This has not been a very pleasant season for the Clippers, or the NBA at large. Between large outbreaks of COVID, injuries to superstars, and the overall roster churn and discontinuity those factors have prompted, quality of play has been low. The Clippers have not only missed Kawhi Leonard for the entire season, but they have dealt with injuries or COVID to all of their major players but Eric Bledsoe and Terance Mann. However, amidst the darkness, there’s been a bright spot – the play of third-year wing Amir Coffey.
Coffey, incredibly, is the third most tenured player on the Clippers after Ivica Zubac and Mann, as he was picked up by the Clippers on a training camp/Summer League deal the night of the 2019 NBA Draft as an undrafted free agent. A couple short weeks later, after a strong performance in Summer League, the Clippers inked Coffey to a two-way deal, which was then re-upped this past offseason. Coffey didn’t play much in his rookie season, and mostly in garbage time, but he did contribute nearly 400 minutes last year, including some actual rotation time. However, in 2022, he’s already surpassed his minutes played from last year, and has became a legitimate piece to the Clipper’s puzzle. Here are a few ways that Amir Coffey has taken his game to the next level in his breakout 2021-2022 campaign, with a quick note that all stats were compiled prior to Thursday night’s game against the Suns.
One of Amir’s great strengths as an NBA player is his size. A quick and athletic 6’7 guard, Amir can defend across multiple positions due to his height and length. However, considering those dimensions, he was an extremely poor rebounder his first two NBA seasons, pulling in just 4.8 per 100 possessions his rookie season, and 5.5 last year. This season, thus far, he’s upped that all the way up to 7.6. Now, that number still isn’t amazing, but it’s still a massive improvement. The Clippers have played small a lot, and every rebound counts. Coffey, to my eye, appears a bit bigger and stronger this season, and that additional mass could be why he’s been better able to battle on the boards. Regardless, his improved rebounding means Amir Coffey is now playable as a small-ball four instead of just as a guard.
Development as a Connector
Coffey’s ideal role has seemingly evolved from a pure energy guy to a more nuanced “connector” type that does a lot of little things and ties units together on both ends, much like fellow Clippers Nic Batum and Terance Mann. While Coffey is not nearly as good a passer or playmaker as those guys, he has been able to serve in a similar function on offense by making quick reads. Coffey doesn’t hold onto the ball too long or do things outside his skillset – he shoots, drives, or passes. Notably, his assist rate is up from last year (7.4% to 8.5%), but his turnover percentage has dropped from 11.1% to 6.0%. Lastly, his usage rate, or the possessions he uses on the court, has dropped each season in the NBA – he is no longer pressing or trying to make things happen when they aren’t there. This mistake-free and low-usage style of basketball is critical for the connector role.
Defense is much harder to quantify, but it’s notable that advanced all-in-one metrics (more on those below) uniformly rate him as a positive on that end. Again, I think the added strength is notable – Coffey is much harder to shove off spots this year, making him a tougher defender in the post and on the perimeter. At the same time, he hasn’t sacrificed any lateral quickness, enabling him to check smaller guards on the perimeter. This versatility has been incredibly important during the Clippers injury-ridden stretch, as it’s allowed Coffey to defend across four positions and for the Clippers’ staff to deploy him in a variety of lineups. Coffey might not ever be a true stopper, but multi-positionally competent defenders are always going to have value in the NBA.
Three-Point Shooting Frequency
For his career, Coffey is a 37.3% three-point shooter, which is above league average. The issue is that he just doesn’t take enough of them. Considering Coffey’s limitations as a ball-handler and shot creator, the vast majority of his shots should be catch and shoot threes or shots around the rim in transition or attacking closeouts. Fortunately, Coffey is moving the right direction, as he’s increased the percentage of his shots taken that are threes from 35.2% to 54.4% to 64.8%, which is a good number for a player like Coffey. It’s better to be a solid three-point shooter on medium volume than a high-percentage shooter on low volume, and while Coffey is still below that bar, he’s on his way. If he becomes a bit more comfortable letting fly, it will help the spacing for the lineups he’s a part of.
Outside of the more basic stats, advanced metrics bear out Coffey’s improvement. All-in-one advanced stats are not perfect, but when they all signal the same thing, that means something. Per WS/48, Coffey has gone from a 0.041 in 2020 to 0.85 in 2021 to 0.13 this season. BPM has Coffey leaping from a -4.1 to a -2.0 to a 0.1. Fivethirtyeight’s RAPTOR stat places Coffey at a -0.1 (0.5 Wins Above Replacement) this year after being a -2.9 last season and a -3.1 his rookie season. Finally, EPM has Coffey at a -0.6 this season following, which translates to 0.5 expected wins added. Essentially, the stats all agree that Coffey has improved significantly each season, and that this year he’s been a slightly to somewhat above replacement level player. Considering he’s just 24 and in his third season, and on a two-way deal, that’s excellent production and a good sign for his future development.
If the Clippers are fully healthy this year, with Kawhi Leonard active, Amir Coffey will probably not be in the rotation, with projected units of Reggie-PG-Kawhi-Morris-Zu and Bledsoe-Luke-Mann-Batum-Hartenstein ahead of him. However, Coffey’s size and versatility means that he can step in at any position 2-4, and has earned the right to be the Clippers’ 11th man. He probably won’t get much more than situational usage in the playoffs if the Clippers are healthy, but with this season, it seems almost impossible to believe any team will be totally healthy. And if not, Coffey will be right there to provide low-error, competent minutes across several positions.
After his third season on a two-way deal, Amir Coffey will be ineligible for another year on a two-way, and will be an unrestricted free agent. Considering his play this year, it seems likely that at least one NBA team will sign Coffey to a regular NBA contract. Whether that team (or one of those teams) is the Clippers remains to be seen, but considering that Coffey is a good fit, a known positive locker room presence and chemistry guy, is still young, and will probably be fairly affordable, it makes all the sense in the world for the Clippers to re-sign him. Of course, if Amir can get a larger deal from a team, he should probably take it – he’s probably not the kind of player who will ever secure a truly major contract, so anything above the minimum is a win. Hopefully, however, he’s back in a Clippers uniform next season and for years to come.