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A Brewtiful Cup of Coffey

Amir Coffey’s 2021-22 season was one fans and media alike won’t forget, as his timely play kept the Clippers afloat

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Feel-good stories make everything more palatable to digest.

And perhaps the best story of this long, exhausting past season for the L.A. Clippers was Amir Coffey.

Coffey, who turns 25 in June, put forth the best season he’s had as a member of the Clippers. After spending three years at the University of Minnesota, Coffey was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Clippers in 2019 and converted into a two-way deal.

Now, in his third campaign in the NBA, Coffey seemingly found his groove. He averaged career-high marks across the board. His 9.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists on 45% shooting might not make you take notice right away, but he did that over 69 games, including 30 starts, as the Clippers navigated one of the worst injury-plagued seasons in the NBA this year.

Coffey had an 18-game stretch from Dec. 31 through Jan. 31 where he averaged 14.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and shot 50%. The Clippers went 8-10 during those games, and while that might not seem like a big thing, it’s also what kept them afloat during one of the league’s most daunting stretches for any team — 18 games in 14 cities in 32 days.

The question that surrounded the team, at least if you looked hard enough, was wondering how the Clippers were going to handle Coffey’s contract situation. Coffey, as a byproduct of being in the third year of his two-way contract, was going to be out of eligibility this coming offseason. As a result, the Clippers had to make a call on whether to extend him a real, guaranteed contract or let him ride it out and hit restricted free agency. The answer came in late March.

On March 26, the Clippers waived forward Semi Ojeleye and converted Coffey’s contract into a guaranteed deal. It meant that the team would have Coffey available for the play-in tournament and, if they had made it that far, the postseason. It rewarded Coffey for his play during this season, a deal that coach Tyronn Lue had a feeling was always on the way.

“I knew for a while,” Lue said. “He definitely deserves it, he definitely earned it, and the timing is right.”

Lue used Coffey as something of a Swiss Army Knife for the team. Coffey logged 29% of his minutes at shooting guard, 58% at small forward, and 12% at power forward, according to Cleaning The Glass. He also had 2% of his minutes come at point guard, so you can clearly make the case that he played three wing positions and another position sporadically. That’s a valuable player.

If you were to make a hierarchy of the most important Clippers this season, there’s a chance that Coffey sits firmly in the top five. His ability to play multiple positions, hit some 3s, guard several different varieties of players, and attack the basket aided the Clippers at various points.

This season, Coffey made 39% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. Being able to consistently make 3s was probably the biggest question mark that Coffey had coming into this season, at least on a high volume level, but he passed that query with flying colors.

Prior to this season, Amir Coffey had played in 62 games at the NBA level and only attempted 75 3-pointers, connecting on roughly 39% of them. But the workload wasn’t there to think anything of it beyond it being a small sample size — something that was easily dismissed due to the lack of real attempts. Even accounting for his two prior years in the G League, Coffey had only attempted 217 total 3s over 85 combined games. However, that changed this season.

Coffey took more 3s this season (254) than he had in those 85 games, and that rapid increase in volume allowed him to bump his value to a team that clearly loves wing players and the flexibility that they can bring. In fact, until his minutes decreased back to a normal level over the final two weeks of the regular season, Coffey was nearly on pace to attempt more threes in this NBA season than he had in his three years in college (287).

It should be noted that the best season of Coffey’s collegiate career, at least on 3s, came in 2017-18 when he made 37% of his tries. But that comes with the caveat that he only attempted 57 treys during that time. His other two collegiate seasons saw him come in at 95 and 135 attempts, respectively, but Coffey’s best mark in those two years was only 33.7% which came in the year he attempted 95.

But that seemed to change for him in his first G League season where he made 40% of the 75 treys he tossed up. Yet that volume isn’t anything to write home about. During last NBA season, Coffey made 41% of his 3s, but even that was only 56 attempts. Better yet, Coffey had just four games last season in which he had at least four 3-point attempts. This season, Coffey attempted at least four 3s on 34 different occasions. That’s a staggering jump.

The fact that Coffey, who is 6-foot-7, has turned himself into this level of a shooter is pretty astounding. Knocking down 38% of your 3s might not seem like some crazy feat, but consider where Coffey started at and where he is now, and you can see some real tangible growth by the 24-year-old. A lot of that is due to Coffey’s attitude and work habits, but some is due to the work of player development coach Shaun Fein, who has helped quite a few Clippers over the last couple years.

While Coffey’s 1.8 assists per game aren’t going to jump right off the page, it’s the way he was able to impact passing possessions beyond the numbers. Coffey, as a distributor and playmaker for others, was really impressive. In his 30 starts, Coffey averaged 2.6 assists and posted a 3.3-to-1 turnover to assist ratio. Very respectable numbers for a third and sometimes fourth option, as he was during large swathes of the season.

Part of why he was so good was because of how the Clippers used him, choosing to let him flow down off of pindowns and dive into the paint where he can hit a roller or spray out with a skip pass to a shooter in the corner or on the wing. Players attempted 167 threes off of Coffey passes this season, making 73 of them — a cool 43.7%.

This doesn’t mean Coffey is the magic elixir and some next-level playmaker. He’s not inherently making players better at shooting the ball, but they are getting more open looks off of his passes due to the gravity he brings as a driver. The Clippers’ mantra of ‘Drive, Kick, Swing’ lives through Coffey’s play.

Speaking of drives, that was probably the area of Coffey’s game that jumped off the page the most. He only averaged 3.1 drives per game, according to Second Spectrum, but he shot 53% on them and passed on a third of his drive possessions. But the kicker is that he only turned the ball over 5.7% of the time he drove to the rim. That was the lowest mark on the Clippers among players to log at least 200 drives.

Coffey was able to draw fouls driving to the rim, as well. As a matter of fact, Coffey had a similar rate of drawing fouls on drives as LeBron James and Nikola Jokic did. Obviously he’s not up to their caliber, but it gives you some idea of how valuable what Coffey brought to the table was in that regard. Coffey was able to use his body, frame, nearly 7-foot wingspan and general savvy in order to finish around the rim.

Coffey converted 72% of his chances inside the restricted area this season, and while some of that did occur in transition, there are plenty of instances of him being able to get downhill in the half-court and attacking the rim. But transition is where Coffey really shined throughout the season, and especially on a team that did struggle to get out and run at times.

There’s no two ways about it: Amir Coffey has darn near elite body control when going up in transition. The way he’s able to bring the ball around without losing a beat and either going up strong through contact or using finesse to lay it in over a defender, Coffey has big time juice in the open floor. And the numbers really show it.

Among the 160 players this season to log at least 100 transition possessions per Synergy, Amir Coffey ranked fifth in points per possession with 1.38. The only players above him were Jaxson Hayes, Obi Toppin, Bruce Brown and Carmelo Anthony. That’s two young big men, a do-it-all forward and a sharpshooting veteran. A quarter of Coffey’s possessions this season came in transition, according to Synergy.

The added dimension and dynamism of Coffey’s transition effectiveness was a great weapon for the Clippers this season, and it’s something that the team could potentially reap the rewards of next season should Coffey be back on the team. His ability to get out and run while on the floor with guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George soaking up the attention of defenses could be a massive benefit.

At his exit interview in April, Clippers’ president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank talked about the “journey” that Amir Coffey has embarked on, citing Coffey going undrafted, toiling in the G League and ultimately breaking through as a rotation player in the NBA.

“Amir has shown he’s a rotation player in the NBA,” Frank said. “For him to step in, regardless of the role of starter, off the bench, you’re really happy.”

Coffey being able to adjust on the fly to whatever the circumstances of the season threw at him should not go unnoticed or unappreciated. His role this season was not to be of a guy who finished with the fifth-most minutes on the team, but rather that of a player who probably saw more time in the G League and chipped in here and there when needed. Coffey logged 1567 minutes this season. No player on a two-way contract saw more time.

But does any of what Coffey accomplished this season surprise him?

“No, not at all,” Coffey said. “I work pretty hard, man. It comes when you trust in your work. The amount of shots that I get up, film, everything. I know what type of player I am, whether I’m playing or not. I just feel like I’m always ready. Ready to compete.”

The ability and impact that Amir Coffey displayed shouldn’t be forgotten just because the Clippers’ season is now over. There’s silver linings and bright spots to be found across the board. That’s the type of thing that can happen in a season like this when the two stars are unable to take the floor for large stretches.

Coffey now enters an interesting offseason. He’s slated to be a restricted free agent while the Clippers also hold his full Bird Rights, meaning they can go well over the salary cap to re-sign him and also match any offer a team throws his way. It’d be somewhat of a shock if the Clippers don’t bring him back for next season, primarily because of what he showed by always being ready to come in and wreak havoc.

That penchant for being ready at a moment’s notice kept the Clippers alive far longer than they ever should have been. They staved off multiple defeats because of his play, and the franchise earned their 11th consecutive winning season as a result. Being ready at the drop of a hat is not lost on Coffey, and his “stay ready” attitude was a gift to the team all season long.

“When you call my name, I’m going to go out and compete,” Coffey asserted.

And compete he did.

You can find Justin Russo’s daily content on the LA Clippers by subscribing to his Patreon feed, and you can also follow him on Twitter at @FlyByKnite.

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