Every year, ESPN does their annual “NBA Future Power Rankings”. Bobby Marks and Kevin Pelton (both of whom I respect for their basketball analysis) rank each team based on five categories: players, management, money, market, and draft. Based on how the teams stack out comparatively, they get assigned a score which then determines their overall rankings.
Well, this year, the Clippers placed 21st. This was because even though they were 4th in money, and tied for 4th, 9th, and 11th for market, management, and draft, respectively, they tied for 24th in “players”, and that’s the category that’s worth the majority of the ranking. Now, I have no quibble with the weight of that category: the future outlook of a team depends heavily on who is currently on their roster. Instead, I’m a bit puzzled as to why the Clippers were that low in that ranking.
The Clippers do have a lot of veterans on their roster who aren’t likely to be on the next great Clippers team. But their roster isn’t decrepit either, and they actually have a pretty good mix of established veterans and youngsters. Miami is in a very similar boat to the Clippers, with a lot of veterans as well as a youth movement, yet they came in at 17. Their better players tend a bit towards the youthful side than the Clippers, but I’m not sure the gap is that significant. The Pistons coming ahead of the Clips is puzzling as well, unless one thinks really highly of Stanley Johnson still. I’d probably put the Clippers somewhere in the late teens for the “players” category, personally. They could stand to have a bit more upside for this purpose, but current players matter too (demonstrated by Houston being 2nd even though their roster is far more veteran-heavy than the Clippers), and the Clippers are solidly in that 17-18 mix there.
Honestly though, the good news is that everything else is looking good for the Clippers. Their future cap sheets are pretty clean, their draft picks are mostly in their control going forward, and Pelton and Marks hold their management in pretty high esteem. If anything, I’d dock them a bit in “market”, since while they do play in Los Angeles, the Lakers’ presence prevents them from enjoying much of that size. Still, Marks wrote in the blurb on the Clippers that they could jump to the top 10 next season if their rookies play well and they make good use of that cap space, and I don’t think those are unreasonable expectations for the coming year.
The bottom line: while I believe the 21st overall ranking is somewhat low, Pelton and Marks seem to believe the Clippers are in a good spot, and I agree with them. For those who don’t have access to ESPN Insider by the way, here is the quote on the Clippers in full:
“The Clippers dropped six spots despite building their team the right way through the draft, preserving cap space until 2019, making shrewd trades and putting together a management group that ranks in the top 10. So this ranking is more a reflection of the current roster that will compete for one of the final playoff spots and a future that only has Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell and lottery picks Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander under contract.
Expect the Clippers to jump into the top 10 next summer if their rookies excel and management can take advantage of a projected $50 million in cap space.”