As a member of the Clippers training camp roster, Jordan Ford seemed like a shoo-in to play heavy minutes immediately in the G League bubble. Other than Ford, the team doesn’t have a pure point guard, but the Clippers still minimized his role early in favor of Agua Caliente vets.
But as the season has gone on, the team has found fewer reasons to keep Ford off the court. Part of that has to do with Amir Coffey getting called back up to the NBA team and Tyrone Wallace suffering a toe injury, but Ford has been indispensable to the team’s success. His minutes have gone up every game over the first five, from eight minutes in the season opener to 31 last time out against Raptors 905. His field-goal attempts and assists have also increased (or remained constant) each game as he takes a larger role in the team’s offense. Ford is knocking down spot-ups and pull-up jumpers, whipping out that charming floater, and setting the table for the other Clippers.
“He’s an excellent offensive player,” Agua Caliente head coach Paul Hewitt said Wednesday. “He’s one of those guys that just has a feel for the game, and even though guys may be bigger, more athletic, his ability to be elusive off the dribble, and of course the shot-making ability gives him a chance to really be successful.”
Ford popped off for 16 points (he had nine total in the previous three games), four assists, and three steals in Tuesday’s blowout win over Salt Lake City. In Wednesday’s loss to the 905, Ford led all Clippers with 23 points and six assists and was a team-high plus-9. The Clippers were down by as many as 24 in the second half but cut the gap to three with two minutes to play on a Ford fast-break layup.
It’s unreasonable to expect Ford’s stats to continue to rise (there is a fixed limit on minutes, after all), but he’s had a positive plus-minus in the last four games, even as the Clippers have alternated wins and losses. It helps having a point guard out there who knows the offense and can get players in their spots. Ford credits some of that comfort to the Agua Caliente running much of the same playbook he learned during the NBA preseason.
“It’s pretty much the same sets with a little tweaks on different things,” Ford said. “We run a few less sets, because we have less time with each other, but overall it’s mainly the same thing.... That two weeks I was with the bigger team, it definitely helped me a lot because I was more adjusted coming in, I kind of knew what was going on. And that got me ready for the bubble.”
Ford’s increased role has also been a boon for Malik Fitts, his St. Mary’s teammate who also joined the Clippers for NBA training camp. Fitts had a DNP-CD to start the bubble and only played two minutes in another game, but he’s coming on strong and had his best performance against the 905. He was knocking down threes while still providing a dynamic presence in the paint, highlighted by an ambitious alley-oop from Ford.
“Malik got off to a tough start obviously, but the thing I appreciate about him when he didn’t play much early, his spirit on the bench is really good,” Hewitt said. “He came into practice and worked hard, and he’s earned his way back onto the court.”
“When we’re out there on the court, we just encourage each other,” Ford added about Fitts. “We have a really good relationship, so you know if we need a pick me up, we’re there for each other, and also just trying to run pick and pop. I know his game better than anybody here, so you know I’ll try and tell him things that I see on the court, and try to help him throughout the game.”
Ford also has another pick-and-pop partner who recently arrived in the bubble: Jalen Smith. Smith was the 10th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, so he has the highest pedigree of any player on the Agua Caliente roster. He’s also now the tallest Clipper, which could help in certain matchups.
Smith only joined the team three days ago, but his former AAU coach Doug Martin is on the Clippers staff, which has provided some familiarity in this whirlwind of a process. The Clippers limited him to eight minutes in his first contest against Salt Lake City since he had just exited quarantine, and he doubled his court time against the 905. In that game, Smith made 7-of-9 field goals, including both of his threes, helping to validate his stretch 5 reputation after he made 36.8 percent of his 3-pointers as a sophomore at Maryland.
Hewitt called Smith a “smooth” basketball player, and you can see that in the way he moves on the floor.
Smith should only get better with time since he says he doesn’t know the playbook yet and is basically just running around on the court, trying to impact the game with his effort. His next opportunity to showcase his growth will come Friday as Agua Caliente takes on the Canton Charge at 4 p.m. PT. All games are broadcast on ESPN+.