2015 NBA Draft: Is Branden Dawson a great fit for Clippers?


Mar 14, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) reacts after making a basket against the Maryland Terrapins during the second half in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers look set on making something happen in the 2015 NBA draft. And more than anything, they need frontcourt depth. Meaning that an athletic, defensive, devastating-in-transition forward could be a promising option to backup Blake Griffin. One such player, who has already been worked out by the Clippers, is power forward Branden Dawson of Michigan State.

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At 6’7″, Dawson can be considered as somewhat undersized to play power forward. But his incredible athleticism, 6’11” wing span, and strong, 230 lbs frame give him the powerful stature to make up for his height. And Dawson has the perfect aggressive mindset to fully utilize his fierce explosiveness.

Not just to execute highlight dunks, but to assert himself as a defender and stifle his opponents with serious authority when they challenge him at the rim.

In terms of offense, Dawson is relatively limited in terms of his jump shot, as he lacks a consistent mid range game or three point shot (he didn’t make a single three pointer during his college career). Yet he still averaged 11.9 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting last year. So before looking at that aspect of his game and disregarding him as a possible option for the Clippers, it’s important to remember that L.A. simply don’t need more perimeter shooter.

Yes, lights-out marksmen are always a nice addition, but this season the Clippers still ranked 3rd in made three pointers (10.1 per game) and 3rd in three point percentage (37.6). They even set a franchise record with 944 made this during this regular season, so they’re in far more need of grit, defense and rebounding — which are three things that their bench lacks.

Apr 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Matt Jones (13) lays the ball up past Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) in the second half of the 2015 NCAA Men

As an offensive threat, Branden Dawson is primarily a benefit to the Clippers in terms of hustle, offensive rebounding and his fast break potential. He can’t shoot threes (which is obviously somewhat of a problem in today’s three-point-trigger-happy NBA) but if he checks in as a backup to Griffin, and is still playing alongside Chris Paul and either Jamal Crawford or J.J. Redick, L.A. will still have plenty of outside options.

Or, if the Clippers opt for a smaller lineup and keep Griffin on the floor at center, they still have more than enough firepower to stop their offense going cold. Furthermore, they’ll have the added benefit of extra defense and transition speed from Dawson.

What he lacks in range, he makes up for in terrorising finishing. Just take a look how he posterzied a 7 footer three years ago (and he’s even better now):

Points aren’t what the Clippers need from Dawson, though. They had the league’s best offense this season with 109.8 points per 100 possessions, whereas they only ranked a dead average 15th in defensive efficiency and 16th in rebounding rate. To make matters worse, their primary backups for Blake Griffin and DeAndre JordanGlen Davis and Spencer Hawes — both made matters worse for the Clippers when on the floor.

L.A. led opponents by an average of at least 10 points when either Davis or Hawes were on the bench this season. Although, when at least one of them came into the game, their point differential went from +10 to an average of -3.

That’s essentially why they’re in dire need of frontcourt help and additional defense.

Thankfully for the Clippers, it’s that facet of the game where Dawson excels. And after spending four years playing for a coach like Tom Izzo, there’s a certain pedigree you earn when you’re valuable enough to play 30.1 minutes a game (that was Dawson’s average last year).

One of the reasons why Izzo valued Dawson so much was because of plays like this:

Powerful rejections like that are why Branden Dawson can’t be viewed poorly for his height. Because he has that kind of fearlessness and athleticism to defend the rim as well as most 7 footers.

It’s not just defending from below the basket or as a help defender with his quickness, though. Dawson also excels in transition defense as a chase-down rim protector:

He’s an excellent hustle player, and defensive plays like these can’t even be dreamed of with Big Baby and Hawes in the game.

Last year, we saw Dawson put it all together for his best season yet.

In the Big Ten Conference, he finished 1st in total offensive rebounds (102), 1st in rebounds per game (9.1), 1st in total rebound percentage (17.9), 4th in blocks per game (1.7), 2nd in defensive win shares (2.5) and 1st in defensive rating (91.1).

Simply put, he was one of the best — if not the best — in every major rebounding and defensive category.

That’s pretty impressive for a player who some could wrongly disregard for being ‘too small’.

To compare him to current NBA players, the closest big man is someone like Kenneth Faried. A power forward who could also be described as undersized at 6’8″, but he’s still made a good career for himself — due to his hustle, defense, rebounding, and ability to make plays in transition.

Even Zach Randolph is smaller than you’d expect, considering how effective he is in the paint as a rebounder and a scorer. He even has a near-nonexistent vertical, but he still recorded 10.5 rebounds per game this year, despite being just 6’9″.

Yet the area that separates Dawson over someone like Z-bo is that he doesn’t need to be a dominant low-post player to control the boards — because he has such athleticism that allows him to rise over opponents and make plays when he isn’t even near the basket.

And for the rookie prospects who are projected to be on offer in the second round (or who may go undrafted) Branden Dawson is quite possibly the best player that will be on offer for the Clippers — either late in the second round if they acquire a pick, or as a free agent after the 2015 NBA draft has taken place.

That being said, the one reason to question signing Dawson is that no matter how much he suits the Clippers’ up-tempo style and their need for more defense, L.A. are in greater need of a backup center for DeAndre Jordan. Mainly because Hawes somehow regressed to a field goal percentage of just 39.3 percent last year and he cannot be relied on defensively (with his defensive rating of 104).

Feb 7, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo talks to guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) during the second half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

However, the fact that Dawson may even be a free agent following the 2015 NBA draft makes him a low risk-high reward player. He could fill a lot of voids in their bench, and it’s just too entertaining to picture him rejecting an opponent before CP3 takes the ball and hoists a half-court alley-oop to Griffin.

He could make Lob City even better — at both ends of the floor.

His head coach at Michigan, Tom Izzo, even said last year that he’d need Branden Dawson to be “Superman” to give them a better chance of winning as they approached the Big Ten Tournament.

That’s pretty much the most out-of-this-world figure a player can be compared to. And it’s certainly a lot for a man who’s projected in several mocks (three by CBSSports and another by NBADraft.net) as going undrafted in the 2015 NBA draft.

So, is he really a good target for the Clippers?

Well, despite his inconsistent range as a shooter, it’s his athleticism, defense and tenacity that have shown he could be that second unit Superman for L.A..

Next: Blake Griffin's potential is still increasing -- physically and mentally