On May 18, I speculated on what the Clippers would do with two back to back picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Two of the top prospects that were discussed were Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Texas A&M center Robert Williams. Well, the draft finally took place on June 21, and the Clippers threw some definite curveballs that few saw coming.
Most mock drafts had Los Angeles selecting Gilgeous-Alexander at number 12, and while the team wound up drafting him, the pick came in the form of a trade with the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets held the 11th pick in the draft, which they gave to Los Angeles for pick number 12 and two second round draft picks. The Clippers got the guy they wanted in Gilgeous-Alexander, and Charlotte got the prospect they coveted in Miles Bridges.
For those who don’t remember, Gilgeous-Alexander is a 6 foot 6 inch point guard that gives Los Angeles a ton of length at that position. He does most of his scoring damage inside the paint, where he can penetrate with the help of an array of moves that get defenders out of position.
Once in scoring position, Gilgeous-Alexander can finish through contact, or pass to an open player when facing a double-team. His long arms come in handy on the defensive end, as he is able to read passing lanes and record steals. In his lone season at Kentucky, he averaged 1.65 steals per game.
With the 13th pick, the Clippers chose a player few were talking about in Boston College point guard Jerome Robinson. The decision to take another guard with an already stacked backcourt may seem confusing, but Robinson has all the makings of a modern NBA wing player.
Robinson stands at 6 foot 6 inches and has the ability to play on and off ball. With the ball in his hands, he too can make his way to the rim and finish through contact, like Gilgeous-Alexander. Robinson is also unafraid to take contested jump shots off the dribble. This will allow the Clippers to run isolation plays through Robinson, when he is ready to be inserted into the regular rotation.
Off ball, Robinson is a good catch and shoot option. His true shooting percentage in his final year at Boston College was 61 percent, showing his potential as a reliable scorer. He averaged 20 points per game, and did so with an offensive rating of 116.8 points per 100 possessions. In other words, Robinson knows how to put the ball in the basket, and does so at an elite level.
With Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson both coming in, the Clippers have begun the work of clearing up the logjam developing at the guard position. Starting shooting guard Austin Rivers was recently traded to the Washington Wizards for center Marcin Gortat. Gortat will act as insurance, in case Deandre Jordan decides to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
This may signal Los Angeles’ confidence in Robinson to earn a spot in the regular rotation sooner rather than later. Currently, the only two shooting guards in front of him are 2018 Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams, and Sindarius Thornwell, who averaged 15.8 minutes in his rookie season.
The path for Gilgeous-Alexander to see regular playing time seems pretty clear as well. He currently sits behind Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic at the point guard position, but the trade of Rivers makes it apparent the Clippers want to make room for their rookies to contribute as soon as possible.
This means Teodosic may be on his way out. He never figured to be part of Los Angeles’ long term plans, but opted in to his $6.3 million contract. If the Clippers can find a trade partner to take Teodosic off their hands, Gilgeous-Alexander will find himself second in the point guard rotation. If Teodosic stays with the team, it’s more than likely Gilgeous-Alexander supplants him on the depth chart anyways.
Los Angeles is clearly trying to build a team that will contend for a championship in the future, rather than the now. Gortat ensures the Clippers will have a starting-caliber center this season, at the conclusion of which, he will be an unrestricted free agent. This means, come 2019-2020, Los Angeles will have $72.5 million in cap space to fill out their roster with either, a big name free agent, or multiple serviceable role players.
The Clippers’ roster is in a state of flux at the moment. No player appears to be safe from the trading block, save for Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson. It seems Los Angeles has faith that these two can be foundational players to build around, and are actively trying to carve out playing time for both of them to develop.
Everything appears to be chaotic at the moment, but there is a definite sense of direction that should be reassuring. By the time the monolith that is the Golden State Warriors begins to decline, it is possible a young and finely-crafted Clippers team will be there to take Golden State’s place.