Clippers Value Dawson’s Defense, Toughness
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The Clippers bought in to the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft to acquire the draft rights to forward Branden Dawson from the New Orleans Pelicans, who had the No. 56 overall pick.
Dawson averaged 11.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game as a senior. At 6-foot-6, Dawson still showed his length by finishing his career at Michigan State as the all-time leader in blocks with 142.
“The biggest thing is his toughness,” said general manager Dave Wohl. “He’s a winner. He’s not a guy you just lock into a position. I think he can play a couple different positions. He can defend a number of positions.”
“When you watch him play a lot, one of the things he does, he makes multiple-effort game-defining plays a lot of times. He’ll get his hand on a loose ball, he’ll save a loose ball, he’ll dive on a loose ball, he’ll go over bigger players and grab a rebound. He’s a little raw offensively, but we love the competitiveness and toughness about him.”
It’s Dawson’s tenacity defensively and on 50-50 balls that made the Clippers want to sneak in to the end of the second round to select him in exchange for cash considerations. Dawson finished his career sixth in steals (163) and seventh in rebounds (902) in Michigan State history.
“He’s willing to take on a challenge 1-on-1,” said assistant general manager Gary Sacks. “If you tell him to go guard a guy, doesn’t matter what size, I think he can guard threes, fours, even some twos. The other thing I love about him is he fits in well with the scheme.”
The 22-year-old was the only pick during the night for the Clippers, who entered the draft without a selection. Head coach Doc Rivers said prior to the draft that it was more likely they’d try to buy in to the second round than acquire a first-round pick, and that’s what happened.
Dawson ranked third on the Spartans in scoring and first in rebounds and blocks his senior year.
“He’s a shot blocker,” Sacks said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s the leading shot blocker in school history. That tells you something. He goes after everything.”
Wohl said Dawson, who only shot nine 3-pointers during his career at Michigan State and finished with a 55.9 percent mark from the free-throw line, is still raw offensively and will need to work on his perimeter game at the NBA level. But it’s his intangibles, work ethic and effort that made him so enticing.
He can also finish around the rim, averaging double-digits in scoring each of his final two seasons at Michigan State. He shot 55.9 percent from the field for his career and tallied 18 points and nine rebounds against Duke his senior year.
“Some of the things he does on the court you can’t teach,” Wohl said. “It’s just innate effort and competitiveness and toughness. Those are things that we think are skills that are going to blend in with what we want to do.”
Dawson was a 2011 McDonald’s All-American in high school. By the time he was done with his four-year career with the Spartans, he was one of three players in Michigan State history with at least 1,000 points and 100 blocks, joining Draymond Green and Adreian Payne.
Wohl said Green is further along offensively right now than Dawson, but their toughness is comparable.
“They like to compete,” Wohl said. “They don’t back down from anybody. If there’s a loose ball, they own it. If there’s a ball on the boards, they own it. Inside, they’re winners. When they step on the court, they can help their team win.”
Wohl said the Clippers touched base with teams every pick as the second round continued, looking a couple picks ahead to see where they might want to buy in, but Sacks said they had their eyes on Dawson.
After getting the rights to Dawson at the end of the draft, the focus will now shift to undrafted players.
“We’ve been on the phone already,” Sacks said. “There’s some guys we like a lot, even considered drafting. We’re on the phones already right now and talked to five or six guys. Could happen tonight, but we’re working on it in the next day or two.”