The day is finally here: we get to learn what the Clippers will do in the 2020 NBA Draft. While this figures to be an anticlimactic year for the Clippers–they have no first-round pick and control just the 57th overall pick in the second round, draft day always represents a focal point on the NBA calendar.
Due to the varying evaluations teams have of prospects as the draft develops, this is the single most hectic trade night of the year in terms of assets trading hands, often as part of bigger deals involving established NBA players. The Clippers, even without a first-round draft pick, could find themselves partaking in a multi-team trade that is made possible by one of their trade partners including their selection. They could even trade for a higher pick to use themselves. In recent years, LAC has typically been very aggressive in making draft day deals to secure the prospects they like.
In 2015, the Clippers did not have a pick but spent $600,000 to purchase pick 56 and secure the rights to Branden Dawson, whose potential was never realized. In 2017, they again entered draft night without a pick but bought two second rounders, 39th and 48th overall for $3.2M and $2M, respectively. They took Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, both of whom provided solid depth minutes for a scrappy, injury-ravaged Clippers team. Both players were ultimately cut as the Clippers needed to maximize cap room and free up roster spots, but they’ve hung around on the fringe of NBA rosters. In 2018, LAC used two future second-round picks to move up from 12th to 11th and select Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who became the centerpiece of the Paul George trade, and in 2019, without a first-round pick, they gave up a future 1st (#19 in this year’s draft)and the 56th pick to acquire pick number 27 and select Mfiondu Kabengele.
Even if the Clippers don’t always get clear value wins on their deals (the Kabengele one sticks out like a sore thumb in this regard), they’ve been nothing but aggressive in getting the selections necessary to draft the prospects they like in recent years. Particularly, the team has been willing to spend to purchase second rounders.
With so much up in the air, it’s hard to predict exactly what is in the cards for the Clippers tonight during the 2020 NBA Draft. That said, here’s a few things to keep an eye on as the evening develops:
- Dallas’ 18th Pick: ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported that Lou Williams could be an option for the Mavericks if they move this pick for an established veteran. The Clippers have worked out a couple of point guards projected in the late first round, including Malachi Flynn and Tyrell Terry. Between them and a couple higher-profile prospects like Tyrese Maxey and Cole Anthony, it’s possible that LAC fell in love with a prospect and are looking to move the 34-year-old Williams, who struggled in the playoffs, for a younger guard who can eventually take the reigns from Patrick Beverley. It would be high-risk, as the odds of a pick in the late teens becoming an impact rotation player on a contender as a rookie are very low. The Athletic’s Seth Partnow published an analysis today finding that less than 1 in 3 prospects play 500 replacement-level-or-better minutes as a rookie, and fewer than 1 in 10 are above-average players as rookies. Those numbers are somewhat dragged down by late second rounders but they’re also boosted by stars in the top 5–pick 18, for example, comes in right around those 1-in-3 and 1-in-10 odds.
Given the potential downside of trading one of their most productive players for an unproven rookie, it’s possible that the Clippers could remain in pursuit of an established veteran guard. Ricky Rubio seems ripe for a re-trade from Oklahoma City. Spencer Dinwiddie may be temporarily unavailable in Brooklyn as the Nets explore James Harden packages. New Orleans seems unlikely to keep both Eric Bledsoe and George Hill, who they acquired for Jrue Holiday this week. The San Antonio Spurs, with a crop of emerging young guards, may be willing to part ways with Patty Mills. I’ve heard in the last couple of weeks that if the Clippers really want to pull off a deal for an established point guard, they likely need to find a first-round pick. Right now, Dallas’ 18th selection is the only one LAC is rumored to be linked with.
- Trades Around The League: Whether the Clippers make a move tonight or not, we need to keep our eyes on what goes on around the league. Is a Harden-to-Brooklyn deal consummated? If so, will the Rockets keep Spencer Dinwiddie? If Harden goes elsewhere, will Dinwiddie become available in a trade from Brooklyn? Do other teams pull off deals for players like Rubio, Bledsoe, Hill, or Mills before the Clippers can get involved? Are any trades or picks made that create redundancies, suggesting new potential targets becoming available? For example, if the Indiana Pacers select a point guard tonight, T.J. McConnell could become an option for LAC.
- Buying Into The Second Round: Multiple second-round picks get sold every year, and the Clippers are known buyers. Under league rules, LAC has about $4.2M available to spend on potential pick purchases tonight. That amount is typically enough to get you into the 30s, but someone in the 30s has to have a pick that they don’t want and are willing to give up for cash. In a year where the draft is supposed to be weak at the top but deep through the 30s, will teams sell? With COVID revenue shortfalls impacting teams around the league, will ownership groups prioritize getting a check over a prospect, or will the cheap contract of a second-round pick appeal to front offices who need to keep their payroll low?
Different teams have different priorities. Earlier today, the Milwaukee Bucks sent two future second-rounders to Orlando for the 45th pick tonight. The Bucks are in pursuit of cheap rookie minimum deals to help them avoid the hard cap, but it’s hard to know if Orlando demanded assets instead of just cash, or if the Bucks didn’t want to cut a check. When the second round rolls around, someone will be selling, and if the Clippers like a player on the board, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be buying. Last weekend, I took a look at some of the teams who have multiple picks this week and could potentially sell to the Clippers.
- Pick 57: If the Clippers hold on to the 57th pick and choose a player–and it’s entirely possible the selection is involved in a trade, should they make one–he likely won’t make the 15-man roster next season but will either earn a two-way contract or, if possible, be “stashed” in an international league. While this isn’t likely going to be a hugely impactful player, we’ll either know who is taking over the team’s second two-way slot next season or have a new obscure prospect to keep tabs on overseas. 213Hoops’ Robert Flom rounded up some of the high-profile mock drafts’ predictions for where the Clippers will go with this pick, including Marko Simonovic, a big man who plays for Ivica Zubac’s former team in Europe. They had also previously been mocked to take Justinian Jessup, an American player from Boise State who will play in Australia’s National Basketball League this season.
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