado, filling out the forward positions with a combination of shooters, athletes, and three-guard lineups featuring Jerome Robinson or Sindarius Thornwell at small forward. The Clippers don’t really have roster spots for these players to earn camp invites and have a shot at making the team, but it’s possible that a true standout could give himself a shot at a non-guaranteed deal and a training camp invite. Additionally, plenty of these guys could end up on ACCO next season, as was the case with several of the Clippers’ summer league favorites last summer.
In their first game, this Clipper crew will go up against the Golden State Warriors—and they’ll actually be at somewhat of a disadvantage. The Summer Warriors have already played three games together at the Sacramento Summer League, giving them a trial run in advance of tonight’s Las Vegas opener.
The high-profile names on the Warriors’ Summer League roster are Damian Jones (the team’s first-round pick from 2016), Jordan Bell (the 38th overall pick in 2017), and Jacob Evans (the 28th overall pick in 2018). Evans was limited in Sacramento due to a couple minor injuries, but hopefully he’s healthy and ready to go for some fun match-ups in Vegas.