The Clippers inside presence this year was a mixed bag — with the bag typically having more raisins in the trail mix than M&M’s. L.A. started the offseason by letting “Mr. Clipper” DeAndre Jordan walk in restricted free-agency to the Dallas Mavericks. It was a partnership that yielded unexpectedly great results for player and franchise, but had run its course. The Clips could see the writing on the wall, DJ was not built for the new NBA and was expensive. Letting him go was a mutual decision.
In perhaps the worst move that the new Clippers front-office has made with Jerry West involved, the Clippers traded Austin Rivers for the aging and inefficient Marcin Gortat before the 2018-19 season. Yes, they needed a tall man in the middle. But, L.A. should have done a better job of surveying for a cheaper, younger option. Kind of like the guy they got in February: Ivica Zubac. The problem with Gortat? He looked close to washed, providing little rim protection, next to no offensive punch, and fouling a lot. The Clippers had no problem in waiving Gortat after the Zubac trade, and it was the right move in every way.
Aside from absolutely fleecing the Lakers out of a promising young big man that will be in the league for years to come, Big Zu made a HUGE difference. With Zu inserted into the starting lineup, the Clippers went 18-7 and solidified themselves as a playoff team despite not having a past or present all-star on the roster. What Zubac brought to the table was someone who could truly rim protect, was young enough to switch between fours and fives, could stretch out to 15 feet and hit a baseline jumper, and just had more energy than Gortat. He averaged career highs across the board in his 30 games total with the Clips, and many expect L.A. to match whatever Zubac gets in restricted free-agency.
However, the question still remains…is Zubac worth what some teams might give him this summer? He’s still young and obviously provided value for L.A. but he was completely schemed out of the playoffs and needs to improve in a lot of facets to continue to be a starting level center. With Montrezl Harrell solidified as the big man of the future for the Clips, whomever L.A. has starting kind of acts as a placeholder. It would be amazing to potentially upgrade this position, however, to have a two-headed monster look and be dominant inside. That’s why some like the Nikola Vucevic or Brook Lopez fit for L.A. in free-agency if they whiff on guys like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
However, with the Clippers seemingly only going after big fish in FA, it looks as though the starting center position will have to be upgraded internally, via trade or via the draft. L.A. still has Angel Delgado and Jonathan Motley, who showed some promise in the G-League and with the main team this season, but are both undersized and very young. The draft could be a spot where the front-office tries to get some more value inside, so it would not be a surprise to see L.A. try to get a center. Let’s take a look at three center prospects, projected for the back end of the second round, that L.A. should target.
Jontay Porter - Missouri
College stats (2017-18) - 9.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.7 BPG. Averaged 24.5 MPG. Splits of .437/.364/.750
Measureables: Height: 6’11”, Weight: 210 Standing Reach: 9’1” Wingspan: 7’0”
Mocks: The Ringer - 56, ESPN - 42 on big board, Sports Illustrated - 35 on big board
Comps: Lesser Nikola Jokic, a worse rim-protecting Brook Lopez
Pros: If it wasn’t for back-to-back ACL tears in the same right knee, Porter would probably be a consensus lottery pick. A true 6’11” stretch forward/center who has similar playmaking chops to Nikola Jokic and can hit a shot from everywhere on the floor, his fundamentals are European-esque, and his vision is that of someone far beyond his age of 19, especially when you factor in that he’s 6’10”. The funny thing is, the only film you can see of this dude is when he was 17 & 18. He did himself a huge disservice returning to school after his freshman season, a season that saw his brother Michael Porter Jr. hampered by multiple injuries. While this may be a Porter family curse, the fact of the matter is….when Jontay is healthy, he is an absolute baller and will be a steal in this draft if he slips into the 40’s. His handle is tight and fluid for a near seven-footer, his on-court IQ is extremely high on both ends, he has the quickness to guard 3-5 and can rotate very well, is an efficient shooter, and is an ELITE passing big-man. If he can stay healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised in five years if he played a hybrid-Jokic role for a team, he’s that good on the perimeter. He also, according to his recent Ringer profile, seems to have an incredible work ethic and be a high character guy. It’s looking more and more likely that Jontay falls all the way to 48, but mocks have him everywhere due to his health and lack of play for the last year and a half. Fingers crossed.
Cons: Obviously there are major, major health concerns. Porter is perhaps the biggest mystery in the draft because no one has seen him play in a long time. Will he surprise like Mitchell Robinson did this season in New York? Or will he even be able to see the floor? People say he’s worth the risk down the line but one more lower body injury could completely derail his career. Jontay is a prototype for today’s stretch big man. However, unlike a guy like Brook Lopez, Porter really lacks in protecting the rim effectively. He typically finds himself out of position on defense down low and for being so tall, averaged less than seven rebounds a game in his only season at Mizzou. He could also do himself a favor and hit the weight room a bit. He’s only 210 pounds, and could get beaten up down low by girthier players at the next level. Also, despite his ability offensively, he can play heads down when driving and is a bit reckless at times. Porter will take some time, but in my opinion, in 100% worth any risk associated.
Daniel Gafford - Arkansas
College stats (2018-19): 16.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.0 BPG. Averaged 28.7 MPG. Splits of .660/.591
Measureables: Height: 6’11” Weight: 238, Standing Reach: 9’2”, Wingspan: 7’2”
Mocks: The Ringer - 46, ESPN - 41, Sports Illustrated - 36 on big board
Comps: Skinnier, younger DeAndre Jordan, (Clippers legend) Cheick Diallo, Willie Cauley-Stein
Pros: Has the look of what you would want in an NBA rim-running center. Tall, long, athletic, finishes with authority, good hands, good awareness around the rim and positions himself well. He was the focal point of an Arkansas team that wasn’t great, but his 17 and 8 line in less than 30 minutes averaged bodes well for the future. Gafford slipped in mocks (I remember, before the college season, seeing Gafford in the mid-first round and actually being the Clips first round pick when they had it) because of his inability to stretch the floor, or the worry that he won’t be able to really distinguish himself from better rim-running bigs at the next level. However, Gafford has all of the tools to be a 10-year vet in the league if he can continue to add some strength and maybe get his offensive game beyond 10 feet (although he has shown some ability to hit some J’s). He is a huge lob threat every time down the floor, screens hard, and can catch most of what you throw to him. He is a good rebounder who gives max effort on the glass, can get his hands on passes in the paint, is an effective shot blocker because of his length and awareness, and projects to be a pretty solid rim protector. Gafford slipping to the 40’s wouldn’t be a huge surprise, and the Clips can capitalize on a long, tall DJ type who would be a rotation player almost immediately.
Cons: Gafford was a good scorer in college, with most of it coming at the rim. The problem with this is that rim-running centers usually take a decent amount of time to translate to the NBA. And they are a dying breed. Whether it’s the physicality, the lack of truly consistent touches, or their inability to spread the floor, such players are becoming more niche. Gafford can really make a difference in there eventually, but how long will it take? He would do himself many favors by stretching his game to 15+ feet and acquiring a semi-consistent J. He projects to be a good-to-great rim protecting big if he puts everything together, but doesn’t look the part of someone who would be able to switch effectively on defense, especially on the perimeter. Becoming quicker on his feet would do wonders for him. He also needs to be more grounded on the defensive end and stop biting for obvious fakes. He commits some questionable fouls and could have trouble staying on the floor in the league. That being said, Gafford would fit in well with the Clips, especially if Zu walks, and would provide the tall, long center L.A. would need.
Naz Reid - LSU
College stats (2018-19): 13.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG. Averaged 27.2 MPG. Splits of .468/.333/.727
Measureables: Height: 6’10”, Weight: 256, Standing Reach: 9’1”, Wingspan: 7’3”
Mocks: The Ringer - 52, ESPN - 49 on big board, Sports Illustrated - 38 on big board
Comps: A more aggressive Nikola Vucevic with better handle
Pros: Naz Reid is the type of inside-out big that can be successful in the league offensively. Not only can he handle the ball and make moves to the basket like a wing, he can shoot and has a good looking stroke. In college, it wasn’t surprising to see him knock down 25 footers or take a bigger man of the dribble into the lane. He is very active on the offensive end and can move fluidly without the ball. He gets great positioning in the mid and low post and uses an effective drop step to get clearance and to the rack. He has genuine guard skills for someone so large, and uses them well most of the time. Reid is solid in the pick-and-roll, setting hard screens and can knock down shots on the roll or pop. He is an aggressive player who is an active offensive rebounder and has the strength inside to overpower other, skinnier bigs. Naz is a great finisher who can rise, finish with both hands well and finish through traffic because of said strength.
Cons: My biggest concern with Reid is that we already have two more proven versions of him with Trez and Motley. While Naz has more range, is better on the perimeter, and can handle the ball a bit better than these two, he’s an undersized center who’s not particularly quick or athletic and is inconsistent offensively. At 6’10”, but without a lot of leaping burst or speed, will he be able to hang inside with starting or even 2nd unit centers? Reid is the type of big that can stretch the floor well and even make some passes and handle a bit, but can be beaten up inside. He’s also not an elite rebounder, plays head down when he gets the ball in the mid and low posts, can’t block shots at a high level, and commits a lot of dumb fouls. Reid had a tendency at LSU to jack contested jumpshots and force looks in general, and needs to improve his floor game. Overall, Reid’s game will take some polishing and some good coaching at the next level. He does have the game to be a player in this league, but he could also be out of the NBA in just a couple of years.
Bigs who could fall but will most likely be taken before the Clippers first pick: Luka Samanic (Europe), Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabengele
Honorable Mentions: UCF’s Tacko Fall, West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, Oregon’s Kenny Wooten