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Las Vegas Summer League Game Recap: Clippers Drop Opener to Warriors, 77-71

The Summer Clippers stumbled in their first game together as a team.

2018 NBA Summer League - Las Vegas - Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Summer league basketball is almost never aesthetically pleasing, but for much of tonight’s game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, it was worse: the entire atmosphere in the arena was lacking as the tenth and final game of the day, featuring no headliner stars, played out in front of an almost empty Thomas and Mack Center.

It’s hard to take much away from the Clippers’ performance tonight as a group, but that’s fine—this team’s success is meaningless. For the record, however, the Clippers did manage to win two of the four quarters in tonight’s game, giving them two “quarter points” which count in their favor in a potential tiebreaker for playoff seeding.

Here’s some brief notes on what different Clippers showed us on an individual level tonight:

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Boy, is this guy a special basketball player. The box score stats, which aren’t great, don’t speak to the poise and comfort that SGA displayed tonight. While he shot a disappointing 5-19 from the field, most of his attempts were quality mid-range looks, where his patience and length allow him to consistently produce the shots that he wants. The issue comes with the efficiency from that spot—the mid-range game has largely become extinct in the NBA because it can’t mathematically compete with attempts from the rim or three. Shai needs to be more selective with his mid-range shot and use it as a counter to help himself get to the rim, and he definitely needs to work on his effectiveness from range. All that being said, there’s just a certain aspect to Shai’s game that’s undeniable:
  • Jerome Robinson: I was a little surprised at how small Jerome’s role was today—he barely got chances to produce on the ball, mostly serving as a finisher of offensive plays than a creator of looks. It’s certainly a safe role for him as a rookie, but it would be nice to see a little more experimentation with his offensive game, letting him try to break down defenders off of the dribble. Robinson also only shot 2-7 from deep tonight, which was disappointing, but we have a large enough sample size to know that he’s a very good shooter who just missed some shots today. The rest of his game—the aforementioned creative development, and his performance defensively—will determine what his role can be in the NBA.
  • Sindarius Thornwell: Thornwell was easily the player of the game for the Clippers tonight, totaling 18 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assist, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. But it’s hard to see which portions of his offensive game will translate consistently against real NBA competition. He has a tendency to bully his way to the rim, which is less effective against bigger, stronger NBA athletes, and despite hitting two threes tonight, his shot form doesn’t seem to have been corrected since the end of the regular season. It’s the other end of the floor—his energy, defensive quickness and positioning, and strength/length to switch across positions are the real assets that make him an interesting prospect. Combined with the length of Shai at the point guard position, and Jerome’s solid size at SG, it gave the Clippers a versatile, deflection-happy perimeter defensive unit tonight.
  • Jawun Evans: There’s no putting it lightly: Jawun was really bad tonight. He shot 2-6 from the field, had 0 assists and 2 turnovers, and finished -19 in 12 minutes. In a game that the Clippers only lost by 6, that’s a big swing for the second unit to give up, and Jawun was the catalyst in their shortcomings. Fortunately, it’s just one summer league game, and it doesn’t mean much. We know that Jawun is capable of more after his performances at the NBA level last season. However, his summer league performances, combined with off-season workouts and training camp, could determine whether the team has room for him on the roster next season. He’ll have to prove his value over Sindarius Thornwell, who has more traditional NBA size and was more impressive tonight, to be safe.
  • The Bench: This Clippers’ team isn’t replete with fringe NBA talent, and it shows. Outside of the team’s big three of SGA, Robinson, and Thornwell, only Vince Hunter (9 points, 8 rebounds on 3-3 shooting in 12 minutes) really contributed positively. The substitutes, aside from Hunter and Evans, shot 0-11 from the field. All Clippers aside from Hunter and the big three combined for 5-30 from the field. It doesn’t really matter what the makeup of your team is—you aren’t going to have success when contributions from your supporting cast are that sparse.
  • DNP-CD: It’s hard for a coach to play 15 guys every night, so even in the summer league, players often have to rotate turns riding the pine. Tonight, that was David Michineau, Jordan Matthews, Tyler Harris, and Bogdan Bliznyuk. I expect that all of them will get opportunities in coming games, especially if the team starts to lower the minutes of their higher-profile prospects to protect them from potential injury.

The Clippers’ next game is Sunday, July 8th, against the Sacramento Kings at 8:00 PM on NBATV.