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A Tale of Two Scrubbs

What should the Clippers take away from Jay Scrubb’s shaky Summer League campaign?

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - LA Clippers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

In his lone go as a starter last season, Jay Scrubb kinda did it all. He scored 17 points, second-most on the team behind — you guessed it — Luke Kennard. He played 39 minutes and 46 seconds, also second to Kennard. The six rebounds he corralled were second only to Serge Ibaka, who pulled down seven. He led the team in one statistic: steals, of which he had three.

For one second, try to forget the fact that it all came against the lowly Houston Rockets, plus the fact that the Clippers lost, 122-117. Try to forget that this performance hardly materialized into anything groundbreaking beyond this one game in the middle of May. And try to forget that his limited minutes last season, these 39 included, were spent alongside Yogi Ferrell more often than Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr., Patrick Beverley, and Nic Batum combined.

Okay, you can’t forget. That’s fair. But conceptually, the world in which you can is nice, isn’t it?

In smattering bursts of minimal consequence, Scrubb rebuilds that world and makes the naive — I’m raising my hand — wonder how in the (real) world he doesn’t play 39 minutes a night more often. But that’s the problem with a tiny sample size. Four games mean as much to a player’s legacy as four grains of rice do to pilaf, which is why Scrubb’s late-season turns last year (zero, four, 14, and 17 points in his games) mean very little as his post-Summer League status on the Clippers hangs in the relative balance. He’s on a two-way contract, but by all accounts, he’s an “other” on this roster; a G-League stud waiting to happen while an unknown commodity for a team with title aspirations.

His uneven Summer League campaign does these questions absolutely no favors. In his first outing — against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, no less, though Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton these youngsters were not — Scrubb finished with 24 points on a blistering 10-of-18 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. Again, the Clippers lost, but Summer League is less so about winning games than it is about discovering who from the C team can help the A team win games when the opponent is of a bit more veneration. Taking his first game into account, you’d figure Scrubb’s status in Ty Lue’s rotation to be a no-brainer.

And it very well may still be. But follow-up performances of 15 points (4-of-20 shooting), eight (3-of-7), six (2-of-13), and five (2-of-8) would instill doubt in even the most optimistic roster architect. Particularly when it works against the grain that Lue put out into the narrative lexicon after Scrubb’s start against Houston last season.

“You can tell what kind of player he is going to be: He’s going to be a scorer,” Lue said of the then-rookie, who had spent much of the year sidelined with a foot injury. Scrubb had little to no time to develop in a rehabilitation period due to the compacted G League season and the fact that his injury caused him to miss out on its bubble, but Lue, for whatever reason, never seemed concerned. For one, the team went ahead and signed him to his initial (and current) two-year, two-way contract knowing that he would be out for at least six months. And then, in some of his first professional action, he played 40 minutes of clean, efficient basketball.

“He is not going to be a problem at all,” Lue continued. “I like what I saw, he is not scared, he is not afraid, that’s a big step and he’s a hard worker. It’s good to see him come out, have his first start, and played well.”

No one would have been blamed had they elected to adopt and carry that same tune after Scrubb’s first game of the 2021 Summer League. Yet his aforementioned follow-ups pose some cause for concern. For you, perhaps it doesn’t, and you’re wondering why in the world I care so much about the long-term professional success of a second-round draft pick who won 2020 junior college player of the year honors. To which I say: why don’t you care? On his best nights, have you watched this kid play?

On those best nights, Scrubb looks like a 6-foot-6 D’Angelo Russell-Monta Ellis-Luke Kennard hybrid who someone lit on fire and told could have the flame extinguished as long as he made everyone else look foolish. His skill portends a player who can explode off the dribble at any moment and follow it up by snaking through defenses that are silly enough to clog his path from the key to the rim. He has the motor of a pronghorn and the patience of a wasp; when you combine his speed and his sense of where and when the best scoring opportunity will come, it’s a thing of beauty. Sometimes, it’s almost before the ball has even tipped off.

And then there’s the jumper — it’s not merely the lefty stroke that warrants the Russell/Kennard comp, but his ability to pull-up when facing tight coverage, occasionally drawing fouls, and often wreaking havoc on defenses. Where the comp is unwelcome is as it pertains to consistency. In that regard, Scrubb has more in common with J.R. Smith: streaky, blistering when hot, dry ice when cold. But there’s still something to love and to value there, a profuse offensive force with confidence stretching far beyond his abilities, occasionally creating a mirage that can benefit the team’s overall goal.

Maybe Scrubb boasts a lower ceiling than some of his Summer League contemporaries, and his lone flash really is one that exists solely in a pan. But if nothing else, he’ll deserve an opportunity to consistently rebuild the world in which you can forget all about his lows and the caveats that come with his highs. He may get that opportunity, too, depending on how long Kawhi Leonard remains sidelined this season, and depending on how long Scrubb takes up a residency with the Agua Caliente Clippers. Until then, he exists as an “other” — a project, a youth, and in the fantasy only he can mold into reality, a stud waiting to happen.