Summer League is a somewhat peculiar part of the NBA. Between the thrown-together nature of the rosters, the lack of practice time, the small sample size, and lower quality of play, it’s foolish to draw any real conclusions from the handful of games in Las Vegas. Many players who have looked bad in summer league have gone on to have fine NBA careers, and quite a few Summer League standouts have busted in the NBA (Josh Selby and Glen Rice Jr anyone?). However, it can be useful for limited observations as well as baseline assessments of where young players are at, so here are three fairly broad takeaways from what we saw from the 2021 Clippers Summer League team.
None of the Young Guys Look Ready for Rotation Minutes
For one reason or another, the Clippers’ young guys (their three rookies plus second-year guy Jay Scrubb) all do not appear to be ready to play in the Clippers’ 10 man rotation (if they’re trying to win, which they are). Despite looking quite impressive, Brandon Boston Jr. desperately needs to put in weight on both ends. He can get to his spots on offense, especially from midrange, but can’t consistently finish at the rim. The bigger issue is on defense, where his lack of strength means he will struggle heavily with guarding grown NBA wings and forwards, who will be able to bully him around the basket. Jason Preston faces similar issues – he doesn’t have enough strength to compete on defense or get anywhere in the paint on offense. Both guys might have limited utility – Boston as a scorer and Preston as a floor general – but it’s tough to see either getting regular minutes.
Scrubb exploded for over 20 points in his first game, and fans on twitter were immediately talking about his ability to be a bench scorer for the Clips this season. Unfortunately, we saw over the rest of Summer League why that’s unlikely. Scrubb was inefficient scoring the basketball, being unable to get to the free throw line or basket or consistently hit threes, instead settling for midrange jumpers. He can score, just not efficiently, and while his defense was bad and he showed flashes of playmaking, the rest of his game is not there yet. Keon Johnson displayed the energy, athleticism, and defensive instincts that made him an enticing prospect… but also the lack of offensive skills or polish that let him fall to 21 in the draft. He’s a very intriguing player, but he can’t do anything at an NBA level offensively.
The Clippers’ young guys overall played well, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for real roles. And that’s fine! They’re all still young and early on in their NBA careers, and the Clippers are trying to make the playoffs. These guys’ time will come.
Isaiah Hicks and Kerwin Roach Deserve Two-Way Deals
Two other guys who looked good in Summer League were older guys, Isaiah Hicks and Kerwin Roach. Hicks was actually a previous Clippers Summer Leaguer, having been part of the roster back in 2017 after going undrafted out of North Carolina. Hicks has played internationally and in the G-League since then, and that veteran polish showed. He was constantly in the right position on both ends, rebounded the hell out of the ball, and scored relentlessly around the basket. At 27 there’s not much upside there, but he could probably give a team a handful of competent-ish center minutes per game if called upon.
Roach was an undrafted guard out of Texas in 2019, and impressed with his three-point shooting, defense, and athleticism. He was just a decent three-point shooter in college, and a similar level (34.9%) on middling volume in the G-League, but his stroke looked nice, and it seemed like he made nearly every catch-and-shoot attempt given him. Not quite 25, it’s very possible Roach took a step upwards as a shooter, and if that’s the case, his defense should make him a playable two-way guy. He doesn’t offer much else, but a team could definitely take a shot at him being a solid bench guard on both ends.
There Might Not be Much Upside with Amir Coffey
Amir Coffey gave the Clippers over 400 mostly competent minutes last year. He wasn’t great, but he was perfectly serviceable for a team devastated by injuries that benefitted from his athleticism and energy. However, when asked to do more in Summer League, Coffey mostly fell on his face. He utterly failed to create offense for any teammates via playmaking, couldn’t generate easy looks for himself, and turned the ball over at a high rate. When defending, attacking in transition, and scoring around the rim, Coffey looked good. At 24 years old, and going into this third season in the NBA, Coffey still has time to improve, but he looked like the same player he’s been so far – and that might be all he is. That’s fine, but it’s good to know that asking him to do more will probably go badly.
With the 2021 Summer League over, the Clippers won’t be playing again until October 4th against the Denver Nuggets. When we see them again, it will be the regular roster, albeit still playing meaningless games and without superstar Kawhi Leonard. What final takes do you have from the Clippers’ 2021 Summer League, if any?