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Clippers Will Take Best Player Available

The Clippers find themselves in unfamiliar territory heading into Thursday’s NBA draft. LA’s other team has made the playoffs only once in the last 14 NBA seasons, and as such they usually have a lottery pick in the draft. This season however the Clippers traded their lottery pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the deal to move Baron Davis’ mammoth contract out of town; that pick then turned into the first overall pick during the lottery last month. Such is life in Clips Nation.

But the Clippers do have two second round picks, at positions 37 and 47, so they still have work to do. (For those who care about such things, neither pick actually belonged to the Clippers originally;. The 37th pick comes courtesy of Detroit as sweetener in the trade in which the Clippers took Alex Acker off the Pistons hands in 2009, while the Clippers actually swapped positions with the Houston Rockets in this draft, from 38th to 47th, as part of the deal that brought Steve Novak to LA in 2008.)

One of the reasons that Clippers GM Neil Olshey was willing to include an unprotected lottery pick as part of the Davis trade is that this draft is widely considered to be one of the weakest in years. So if Olshey didn’t have high expectations for a top 10 pick in this draft, it stands to reason that a couple of picks in the middle of the second round are unlikely to produce significant help for the team. Still, teams find at least one or two quality players in the second round in every draft. Furthermore, the weakness at the top of the board may mask a deeper talent pool. It’s worth noting that in arguably the worst draft of the last dozen years, in 2000, the only All-NBA performer to emerge was a second rounder – Michael Redd, drafted 43rd by the Bucks.

There are a few questions that teams ask themselves in every draft – do you draft to fill a need, or take the best player available? Draft someone that can help now, or draft for potential? The answers to these questions change a little in the second round.

The assumption in the second round is that the player chosen will not make the team – most second round picks do not. So if the deck is already stacked against the player, if you now reach even further to take a player based on a positional need, the odds get even longer that that pick can make a place for himself in the NBA. So more than ever, at this stage of the draft, you should be looking for the best player available. The Clippers do have one glaring positional need at small forward – but they really need a starter at the three, and the likelihood of finding that player in the second round of this draft is slim and none. In fact the Clippers would count themselves lucky to find any player that can provide depth in this draft, so they won’t limit themselves to a small forward by any means. In fact, the more immediate depth issue may be at the big positions, particularly if the team continues to dangle Chris Kaman as trade bait.

As for the help now versus potential question, ti’s probably a moot point in the second round of this draft – the Clippers will be choosing from players that can neither help now, nor have tremendous potential. Those players will already be off the board. Still, these are relative terms, and if a player perceived to have NBA level talent does drop to them at 37, I would expect that they’ll pounce on that player. The team can always fill their remaining roster spots with veteran free agents, and they already have six players under 24 on the roster. So they might as well swing for the fences if a first round talent does drop for any reason. One such player might be San Diego High Schooler Jeremy Tyler, who has bounced around foreign leagues since deciding against college a couple of years ago. (Of course, Olshey’s mantra of building with character guys is often at odds with the strategy of opportunistically drafting a talented player that is dropping, since the drop might well be related to character issues.)

Speaking of having six youngsters on the roster already, don’t be surprised if the Clippers use at least one of these picks to draft a foreign prospect and stash him overseas for a couple of seasons. With a nine player rotation more or less in place already (assuming the Clippers retain restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan), throwing two more rookies into camp this summer is most likely to result in a couple of rookies being waived by Halloween. But rather than throw away the picks, the Clippers could gamble on a young international player and see how he develops in the coming years. Bojan Bogdanovic is projected to be available around that range, and might be a good candidate. Teams that want immediate help may shy away as he’s already signed with Fenerbahce in the Turkish League, but that may be ideal for the Clippers at this time.

Finally, shooters are always at a premium in the NBA, and the Clippers never seem to have enough of them. In particular with a young big man tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan likely to be in the middle for the foreseeable future, the Clippers would love to surround them with players who can spread the floor. One such player is Jon Diebler from Ohio State, a 6’6" wing who happens to be one of the best college shooters in recent memory. Another player that has been linked to the Clippers in mock drafts is Jon Leuer from Wisconsin, a 6’11" power forward who has a nice perimeter stroke. The Clippers have seemed obsessed with finding a ‘stretch four’ in recent years (Novak, Fazekas, Cook, etc.) and Leuer might catch their eye.