2015 NBA Draft: Clippers’ Branden Dawson was a perfect steal


Feb 1, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) reacts to a play during the second half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. The Spartans won 76-66. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

By selecting Branden Dawson with the 56th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers acquired a player who directly helps their primary weaknesses. And seeing as they desperately need defense, toughness and rebounding, they got an absolute steal by drafting Dawson just minutes before the end of the night.

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The Clippers purchased the 56th pick from the New Orleans Pelicans for $600,000, which is a bargain in itself as Doc Rivers was able to hold onto his very limited amount of trade assets. Rather than panicking and trading his top potential asset (Jamal Crawford) to land a pick earlier in the draft, the Clippers have maintained the bench players they already had in place and have added the frontcourt depth that they need.

L.A. went from having no picks at the start of the night, to signing an excellent defensive forward for almost no cost. You have to give it to Doc this time. He did well.

What makes the Clippers’ draft success even more impressive, is that by drafting Dawson instead of signing a veteran big man in free agency, they actually made money. If the Clippers signed a veteran with at least ten years of experience (which would likely have been the case, considering their extremely limited cap situation) they would have needed to offer them a salary of at least $1.44 million. With Dawson, however, the Clippers can pay him a rookie contract of around $525,000. In short, they’ve saved close to a million in cap space.

Good job, Doc. Good job.

And seeing as Branden Dawson offers the attributes that they need more than anything else, there’s no denying that he was a bargain for such a small financial settlement and nothing more.

Whilst the limited offense of Dawson is the reason he fell to the 56th pick in the draft, the Clippers still got an absolute steal by selecting him. Because when they already led the league this year in offensive efficiency with 109.8 points per 100 possessions, they really don’t need more buckets. Dawson, on the other hand, is the athletic, energetic and physical defensive player that could be a perfect spark-plug for them off the bench.

That being said, his lack of a three point shot or mid range jumper will mean that he’ll rarely work as an offensive option for the Clippers. He did shoot 53.5 percent from the floor this season and averaged 11.9 points per game, but most of his made field goals came in the form of ferocious offensive put-backs, or cuts to the basket and points in transition. Dawson’s mid range game is yet to be seen at this stage of his career as he made just 29 percent of his shots from 10 feet out this season, and also failed to make a single three pointer in his entire college career.

Apr 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) shoots against Duke Blue Devils forward Justise Winslow (12) in the second half of the 2015 NCAA Men

He attempted a mere 9 shots from behind the arc, so we can’t expect him to suddenly develop a three point shot. Although, whilst his jump shot from within 16 feet is still extremely undeveloped, Dawson is in a perfect situation with the Clippers to improve his offense as much as possible (even if his ceiling as a scorer is still limited).

With fellow power forward Blake Griffin to learn from — who began his NBA career shooting 29 percent from 10-16 feet out like Dawson — and highly respected shooting coach Bob Thate, Dawson has guys he can learn from.

Thate has played a key role in helping Griffin improve his accuracy from 10-16 feet out by over 9 percent since his rookie season, as well as introducing a 40.4 percent shot from beyond 16 feet out to his game. And seeing as Blake was known for dunking, rebounding and little else during the early stages of his career, there’s a very good chance that Blake and Thate can combine to at least improve Dawson’s jumper to an extent.

Hopefully he improves somewhat over time, but a player who can rarely be used as an offensive option isn’t ideal. Yet with the way Dawson will be able to perform as the defensive anchor for the Clippers’ second unit, he’ll easy compensate for his lack of shooting on the other end. By guarding multiple positions, closing out possessions with his rebounding, or blocking shots and diving into passing lanes to create fast break opportunities.

This season, Dawson put his aggressive mindset to full effect and continue to terrorize opponents through his rebounding and smothering defense. He ranked 1st in the Big Ten Conference in rebounds per game (9.1), total offensive rebounds (102) and defensive rating (91.1). In addition to his dominance as a rebounder, Dawson averaged 1.2 steals per game, and even ranked 4th in blocks per game (1.7), 6th in block percentage (6.3) and 2nd in defensive win shares (2.5).

His reaction time is near instantaneous when it comes to hauling in offensive rebounds or elevating for a block, and his 6’11” wingspan and 34.5 inch vertical give him the physical intangibles to continue to succeed. Of course, the opponents he’ll face in the NBA are going to be a bit taller and stronger than those he faced in college, but Dawson still has the speed to cover guards and has proven on countless occasions that he can use his strength and instant explosion under the rim to cover power forwards in the post.

As much as any of his physical attributes, though, it’s his relentlessness and tenacity that can make him an elite and versatile defender for years to come.

Remember, he’s only 6’7″. So the way he dominated the Big Ten Conference in so many areas speaks volumes of his elite athleticism and drive to defend. And as the Clippers ranked just 15th in defensive efficiency and only 16th in rebounding rate, Branden Dawson is exactly what they need (especially for when DeAndre Jordan is off the floor).

Mar 29, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) drives to the basket against Louisville Cardinals forward/center Mangok Mathiang (12) during the first half in the finals of the east regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

If someone was one of the best offensive players in the draft, do you think they’d fall to the 56th pick? It’s highly unlikely. And even if their defense was suspect, it would probably be scrutinized far less than someone who excels defensively but struggles offensively. That’s just the imbalanced value that’s so commonly placed on offense over defense in today’s fast paced, three-point-crazy NBA.

But Branden Dawson challenges that. Because he doesn’t need to be an offensive threat when he’s already surrounded by various types of scorers– from perimeter players such as Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick, to the mid range, low-post prowess of Blake Griffin.

All the Clippers need from Dawson is defense, rebounding and toughness. And his versatility allows him to excel in each of those areas more than pretty much anyone from the 2015 draft class. Furthermore, he can guard multiple positions, and play at multiple positions (as either a small or power forward).

Ultimately, the Clippers did what they should have done: they drafted a defensive specialist, pure and simple. They addressed their areas of weakness, and acquired the best player available for an incredibly low price.

That’s why Brandon Dawson was such a steal for the Clippers, and now he has the opportunity to become the tough, defensive energizer that their bench so desperately needs.

Next: 2015 NBA Draft: The Doc Rivers trade is complete