CLIPPERS DRAFT HITS
The annual NBA Draft is an inexact science. Sure things can turn into busts just as quickly as a diamond in the rough can be uncovered or happened upon when no one expects it. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers have selected as high as first overall (three times) and as low as 25th, which they have also done three times, but only once (2013) with their own pick. In attempting to construct a team through the Draft or add key pieces and assets, the Clippers have been on the wrong side of a fair share of picks. However, they have nailed some as well. No one expected a raw freshman from Texas A&M named DeAndre Jordan to become one of the most exciting big men in basketball when the Clippers picked him 35th five years ago. And 18 teams passed on the physically gifted Ken Norman before the Clippers picked him No. 19 in 1987.
Those are just a couple of noteworthy selections the team has made in the last 29 years that stand out. Here is a list of the five biggest hits the Clippers made on Draft night, based on impact on the franchise, imprint in the league and, of course, what players were selected behind them:
When Loy Vaught went No. 13 in 1990 there was likely no expectation that the workman-like forward from Michigan would become the team’s sixth leading scorer all-time. Vaught’s high-scoring Michigan teammate Rumeal Robinson went three spots ahead to Atlanta, but Vaught wound up playing nearly double the number of NBA games. There are no players behind Vaught in that year’s Draft class who had far more distinguished careers. Toni Kukoc was ahead of his time as a stretch four and won three titles after joining the Bulls four years removed from his selection at No. 29 overall. But Kukoc was a second-round pick, meaning he passed up by every team once, and averaged slightly better than a point per game more than Vaught. Elden Campbell, Dee Brown and Terry Mills, another Michigan alum, could be considered equals to Vaught, but you would be hard-pressed to say any of them would have been better.
Vaught was not only popular among fans, but produced. Eight of his 11 NBA seasons were with the Clippers, including his four best. In 1995-96 he averaged 16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds and averaged a double-double the following year when the Clippers made a surprising run to the playoffs. Oddly, he was the second first-round selection by the Clippers in 1990. Bo Kimble, who scored 5.5 points in 105 career games, went No. 8.
The 2008 Draft is one of the most talented pools in recent memory. Starting with Derrick Rose to the Bulls at No. 1, there were five All-Stars picked in the top 17 (Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert). Additionally, Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, George Hill and Ryan Anderson went outside of the top 20. The Clippers nailed the No. 7 with guard Eric Gordon, who was included in the trade with New Orleans to acquire Chris Paul after increasing his scoring average in each of his first three NBA seasons.
The list of contributors, particularly at the center position dips well into round two when Nikola Pekovic, Omer Asik and DeAndre Jordan all went between picks No. 31 and 36. In five seasons with the Clippers Jordan has improved in both small increments and large doses. In 2012-13 he completed his second year as the full-time starter, led the NBA in field goal percentage (64.3 percent) and was third in dunks. By most accounts, he is the best second-round draft pick the Clippers have ever made. He’s already appeared in more games than 11 other Clippers’ second rounders combined since 2000. And outside of Asik, Goran Dragic and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute there were no other players in the final 25 selections of the 2008 Draft played more than 161 NBA games.
Much like the Vaught pick a decade earlier, it was the Clippers’ second first-round pick in 2000 who worked out best. Arguably, the three best players picked ahead of Richardson were Jamal Crawford, Mike Miller and Kenyon Martin. All three of them were in the top eight. Hedo Turkoglu went No. 16 to Sacramento, two slots higher than Richardson. From there, Richardson, Michael Redd and DeShawn Stevenson were likely the best two players left in what is historically one of the weakest Drafts of all-time, particularly outside of the lottery.
Richardson played four seasons with the Clippers and to this day fans occasionally still dawn his No. 3 throwback San Diego jersey. His fourth year in Los Angeles, Richardson scored 17.2 points per game, starting 64 games, shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range and pulling down 6.4 boards. It was his best season as a professional and helped net a lucrative, multi-year contract with the Phoenix Suns.
After failing with the No. 4 overall pick (Reggie Williams) in 1987, the Clippers did well 15 selections later with Norman. The draft was loaded at the top and had the Clippers gone with, say, Scottie Pippen (No. 5 to Seattle) when they picked Williams, Norman would have been redundant. However, the selection of Norman was clearly one of the best later in the first round. Only Chris Dudley (third round) and Greg Anderson (No. 23) played more career games than anyone picked after Norman and arguably the late Reggie Lewis is the only player who had more star power in the league in that same window.
A bruising, statuesque forward from Illinois, Norman started 28 games as a rookie and became true force in year two as a 24-year-old starter. He scored 18.1 points with 8.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists alongside rookie Danny Manning and high-scoring forward Charles Smith. Norman was a significant contributor on the Clippers’ first two playoff teams in L.A., coming off the bench in 1991-92 and scoring 15 points per game as a starter the following year. He nearly averaged a double-double in his first trip to the playoffs and went for 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds despite shooting just 37.3 percent in the ’92-93 postseason. Norman only played four more seasons after spending six years with the Clippers. He left as a free agent in 1993.
Sometimes the Draft is obvious. Even with names like Davidson’s Stephen Curry, Memphis’ Tyreke Evans or Arizona State’s James Harden looming later in the 2009 Draft. The Clippers made no attempt to vale their intentions of selecting Griffin, an athletic marvel and collegiate star at Oklahoma. Griffin’s true rookie season was derailed by a patella injury, but it’s safe to say everything worked out well for both parties.
It took an extra year, but Griffin’s emergence as the unanimous Rookie of the Year in 2010-11 was astounding. He became an overnight sensation after scoring 44 points and throwing down two iconic dunks against the Knicks, including the Mozgov. Since then he has been a three-time All-Star, two-time Second Team All-NBA selection and has been a cornerstone in the Clippers’ ascension to the upper tier of the Western Conference. In terms of on-court ability as well as off-court appeal, he is easily the greatest Draft pick the team history and the kind of once-in-a-generation player who the Clippers missed in many of their previous high lottery selections.