The LA Clippers have recovered from an awful start to the season to become the fun and gritty team we’d grown accustomed to. A seven-game winning streak revived a few players who began the season poorly, while Paul George has staked his case for early-season MVP consideration. Yet, as the LA Clippers have been busy flipping narratives, the Agua Caliente Clippers have done the same. They’ve garnered what feels like more attention than usual and, sticking with the topic, I figured I should talk a bit about the NBA G League and the Clips’ participation in it.
The past Agua Caliente seasons have seemingly been nothing more than an opportunity for end-of-bench players to go down and play minutes that they’d never get with the big club. You know the names; Daniel Oturu, Mfiondu Kabengele, Jerome Robinson, Angel Delgado, etc. Many of the former Clippers would simply serve their time, occupy a roster spot, and then be moved on from a short while later. Now, it feels like the NBA G League isn’t just a routine sentencing for young guys before being moved; it feels like there’s an actual purpose. For the first time in a while, the Clips have players playing in the G League that could actually be in the team’s long-term plans. Here’s a look at three key guys who have received minutes for the Agua Caliente Clippers thus far this season.
The 21st overall pick in the 2021 draft, Keon Johnson has had a relatively quiet beginning to his career, which isn’t exactly a surprise given that Johnson is a raw 19-year old rookie who’d have a long shot at cracking a contending team’s rotation in year one. He did have some flashes during the Summer League but has hardly been seen since then due to injuries he battled throughout most of the preseason and some of the beginning of the regular season. So, for several reasons, perhaps no other Clipper needs these G League reps more than Keon.
Fortunately, Keon is back on the court and has looked increasingly more refined as a basketball player. The sample size is small (just two games), and the competition isn’t NBA quality, but the same can be said for the Summer League, where he looked a lot less polished as a player. More than anything else, he has shown a lot of growth as a ball-handler through the two G League games. Johnson’s use of pick-and-roll has been noteworthy and is an important development, seeing how Ty Lue seemed to be running Keon some at the point guard position during training camp. His jump shot also looks a bit smoother, specifically when he takes shots off the dribble. Overall, the development over the months has been encouraging, and it’ll be important for Keon to keep getting these reps as he makes his way into the NBA rotation in years to come.
Like Johnson, Brandon Boston Jr. is amid a solid start to G League play. He’s played four games and has averaged 13.75 points. What’s important regarding Boston’s G League action, though, is his need to play well in areas of the game where he’ll be asked to deliver when he sees the NBA court. In an ideal world, Boston will step foot onto a contending Clippers team this or next season, and he’ll have to be a reliable 3-and-D guy. Hopefully, he can add a bit of muscle to his frame and progress as both a team and individual defender as the season progresses.
Additionally, his off-the-bounce bag will always be part of his game and is good to have for times when the Clips need some scoring creation, but it’s more important now that he has utility and play-ability when the ball isn’t in his hands. He’ll need it if he wants to share the court at some point with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
The surprise addition to the Agua Caliente roster has obviously been Serge Ibaka. But given the context, it makes sense to see his name in the lineup. The context, of course, is that Ibaka asked to go down to the G League on assignment as he looks for reps to knock off some rust in his return from surgery.
It’s hard to jump to any conclusions regarding Ibaka’s stint, but I’ll try anyway. His shot hasn’t been falling and by no means has he looked like an NBA player playing against inferior talent, which probably isn’t the intent. However, the eye test is more important than whatever the box scores say. I’m not looking for Serge to go out and dominate to the tone of 25 points and 15 rebounds per game. Rather, I find it more critical that Serge looks to be moving well on both sides of the ball without any issues. Game reps will ultimately get him back into the groove of things as far as shooting, chemistry, and timing go. It seems like he has a ways to go.
That’s it for this check in on the Agua Caliente Clippers. We will try to keep more updates coming as the season progresses.