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Brandon Boston Jr. seeks to outperform his second-round status

The 51st pick of the 2021 NBA Draft may very well end up as one of the biggest steals in recent history.

Minnesota Timberwolves v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to our 2021-22 Clips Nation season preview series, where we’re digging into something that interests us about each player for this coming season. Next up, can Brandon Boston Jr. prove his lottery-level talent this season?

Less than two weeks ago, the 51st pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, Brandon Boston Jr., was informed by Ty Lue that he would be starting in the Clippers’ first preseason game against the Denver Nuggets. “When he told me that,” Boston Jr. stated, “I was just like, ‘let’s do it, I’m ready.’” His NBA readiness was apparent in that debut, as the 19-year old dropped 10 points and grabbed four boards before ending with a late-game defensive stop to secure the win.

Typically, late second-round picks end up being used as trade fodder, rarely remaining in the league long-term. Boston seems different, at least for the LA Clippers. Having already signed a guaranteed deal with the team after being drafted, the rookie is in prime position to one-up his underwhelming NCAA performance. Although it’s a small sample size, his preseason average of 12.0 points per game already exceeds his mark of 11.5 as a Kentucky Wildcat.

Some may contend that the trust Boston has received from the Clippers’ organization is too much for a late-second rounder, but his talent should not be minimized. Coming out of Sierra Canyon High School, flanked by Bronny James and Amari Bailey, he was a five-star recruit, ranked among the top seven high school prospects across the nation in 2019. His skill was on full display with Sierra Canyon, showing why he would be comfortable taking the leap from a freshman in college to the NBA, rather than staying for another year to improve his draft prospects.

His performance so far throughout the Summer League and preseason seem to have validated the Clippers’ genuine trust and belief in Boston as an NBA player. He’s averaged the third-most minutes in the preseason among the entire roster, and he’s taken full advantage of those minutes, scoring 20 points against the Kings last week. His shooting seems to have transitioned well into the NBA, supported by a consistent stroke that has left him without a single miss from the free throw line.

He’s shown a level of fearlessness in the paint as well, best encapsulated in an impressive dunk against Jarred Vanderbilt of the Timberwolves, who outweighs Boston by nearly 30 pounds and measures three inches taller than him as well.

It’s clear that shot creation and shooting are clearly his strongest traits, which are more fit for the fast-paced basketball of the NBA compared to the college game. Eric Bledsoe noted that the spacing of the NBA has helped his fellow Kentucky product make the transition so far, demonstrating how confident his teammates are in his NBA-ready offensive skillset.

The parallels between Boston’s frame and skillset with that of Brandon Ingram (or perhaps Kevin Durant) are hard to ignore, and an Ingram-type talent drafted within the last 10 picks would be one of the biggest steals of any draft. Of course, that comparison comes the defensive shortcomings that his player archetype might include, but it’s no reason to fret. At 19 years old, he has plenty of time to bulk up and strengthen his defensive capabilities, which he’s already shown with active hands and surprise blocks that one might not expect from him.

Recognizing both his strengths and his weaknesses, it then begs the question: can Boston actually contribute to a veteran-heavy team when he’s not even old enough to purchase a beer? It might be more likely than you think.

With Kawhi Leonard out, Boston will have more than enough time to warm up to the NBA game, observing his team’s stars navigate the season while he receives low-pressure minutes on the court. It’s likely that his opportunities will be reined in by Lue when the games actually count, and players like Justise Winslow, Luke Kennard, and Terance Mann will presumably take up the biggest chunk of minutes backing up the wing positions. This will be valuable for the young player, ensuring he will be ready when the time inevitably comes for him to step up—just look back at Mann’s preparedness in the 2021 NBA playoffs which earned him a contract extension, even though he had been sporadically out of the rotation during the regular season.

Above all that, though, is the chip on Boston’s shoulder that he will take with him in his NBA career. He has something to prove — it took just one year for Boston Jr. to fall from a top high school recruit to barely even being drafted into the professional league. He is fueled by those who wrote him off, but also by a recent tragic experience that isn’t easily forgotten. He witnessed the fatal car crash that claimed the life of Terrence Clarke, his teammate on Kentucky who would have been an NBA prospect.

Brandon Boston Jr.’s place in the league is not just because of his basketball skill, but also because of his motivation to succeed. He had an underwhelming year at Kentucky, he was largely overlooked at the NBA draft, and the friend who he thought he’d share this experience with is no longer around. Now, with a window ahead of him, all Boston can do is put in the work to make the most out of an opportunity that can be taken away all too suddenly.