After a whirlwind of a day in the NBA, let’s take a look at how the Clippers did in the 2020 NBA Draft and recap the action. The team walked away at the end of the night with Luke Kennard, Daniel Oturu, and Jayden Scrubb.
The Deals Not Made
The biggest thing that happened for the Clippers on Wednesday was certainly trading Landry Shamet for Luke Kennard, upgrading their bench shooting role for a player with more size and playmaking. But looming over the deal was another not involving the Clippers: Minnesota’s acquisition of Ricky Rubio in exchange for the 17th pick, with other moving parts in the deal. After Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday joined the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, respectively, for trade packages far more lucrative than anything the Clippers would have been able to piece together, Rubio was the last player left on the trade market who provided a clear upgrade at starting point guard.
A veteran playmaker who creates good looks for others, has been a strong defender his entire career, and increased his spot-up three point percentage to 40% last season, Rubio checked all the boxes for the Clippers. Unfortunately, that meant he was also appealing to other suitors. LAC only has one more real chance to secure a clear point guard upgrade this off-season, as Goran Dragic appears prepared to take meetings in free agency and could potentially be available for an offer at the full mid-level exception. Other guards are available via trade but present issues of their own as potential Patrick Beverley replacements and are not clear upgrades: Eric Bledsoe gets to the rim more than Beverley, but is a much worse outside shooter who has struggled in the playoffs; Patty Mills is a sharpshooter who doesn’t solve the distribution problems and represents a significant step back defensively; Spencer Dinwiddie put up numbers for a bad team but is a poor defender and floor-spacer to put next to LAC’s stars; George Hill is supremely steady on both ends, but unspectacular.
Kennard In, Shamet Out
In the most surprising and impactful Clipper move of the night, the team sent Landry Shamet to the Brooklyn Nets and Rodney McGruder to the Detroit Pistons in a deal where Brooklyn’s 19th overall pick went to Detroit and Luke Kennard came to the Clippers. The Nets wouldn’t have been able to fit Kennard into the trade exception they utilized on Shamet, requiring them to involve the Clippers.
For the Clippers, it was a free upgrade to get a player whose offensive game resembles what optimistic fans might have hoped Landry would grow into in the coming years. Securing that now without waiting to see whether or not Landry gets there is a nice step in the right direction for LAC. Kennard will make an immediate and substantial impact offensively. As sharpshooters, any difference between the two is negligible–they’re both elite from three at high volumes, with Kennard more capable of launching threes off the dribble (2.6 per game last season at a 37.1% clip, compared to Shamet’s 1.0 per game at 32.7%).
That off-the-dribble creation is where Kennard really separates himself from Shamet. While two-point pull-ups aren’t efficient shots that offenses search for, it’s important for scorers to diversify their offensive repertoire to keep defenses guessing. Kennard took more mid range pull-ups than Landry (2.8 vs 0.5 per game) and hit at a much higher rate (41.3% to 28.0%). He also got into the paint more regularly (23% of his shots, or 2.8 attempts per game to Landry’s 17% and 1.3) and finished slightly better (60% to 56.1%). That ability to create for himself off the bounce forces defenses to react, allowing him to find teammates for good looks. Kennard’s assist numbers weren’t as good in his first two seasons, and he only played 28 games last year due to a knee injury, but his 4.1 per game in that small sample size is a healthy distribution load and he showed an ability to make simple pick-and-roll reads to find the open roll man or corner shooter when the defense overreacted to him on the ball.
Luke has one year left on his rookie deal worth $5.3M. With McGruder’s $5.2M salary heading to Detroit and Shamet’s $2.1M also outgoing, the Clippers actually save $2M in this trade. This provides some flexibility if they attempt to use the full mid-level exception and navigate the hard cap, but they’ll also need to fill the extra roster spot opened by the two-for-one swap. Kennard is extension-eligible, and the Clippers have from now until December 21st to find common ground on a long-term deal that could give him a significant raise while adding up to four additional years onto his contract after this season. If an extension is not signed, he’ll be eligible for restricted free agency next summer with a qualifying offer of $7.3M, which would allow the Clippers to keep Kennard by matching any offer he signed with another team.
Clippers Trade For 33, Draft Daniel Oturu
There was a lot of speculation heading into the draft that the Clippers might utilize Steve Ballmer’s checkbook to purchase an additional draft pick in the early-to-mid second round, but no such opportunity materialized. Cash was used to grease the wheels on several trades last night, but unless I’m missing something no pick was simply sold for solely cash considerations without at least a future second trading hands as well.
Not to be left out, the Clippers utilized a real asset–Detroit’s 2023 2nd round pick–to jump into the early second round and acquire the 33rd overall pick from the New York Knicks. Before talking about the choice to draft Daniel Oturu, I want to explain why I don’t like the trade in principle. LAC’s lack of future draft assets is well-documented, and that situation contributed to their inability to land one of the bigger veteran point guards on the trade market this week. The sober reality is that draft picks, especially outside the top 10, are unlikely to turn into above-average players. Even among the players who will go on to have NBA careers, many make average or replacement-level impacts that are easily replaceable for cheap on the free agent market.
Future picks, however, are important tools in facilitating trades. Without them, you’re unlikely to be able to make many trades. Once that trade currency has turned into a mediocre prospect, it’s no longer effective sweetener in a trade. With their future first rounders tied up by the Paul George trade and their own future second rounder likely low-value picks in the late 50s, this Detroit pick that LAC owned was their last real piece of sweetener to use in a trade this off-season or at the deadline until 2027. Last season, they traded a future first-round pick in order to get pick 27 and draft Mfiondu Kabengele.
The pick they traded for Fi became 19th overall this season; Brooklyn traded that pick for Landry Shamet and Detroit was willing to trade Luke Kennard for it. Imagine if the Clippers hadn’t made last year’s draft-day trade for Kabengele and were able to acquire Kennard without giving up Shamet. In essence, they traded Landry for Fi–who the team was so low on by the end of last season that they didn’t even bring him with them to the Orlando bubble. The 17th pick last night netted Ricky Rubio, the 25th pick, and the 28th pick in this year’s draft. It certainly feels like having pick 19 could have helped the Clippers put a competing offer forward for Rubio. Now try to imagine those offers with Kabengele going to Brooklyn instead of Shamet, or Oklahoma City instead of pick 19. The value simply isn’t there for those teams to even consider it. In terms of liquid trade capital, the Clippers made a big negative move by trading into last year’s first round to take Fi, and their only hope of recouping that value is if he turns into a good or unique enough player as a 27th overall pick that his production couldn’t be easily replaced in free agency. Even if he progresses from last season, earns some playing time, and goes on to have a perfectly nice career, that’s an unlikely proposition.
Similarly, this deal to acquire pick 33 is negative asset management for the Clippers, and it was done to secure an early second-round pick, where players are extremely unlikely to turn into irreplaceable pieces. I think that Detroit’s 2023 2nd might have been a chip for LAC to use in a deal to land a solid veteran role player who became available this season; now, they have no such asset and will be easily outbid by any other interested team. The odds of anyone they selected here doing enough between now and the trade deadline to have more trade value than that future pick are astronomically slim.
Oturu himself is an uninspiring prospect, adding a bit of salt in the wound of the Clippers’ poor-value trade. You can read about his profile here, but I’ll just note that when I wrote about free agent depth center targets two weeks ago I noted a handful of early- and mid-20s third string guys who were fine but unspectacular and would be available at the minimum salary. Oturu may make a career for himself in the NBA, but the likelihood of him bringing more now or long-term than inexpensive free agent centers makes it a puzzling pick when quality guards and wings are much more difficult to obtain for cheap on the free agent market. The one aspect of his skillset that might not be easily replaced by a minimum-salary player is his three-point shot, if it translates to the NBA, but it feels odd that the Clippers would prioritize that when they just made an asset-negative trade to get Mfiondu Kabengele for the same reason last year. It’s even odder when you consider that Oturu’s slow feet defensively will often turn him into a negative on that end when asked to defend pick-and-rolls, despite his quality rim protection and high-motor rebounding.
If purchasing a pick in this year’s second round wasn’t an option, I would have rather the Clippers sat out (I would have been willing to do cash plus a future LAC 2nd, but not the DET 2nd). But if they were going to trade in, they could have done better than Oturu. High-upside French point guard Theo Maledon, a projected first-round pick, went immediately after them at 34. Xavier Tillman, a big man with modern defensive versatility that is a valuable skillset, went 35th. Some highly-regarded point guard prospects who are considered good bets to provide reliable backup minutes, like Tre Jones and Cassius Winston, went later as well.
Jayden Scrubb Drafted 55th
Somewhere along the line tonight, the Clippers ended up with the 55th pick instead of the 57th pick. It seems likely to me in retrospect that this swap was the lowest-stakes way for the Clippers and Nets (who originally owned pick 55) to make the 19-Kennard-Shamet trade legal, as the Clippers couldn’t officially complete the trade without getting something from Brooklyn. Landry for nothing isn’t allowed, but Landry and 57 for 55 is. At this point in the draft, moving back 2 selections really isn’t a big deal, but as the 55/57 flip wasn’t reported with the the initial trade, it caught many–including me–by surprise.
The stakes with a 55th pick are so low that it’s hard to get too worked up either way, but Scrubb seems like as good a bet as any in the closing selections of the draft. Sam Merrill, who went 60th to Milwaukee, is more likely to provide emergency depth this season (a la Sindarius Thornwell), but Scrubb is potentially a higher-upside gamble. After a traumatic childhood caused Jayden to struggle in school, he was able to have success in his later years of high school but needed to go to junior college as he was academically ineligible for NCAA play. That was the only thing keeping him from high-major Division 1 ball, and after an All-American freshman year and National Player of the Year sophomore year, he was set to head to Louisville this year before entering the NBA Draft.
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie suggested that Scrubb would have been better served by going to Louisville, potentially becoming a first-round pick in two years’ time. For the Clippers, that progression happening in their system is the best possible outcome. If Scrubb spends the next two seasons on a two-way contract and grows according to those projections, he’d be a cheap restricted free agent for the Clippers in 2022, basically giving them a free first-round pick in a year when they won’t have one. Jayden will have a lot of work to do if that scenario is going to become a reality, the first bit of with will be proving he deserves that two-way contract in competition with other undrafted free agent candidates, such as the pair of Saint Mary’s teammates that the Clippers are bringing into training camp.
Free agency begins at 3pm Pacific time on Friday afternoon, with Thursday serving as decision day across the NBA for a number of team options, player options, qualifying offers, and non/partial guarantees. I’ve compiled a list of these for anyone curious about which players do and don’t end up hitting the free agent market.
The most directly significant news for the Clippers tomorrow will be regarding JaMychal Green’s player option. It seems like a coin flip whether or not the veteran power forward will take his $5M salary for next season or choose to enter free agency. He could get a raise, or at least a multi-year deal at a similar price point, but with such a saturated market for depth bigs and not much money out there for free agents, opting out could be a risk. The Clippers could also attempt to talk him in to opting out and returning for a pay cut, where they could save a little bit of money for hard cap calculations and make it worthwhile for Green by adding additional years of guaranteed money to his deal.
Pending Green’s decision, the Clippers will enter free agency with either 10 players under contract and $26M under the hard cap, or 9 players and $31M. That means that in order to utilize the full mid-level exception at a cost of around $9.3M and still have enough hard cap room to fill out the roster, the Clippers would have to let at least one of Marcus Morris or Montrezl Harrell depart in free agency. In a scenario where Green opted in, Morris returned at a starting salary of $12,000,000, Harrell walks, and the Clippers utilized their full MLE on a free agent, they’d have $4.7M left under the hard cap with 12 players under contract–enough to sign two more minimum-salary players and just short of adding a 15th man to the roster (they could get there with even a tiny reduction elsewhere).
That calculation, though, assumes that the rest of the Clippers’ roster remains static. If Patrick Beverley and/or Lou Williams (who may be more likely to depart following the acquisition of Kennard) are traded in an attempt to shuffle the team’s guard rotation headed into next season, the team wouldn’t have very much wiggle room to add salary in a deal while still being able to pull off using the full MLE to add a higher-impact free agent. If the Clippers can’t build their roster under the hard cap, they’ll have to avoid triggering it and instead use the smaller, $5.7M taxpayer exception.
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