Since 2011, the Clippers have been a consistently good regular season team that has mostly drafted late in the first round, and hasn’t necessarily had great success in that range. Granted, picks from the late lottery on are not supposed to be the cream of the crop, but a criticism of head coach Doc Rivers has been his inability to mold rookies and second-year players into anything the Clips can use. First-round casualties like Reggie Bullock, C.J. Wilcox and Brice Johnson were all big time college prospects from big-time programs who festered on the bench or in the D-League and never got any opportunity to show anything.
In L.A., these three players had a combined two starts, scored 315 combined points, and were all traded or released after two seasons. Bullock has gone on to be a good player for multiple teams, Wilcox was out of the league for two seasons and is now on an Exhibit 10 deal with Indiana, and Johnson is nowhere to be found. Rather than giving the young guys minutes, Doc signed washed up flotsam like Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, Jeff Green and others, never to much success. To be fair, this could be more of an indictment on Doc than on his willingness to play youngsters (editor’s note: it probably is), and those picks look especially bad when Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, and other were picked after them.
In 2018, the Clips had an opportunity to capitalize on picking twice in the lottery for the first time since 2002. While they struck almost immediate gold by swapping picks with the Hornets — exchanging Miles Bridges for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — their second pick was one that raised eyebrows. Instead of picking up someone like Michael Porter Jr., who reports indicated owner Steve Ballmer was very high on, sharpshooters like Kevin Huerter or Landry Shamet (that one ended up working out well huh?), or high flyers like Lonnie Walker or Zhaire Smith, the Clippers settled on prolific First-team All ACC scorer Jerome Robinson. Jerome was mocked in the lower depths of the first-round but had potential given his ability to score at will at the highest level of college basketball. However, questions of lack of effort on the defensive end and a smaller stature for a shooting guard — as well as scouts’ beliefs that the Clippers potentially reached for Robinson — was reason to think that Jerome was a project who the Clips weren’t going to be counting on heavily in year one. Between that and the depth of the Clippers’ backcourt, it quickly became apparent that Robinson playing time could be far and far between and this could be another development issue for Rivers and company.
As it played out, Robinson was the second to last lottery pick in the 2018 Draft to receive playing time in an NBA uniform. In 33 games played, Robinson only averaged 3.4 points, 1.2 rebounds and .6 assists in 9.7 minutes. A reputation for being a sniper (shot 40.9% his last year at Boston College on nearly six attempts a game) never matriculated in his rookie season as Robinson only shot 31.6% from three. A net rating of -3.4 and a defensive rating of 111.2 certainly didn’t help his case for playing time either. Mostly resigned to garbage time and end of clock, quick shot opportunities, Robinson’s rookie season was not one to write home about.
His lone bright spot came in a semi-big way, however. He surprisingly played in five of the Clippers’ six playoff games against Golden State, averaging more points, rebounds and assists than the regular season and shooting 50% from three, including a Game 4 appearance where he scored seven straight points to spur a minor comeback. It was nice to see that he wasn’t phased by the big moment or opponent and that he could actually play in those games. However, it was still a small sample size at 9.2 minutes per game. It wasn’t enough to garner hype going into this season but can’t be ignored either.
Going into year two, the big question is if Jerome will continue to be a roster afterthought. Will he spend more time in the G-League than the main 15? Will guys like Rodney McGruder or even Terance Mann steal his thunder? All of these are very possible. The first inkling of an answer actually came this past July with the Summer League.
You expect a high draft pick, going into his second season, to take over situations like Summer League against somewhat inexperienced competition. Unfortunately, unlike players such as Frank Jackson for the Pelicans, Lonnie Walker for the Spurs, or Chris Boucher for the Raptors —all of whom averaged north of 23 a game in July — Robinson struggled. In four games, JRob averaged 12 points per game on 35% shooting. He only grabbed a rebound a game and dished out two assists per as well. Meanwhile, rookies Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele and even two-way player Amir Coffey all outperformed him consistently. That’s a tremendously bad look for someone looking to scrape the rotation and prove themselves going into year two. Mann took control of the offense and showed a Swiss Army like ability to do everything on both ends of the floor, while Robinson struggled with his shot and a stomach bug during the week. As of right now, McGruder and Mann should be ahead of Robinson on the depth chart because they can play better defense, are way more athletic, and do the little things better, something the Clippers pride themselves on.
Another question that needs to be answered: does Robinson fit with this current Clippers roster? The way it’s outfitted right now, that answer is tipping towards no. Robinson is all finesse. That’s not to say he isn’t tough or willing to do the dirty work; we just haven’t seen it from him yet. His offensive game is smooth. He glides with his handle, has a great looking stroke, and can maneuver without the ball. However, the identity of this team is blue-collar, lunch-pail dudes who would rather get in a fight than lose a 50/50 ball. Up and down this roster are dudes that keep their head down, go to work, do the little things, play tough D and are aggressive as hell. Robinson hasn’t shown these capabilities yet. His defense is shaky and he never seems to relish contact or hustle. If Robinson can get better on defense and show a bit more hustle and aggressiveness, his playing time should increase.
So, going back to the initial thought pondered...will Jerome Robinson get a chance to shine in a Clipper uniform? It’s up in the air, to say the least. Jerome didn’t do himself any favors with his play last year or this summer, and the Clippers are a team that is not keen on growing young talent right now. Last year, they were ready to give young guys like SGA, Shamet and even Ty Wallace time because they produced immediately and effectively. This year, while SGA is now gone, the Clippers traded for two of the best two-way players in the league in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — two guys that can also play the shooting guard position. They added Mann in the draft, they re-signed McGruder, traded for Harkless for more wing depth (still not good for Jerome despite Hark being a three, technically) and also re-signed Beverley as well as guaranteeing Lou Will through 2021. Right now, it’s really hard to see a path where Robinson gets consistent minutes to develop, even going into seasons three or four.
It stinks because not only does all of Clipper Nation want to see Jerome succeed, given where the team picked him just last year, his potential, and his friendly persona, but also because of seasons past where young players’ careers were effected by the lack of development from this organization. I think I speak for every Clippers fan when I say that no one wants to see Robinson become a non-factor in L.A. While it is very possible that he becomes trade bait for someone like Andre Igoudala or a backup center this season, Jerome has been someone that fans like on this team. If his exodus does improve the roster, then it’s understandable, and frankly Robinson might get a better opportunity to shine elsewhere. However, if it can be avoided, I think fans would like to see Robinson improve in the City of Angels. Hopefully he gets that chance sometime in the year or two to come.