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Clippers Stock Watch: The LA first-years have taken hold in the Clippers rotation

Even as the Clippers remain in playoff contention, the team has found regular minutes for its youngest players to develop in a winning environment.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Stock Watch, a regular feature where we’ll check in on which Clippers are playing well, not so hot, or just can’t crack the rotation.

Trending up:

Jerome Robinson

The Clippers other first-round draft pick was sidelined with a foot injury for about a month and spent some time in Ontario with the Agua Caliente Clippers to recuperate before returning to the big-league team. He may not have been part of the team’s regular rotation when the season started, but Jerome Robinson has found his way onto the court much more consistently since he came back to Los Angeles.

Robinson has the highest net rating of any Clipper this season, plus 7.7 per, which is probably a lot of garbage time noise since he’s only played 110 minutes. However, those numbers have mostly held up in the last week (plus-8.4 net rating in the last four games) as Robinson has been a routine member of LA’s reserve unit. He has averaged 11.5 minutes per game since he came back to NBA team and scored at a very efficient rate (67.7 percent true shooting) in those contests. Robinson doesn’t put up a ton of points, but he does have a surprising amount of gravity for a rookie, which juices the offense while he is on the floor. The Clippers want him to continue to be aggressive as a scorer in order to open up the other parts of his game, so expect Robinson to continue to look for his shot.

When Doc Rivers was asked if he was playing Robinson and fellow first-year Clipper Johnathan Motley more minutes recently for developmental purposes, Rivers said, “No, just trying to win, and they’ve earned their minutes. Everyone gets a shot — we’ve given everyone a shot — and right now, this is their turn because I think they’ve earned it.”

The caveat to Robinson earning more minutes is that he is mostly taking them away from Ty Wallace, another young player who could use the time. Wallace has been a statistical darling for LA all season as one of the team’s most active defenders who also pushes the pace on offense, even if he has difficulty scoring. It makes sense for the Clippers to prioritize Robinson’s development over Wallace given their contract situations and the fact that LA invested a first-round pick on Robinson, but it would be ideal for both players to get an opportunity together. Either way, it’s good to see Robinson take advantage of the role he currently has.

Trending down:

Boban Marjanovic

The Clippers finally seem to have a reasonable center rotation. Marcin Gortat starts and gets to match up against the biggest five on the other team, which plays to his strengths. Montrezl Harrell is usually one of the first subs off of the bench, and he brings energy and power rolling to the rim. Then, when Harrell needs a break, LA doesn’t necessarily have to wear him out or go back to Gortat — Motley can come in to keep the energy level high and run the floor with the second unit.

Of course, that rotation has one large missing piece. Boban hasn’t played since an ill-advised stretch against the Golden State Warriors Jan. 18. He got spot minutes against Philadelphia (Joel Embiid) and Denver (Nikola Jokic), but that’s about it for 2019. It’s hard to see how Boban will pass any of the three centers above him, save for a particularly good matchup, but Gortat’s reemergence as a passable starting center makes that unlikely. Boban is probably still better than Motley, but Motley offers the theoretical possibility of switching onto the perimeter, whereas that ship has sailed for Boban.

Keep an eye on:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s play has ebbed and flowed in recent weeks, but it’s worth noting that his best stretch came when Lou Williams was injured, thus giving SGA an opportunity to be the lead ball-handler for longer stretches. He is at his best when he goes downhill and attacks the paint, where he can either settle in for a midrange jumper (he shoots 43 percent from that distance) or use his size to kick out and keep the offense moving. Defensively, Shai has struggled in Danilo Gallinari’s absence because he often has to guard bigger players to the start the game.

Regardless, Shai has a lot of good vets in his corner, and the flashes of being a special point guard are coming more and more frequently. Consistency is one of the biggest issues for a rookie, and it’s a natural process for Shai to have to go through.