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Terance Mann is starting to look like a player capitalizing on the perfect role

Steady play has always been Mann’s calling card, but over the course of the last few weeks, the third-year swingman has started putting it all together.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The “swingman” distinction is so grossly overused in basketball that I’m not even sure we really know what it means anymore. No, seriously, I had to look it up to make sure. I was right, thankfully, and correctly re-established the definition in my brain as “a player who can play both the shooting guard and small forward positions, in essence swinging between the positions.” Of course, there’s more to it than merely being a player with a chameleonic identity, but it’s a good start.

Terance Mann, however, is the kind of player who takes on the “swingman” appellation, but as he commits to it, he destroys it. Not in a way that renders its meaning useless, but in a way that allows it to go through metamorphosis, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. He can swing from position to position while also swinging a game. He shatters the expectations we’re meant to have for a role player, most likely because of his ever-increasing potential and the sense that he’s probably too good for the role he’s in.

I say all of this knowing full well that Mann has had his fair share of stinkers (including last night against the Utah Jazz), but he’s starting to build a consistent enough sample to show that he’s putting it all together. It’s no secret that he’s been asked to do more for the Clippers this season than in either of his first two — even if his usage hasn’t skyrocketed (up to 14.9 percent from 14.5 last season), his minutes certainly have (up to 26.1 from 17.9 last season and 9.3 the year before).

Orlando Magic v Los Angeles Clippers
Terance Mann is figuring out how to apply his trademark burst over more extended minutes.
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The same goes for his... well, his averages in practically every statistical category. He’s hardly the scorer that Paul George (another multifaceted swingman) is, or the quasi-creator Reggie Jackson is, or the rebounder Ivica Zubac can be when at his best. But he does every single one of those things at well above average levels.

Over the past few weeks, Mann has really begun to blossom as an individual playmaker. Since Thanksgiving — 11 games, four of which he started in — he’s averaged 10.2 points per game, scoring in double-figures five times, and corralling fewer than five rebounds just once (he pulled down four against the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 1).

His passes have consistently set up his teammates with open shots better than some point guards do:

His rebounds have consistently started breaks:

And his shots have consistently seemed to be “good” shots, for lack of a better descriptor:

I’m sure you read those lines and wondered, “does he realize he’s used the word ‘consistently’ three times in as many sentences?” I did and I do. It’s the least I can do in an effort to emphasize how consistent Mann tends to be, and how consistent I hope to be when writing about such a consistent player. If only I could be as consistent in every facet of my life. Perhaps I’ll start on New Year’s Day.

As a driver, he’s not always committal — in the best way, as in he’s not always committed to a shot. He’s situationally adept, passing on 51.7 percent of his 4.1 drives per game so far this season. He’s a deft cutter, as well. Look away for a moment, and *poof*, he’s disappeared. Sometimes on those cuts, he elects to rise up and score tough buckets in close; other times, he dishes. He passes more (28.1 per game) than he’s passed to (23.6), and it often pays dividends for his team.

On top of it all, his defense has been stout all season, with rare shortcomings bleeding through in the form of missed assignments, but I mean rare. In November, I wrote about the Clippers’ stalwart defense and how it could portend for long-term success. My notes about the Clippers' overall defense have stayed consistent, as they sit fourth in the league in defensive rating (105.3). My notes about Mann, however, have only become more true as the season persists.

Mann remains attached, energetic, and poised all at once. He has to be one of the most bothersome draws for an offensive player, given his length and athleticism, and how brutal his effort can be in impacting a shot. And his impact isn’t limited to his assignment, either. He’ll squirm around screens and stagger his closeouts in order to stay glued to the hip of his own man, while somehow contesting another’s shot at the same time. It’s absurd that at 25 years old and in just his third season, he’s already testing the waters of skills most players don’t master until their sixth or seventh seasons, if at all.

Perhaps what Mann does best is what he’s done for much of his life: punch above his weight, as they say. When he was a senior at Florida State, he hardly burst onto the national scene, nor into national regard. He averaged 11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 31.7 minutes per game during the 2018-19 season, but he shot the ball well and was a frequent force on both ends, just as he has been in his three years since being selected by the Clippers in the second round.

Mann told The Undefeated earlier this month that he figured he’d be drafted at some point, but that no matter what, he “knew because of my personality and how hard I work that if I didn’t get drafted or wherever I went I was going to make it work somehow, some way. That was my mentality. At the point I was drafted, I was happy. I was in the door. That is all that was needed.”

2021 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v LA Clippers
Terance Mann’s ceiling is sky-high, and his current situation with the Clippers is giving him an opportunity to reach it on a more regular basis.
Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

If his play in his increased time since last year’s postseason is any indication, Mann has swung open the door, then kicked it down, and stormed into every room necessary. He’s admitted that it’s been a process where he’s learned and grown immensely; he recently told Clips Nation’s Sabreena Merchant, it’s about “letting the chips fall where they fall. It’s not easy. I’ve never been in this position, playing all these minutes, so it’s not an easy process. But I’m just now getting used to it, getting my feet on the ground, and I’m just going to try to ride the wave and get better at it, for sure.”

He is getting better at it; that much is evident. And if he can be as consistent as he has been in the past, it’s something he will continue to do, improving on a steady incline to the point where the Clippers will be forced to pay up even more than they have already if they want to keep him on their books. They’d be wise to do so. He isn’t just showing signs that he’ll get better now. He’s showing signs that there’s so much more that he’ll build on in his long, productive future.