Something seems to be in the water in California.
Up in Oakland, Jordan Poole, the third-year Warriors guard, is experiencing a bit of a boom in prospective promise. Through the NBA’s preseason so far, he’s putting up 23 points on 51.6 percent shooting — not to mention 40 percent from three — 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. And before you say “it’s only preseason,” note that while not everyone may be going 100 miles per hour, the competition is still robust. Against LeBron James and the Lakers on Tuesday, Poole dropped 18 points in 19 minutes. He was even better against the Lakers last Friday: 28 points in 25 minutes. He’s been a machine, and it feels as though he’s blossoming into one of the league’s most promising young players in real-time.
Just under a six-hour drive south, down in Los Angeles, is Terance Mann, the Clippers swingman who, at the ripe age of 24, feels primed for a breakout season. General managers seem to believe it, too. They listed Mann as a player receiving votes for being among the most likely to experience a breakout season in their annual preseason survey, alongside names like Atlanta’s DeAndre Hunter, Cleveland’s Darius Garland, and Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. They did so likely keeping in mind his bevy of breakout performances in increased minutes last postseason — which included a 39-point explosion to close out the Utah Jazz, one that featured a 20-point third-quarter scoring barrage and helped erase a 25-point deficit. Like many, GMs portend to see a true emergence as Mann’s role increases with Kawhi Leonard sidelined.
It would be unfair to give this list too much power, but it would also be unfair to discredit it entirely when past predictions have most definitely panned out. Last season, leading vote-getters included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (it’s not his fault he was hurt and shelved by Oklahoma City), Michael Porter Jr. (that one hit), Devin Booker (book it), and Deandre Ayton (ditto). So Mann’s inclusion, from a fan’s perspective, speaks volumes; even if Mann doesn’t buy into it.
“You said, GMs?” Mann said, grinning when asked about the survey following a preseason game. “The ones that didn’t draft me? Until the 48th pick? I don’t care about that sh—... that stuff.”
. @Farbod_E - “GM’s voted you among those likely to have a breakout year. What’s that like?”— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) October 7, 2021
Terance Mann - “You said GM’s? The ones that didn’t draft me? 48th pick? I don’t care about that shit.” pic.twitter.com/0UPm9Avfdm
Good answer. The kid is on his way. He’s a bit pluckier, and his retort is a bit more loose-lipped, but it’s not all that far off from how I imagine Leonard might respond if asked something similar. Maybe Mann is learning from the Clippers superstar in more ways than one.
Entering this season, everything truly does appear to be coming up Mann. He’s freshly extended, having agreed Tuesday to a two-year, $22 million deal to remain with the Clippers through the 2024-25 season. According to Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times, Mann’s $1.9M option in 2022-23 is now fully guaranteed. He’s sticking around for a bit, and with that time, growth is bound to come. Perhaps he even flourishes with the security of a new deal. Or, better yet, perhaps he’s just on his way to flourishing, fat wallet or not.
“He deserves it,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said Tuesday. “When you get a guy like Terance who grinds his way to where he is at today, all the hard work he put in from being a point guard his first year to playing the five last year, making seven 3’s in a close-out game, you’re just happy for guys when they get paid, they get a chance and opportunity to play in this league for a long time. He definitely deserves it.”
Lue’s trust goes beyond words. It’s already been put into action this preseason, where Lue has unleashed Mann as the de facto floor general on the second unit — he won’t be in Lue’s starting lineup to start the season, but we’ll see how long that lasts. With 6:19 left in the Clippers preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets, Lue entrusted Mann with point guard duties, and for the remainder of the game, Mann outscored the Nuggets 12-10. In a clip you’ve undoubtedly seen by this point, he even did his best Dirk Nowitzki impression, causing the entire NBA community to do one of two things: salivate or sweat.
“I thought he did a good job,” Lue said of Mann’s effort against the Nuggets. “I thought on defense, got some stops down the stretch and was able to get advanced passes, attack early... T. Mann, like I said, gonna keep growing. You know, keep getting better. And we just got to get him on the floor. He’s gonna make things happen.”
That seems to be the trend, does it not? Every time Mann sees time, he tends to make the most of it and then some. To start last season, he was still the recipient of sparing minutes as a reserve, with the door only opening for him to see increased time in late January because both Leonard and Paul George had to miss time due to health and safety protocols. Mann thus started two games of the team’s road trip, but it didn’t stick.
Fast forward to February, with George missing time due to a bone edema in his toe, and Mann taking complete advantage. He scored 15 points and tallied seven rebounds and three assists against the Miami Heat. Although his minutes would dip again upon George’s return, the trend persisted. The saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Well, if we equate more minutes to great power, Mann fits the bill.
His ascendance will come down to shooting and defense, areas in which he remains consistent, but not necessarily consistently great. If he improves his shooting primarily, the rest might end up being gravy. Before the All-Star break last season, Mann was shooting the ball better than his career averages — 38 percent on threes, 80 percent from the line — but after the break, he shot those averages up to roughly 44 percent and 85 percent, respectively. For the most part, he sustained those clips well into the postseason while scoring a thrilling 19.7 points per 100 possessions.
It’s not just that the sky is the limit for Mann — everyone says that about every player who ever shows flashes of greatness on the pro level, and 97 percent of those predictions fall flatter than a disappointing diner pancake. It’s that Mann has consistently proven those assertions right when given the room to show his abilities and where they can peak. He has the downhill gusto of a jackrabbit on rollerblades and the physicality of a mustang wearing football pads. There hasn’t been a player in Los Angeles with as much unforeseen, raw promise since, oh, I don’t know, DeAndre Jordan?
There’s ridiculous potential here with Mann. Merely the idea of it is sexy, but seeing it in action is another story, so much so that perhaps this surprise bridge year with Leonard sidelined isn’t such a bad thing after all. Of course, you want your best players to be healthy, and you desperately need them in order to contend for a championship. But when those aspirations unexpectedly go awry, what could be a better outcome than the opportunity for another youngster to experience their own real-time ascendence? That is what’s on the table for Mann. Both great power and great responsibility loom. It’s only a matter of time.