As the new NBA season rapidly approaches (seriously, between LAC’s WCF run and the overall offseason being a month shorter than normal, it feels like we didn’t have a “dead period” at all this year), we’re walking through every player on the Clippers roster one-by-one to lay out expectations for the upcoming season. Today, I’m taking a look at rookie guard Jason Preston.
Weight: 187 lbs
Years in NBA: R
Key Stats: As a Junior at the University of Ohio, started all 20 games he played and posted averages of 34.6 minutes, 15.7 points, 7.3 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 3.0 turnovers per game while shooting 51.4% from the field and 39.0% from three.
Contract Status: As a second-round pick, Preston signed a 3-year minimum-salary contract for a piece of the Clippers’ taxpayer mid-level exception. The first two seasons are fully guaranteed.
I’m not here to rob anyone of their irrational love for unproven prospects, but I’ll say the same thing about Jason Preston as I’d say about any second-round rookie: the expectations for his first season in the NBA are essentially zero. That’s actually a good thing. There’s no pressure on Preston (or Brandon Boston) to contribute right away, and there shouldn’t be. Jason will get a chance to play for the big club this season, and not just in garbage time: as the third point guard behind Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe, both of whom will turn 32 during the upcoming campaign, he’s sure to get at least a dozen games of real rotation mintues as an injury fill-in, and potentially quite a few more than that. We shouldn’t expect a second round rookie point guard to be a positive contributor in that sample, and that’s ok! What we’re really looking for is ability, something to encourage us that there’s room to grow into a positive rotation contributor in the upcoming years. And if he actually is a positive, that’s even better! It’s nice to leave some room for expectations to be exceeded instead of setting expectations at the level of a best-case scenario.
A lot of times with players on the fringe of the NBA, we look for a guy’s “NBA skill.” To put what I said above about looking for ability over positive contributions another way, with a guy like Preston we’re going to be less concerned with whether or not his presence makes the Clippers more likely to win games, and more concerned with whether or not he is legitimately good enough at the things he’s supposed to be good at to impact games in those specific areas. Think about someone like Jerome Robinson–while he often played hard and worked his way into being a roughly neutral second-unit defender despite pre-draft questions on that end of the floor, everyone was confident that the one thing he was definitely going to be able to do at the next level was shoot the basketball. He made 31% of his 252 three-point attempts in his three-year NBA career, which is now over.
For Preston, that “NBA skill” is going to be his passing. Touted as a basketball genius with elite floor vision, if Preston is going to have a major role long-term in the league it will be because he’s capable of combining his passing ability, vision, and above-average size for an NBA point guard to maximize advantages created by screens and cuts and find teammates for easy and efficient looks.
If one thing is going to hold Preston back at this level–both in the short and long-term–it’s going to be his athleticism. On offense, we’re going to need to see enough burst for him to consistently create advantages against defenses to unlock his passing. And on defense, where he was bullied at times in Summer League, he’ll need to get stronger and improve his positioning to have a chance against the extreme speed and skill of NBA point guards. A few other things to track: while his college shooting numbers were good, the distribution and form put his three-point shot more in the “TBD” column as far as projecting NBA production goes. And while he’s a good passer, he has a habit to leave his feet without a plan, which is going to turn into ugly turnovers when lengthy NBA defenses are closing down his passing angles and talent alone isn’t enough to bail him out of the bad situations he drives into.
Preston is part of a crew of young, unproven prospects that make up the entirety of LAC’s depth this season behind a proven, veteran core rotation. The team’s hope is certainly that between reclamation project gambles (like Justise Winslow and Harry Giles) and their rookies (plus sophomore guard Jay Scrubb, who essentially redshirted last season), one or two guys are able to exceed expectations enough this season to be considered part of the equation going forward. While there’s definitely question marks around his game, and we certainly shouldn’t expect Preston to have a breakout season, he’ll get opportunities to impress and has an intriguing skillset that could end up being valuable to this team in the coming years.