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Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele are growing up

There will be opportunities for young players in this condensed season.

LA Clippers Introduce Draft Picks - Portraits Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Clippers have publicly professed that player development is a core part of their philosophy moving forward. Sometimes, however, young players get lost in the shuffle when the goal of the season is to contend for a championship. For now, the Clippers are saying the right things to show support for the younger members of their roster; ultimately, it’s up to those players to make themselves indispensable.

Terance Mann was asked by the Clippers coaching staff to work on his shot this offseason, so that he can be a catch-and-shoot threat from every spot behind the 3-point line. Mann put in the time on his shooting, but he also wanted to improve as a pure point guard, a position that he was thrown into last year after playing on the wing in college.

“Watching film, becoming a better point guard, trying to read the game better, see what’s going on, learn from other point guards and stuff through film,” Mann said when asked what he focused on this offseason.

Mann has also taken matters into his own hands to make sure his presence is felt by being a more vocal leader in practice. He can’t be forgotten if everyone gets used to the sound of his voice.

“You can see in his second year he’s more comfortable,” Ty Lue said about the second-year guard. “He knows all the plays, he’s more comfortable in who he is as a player. And he’s picked up things very well, so you can see him on the side helping some of the veteran guys, some of the young guys, he’s talking to those guys, getting them in the right positions. So he’s really grown as a player, his shot’s improved a lot. Looking forward and excited to get him on the floor this year.”

A jump for Mann in his second season wouldn’t be surprising. He found a role during the 2019-20 season as a defensive stopper and was called upon as a backup point guard before Reggie Jackson came to Los Angeles. He’s still the best guard defender the Clippers have off the bench. Moving into the rotation would be a natural progression for the 24-year-old.

But for his 2019 draft class partner, Mfiondu Kabengele, finding a spot in the rotation is a much taller task. Kabengele was essentially a non-factor at the NBA level in his rookie season, and he didn’t even earn a trip to the bubble.

Nevertheless, Kabengele stayed engaged with the team while they were in Orlando, Zooming into practices, and working on his game throughout these past nine months. Mann said that Kabengele’s basketball IQ has gotten a lot better, as has his aggressiveness as a scorer and his ability to pass out of the paint.

Kabengele’s path to minutes could be easier than it was last year simply because of the state of the roster. Montrezl Harrell. JaMychal Green, and their 48.5 combined minutes are gone, and Serge Ibaka can’t possibly play that many. Beyond that, the Clippers are excited about the spirit Kabengele brings to the floor, something their group was lacking a season ago.

“It’s very great to see him on the floor, just his passion for the game,” Lue said. “He’s very versatile, can shoot the basketball. He talks a lot on the defensive end, which we need to get better at and improve at, and just having him around — the way he talks, the way he gets along with everybody on the floor, it’s contagious. Just having a guy who smiles a lot and is touching guys and, you know, very positive is great to see on the floor. So being around Fi for the last couple days has been great, and I’m glad he’s back part of the team.”

Now that he’s around his teammates once again, Kabengele — who was drafted as a potential stretch five — has the opportunity to learn from one of the best archetypes of that position in Ibaka. That, along with the team’s renewed focus on development, should accelerate his growth.

“Player development is great, the new player development people bring a lot of energy and a lot of assistance and a lot of knowledge to the game,” Mann said about the change from last season to this one. “All in all, a lot of energy around the building.”

High energy is a vibe that suits both Mann and Kabengele. After a year of being on the margins, they both could be more prominent players on the Clippers this season.