Should Clippers’ Branden Dawson replace Glen Davis?


Nov 21, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) reacts to a play during the 1st half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After being taken with the 56th pick in the 2015 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Clippers got a steal with Branden Dawson. Now that he’s joined a team in desperate need of additional defense, Dawson has an excellent situation to find his niche in the league as a defensive specialist.

And if he can gradually begin to flourish with the Clippers in that role (even if it’s just for 7-10 minutes a game for now), could Dawson soon become the Clippers’ main backup big man?

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The real issue for their team right now, though, is obviously the matter of whether or not DeAndre Jordan will re-sign. His meeting yesterday with the Dallas Mavericks reportedly went very well, with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN even reporting that it’s now “50/50” between L.A. and Dallas. So as his meeting with the Clippers rapidly approaches, hopefully his friends and fellow star players Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the allure of L.A., a devoted coach in Doc Rivers, and the addition of Paul Pierce encourage him to stay.

However, only time will tell right now whether or not Jordan will stay in Los Angeles. If he does, the Clippers have their defensive anchor to secure the paint and continue dominating the boards (he’s now led the league in rebounds per game for the last two years). If he signs elsewhere, Doc Rivers has a gaping hole at the center position with few options on the market that possess nearly the kind of defensive prowess of Jordan.

DeAndre’s dilemma is another matter, though. And whilst his potential departure would create more minutes for the Clippers’ other big men — and another potential backup if they sign someone in free agency —  the question at hand here is whether Branden Dawson’s hustle and defensive versatility can earn him a role as the sixth man of the Clippers’ frontcourt.

With Davis’ contract ending this year, he is technically a free agent. Although, now that Spencer Hawes has left to the Charlotte Hornets in the Lance Stephenson deal, the Clippers lack frontcourt depth as it is. Which makes it far more likely that Doc will resign Davis, even if he hasn’t been remotely impressive.

We’re yet to see how Dawson will continue his success from his Michigan State days into the NBA. But come October, it will be time to see if Doc Rivers can place enough trust in Dawson’s hustle and defense to out-value his lack of shooting. Because after leading the league in offensive efficiency this year, the Clippers really need to focus on their 15th ranked defense instead.

Feb 1, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) shots the ball over Michigan Wolverines forward Max Bielfeldt (44) during the second half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. The Spartans won 76-66. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

First off, their offensive input needs to be considered.

Dawson averaged 11.9 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting this season, and whilst those are certainly respectable numbers, most of his points came through his vicious offensive put-backs and points in transition. Which obviously isn’t a problem, as that’s a fundamental part of Dawson’s unique ability as a 6’7″ power forward. He even ranks 23rd in total career points in the Big Ten Conference, which is impressive considering his limited shooting.

Yet his lack of range — shown by his total of zero three pointers in his four years at college, and 29 percent shooting from beyond 10 feet — means that he can rarely be used as an offensive option. Although, when he’s surrounded by so much offensive talent from Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce and Jamal Crawford on the perimeter, to Blake Griffin in the post, the Clippers can get away with Dawson’s lack of range.

Regardless of his weak jump shot and 55.8 percent career free throw shooting, Dawson can still be a key factor on offense. He’s a terror in transition due to his speed, explosiveness and emphatic finishing ability, and in terms of offensive rebounding he’ll be an absolute nightmare for opponents. He led the Big Ten Conference in offensive rebounds this year with 102, and that level hustle and presence under the basket will be extremely important to the Clippers.

So, even with Dawson’s offensive limitations, is Glen Davis really any better? Big Baby occasionally has a mid range game, but believe it or not he’s even worse than Dawson when he’s at least 10 feet out from the basket. Davis made no more 22 percent of his shots from either 10-16 out or 16 feet to the three point line. And more importantly, the Clippers’ offensive rating plummets from 117.1 without Davis, to just 98.6 when he’s on the floor (seriously, it drops by -18.5).

You can say Dawson needs a jumper, but with his endless hustle, it’s going to take a herculean effort of poor offense to beat Davis’ mark of -18.5.

Even if Dawson will need to take sometime to expand his range with the help of Griffin and highly renowned shooting coach Bob Thate, it may not be long until his offensive rebounding, hustle and transition play alone rewards with a more significant role than Davis or another limited veteran from free agency.

Next, it comes down to defense. Which is where Dawson wins hands down.

Davis throws his sturdy, 6’9″, 289 lbs body into opposing bigs well, and he certainly tries to make a difference, but his lack of agility hardly makes him the best defender. Especially when it comes to guarding players away from the basket or defending pick-and-rolls. He also averaged just 0.3 blocks and 2.3 rebounds per game this year, and even converting his impact to per 36 minutes makes little difference (0.8 blocks and 6.7 rebounds).

In his final season at Michigan this year, though, Dawson was a defensive force. He ranked 1st in the Big Ten Conference in rebounds per game (9.1) 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).

Simply put, his chase down blocks, explosive rim protection, help defense, speed to defend guards and strength to defend power forwards makes Branden Dawson a far better defender than Davis. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how he translates to the NBA, but his defensive ceiling is incredibly high to say the least.

Dec 14, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) blocks shot of Oakland Golden Grizzlies guard Kahlil Felder (20) during the 2nd half of a game at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming Davis does resign with the Clippers, he’s still the one for Branden Dawson to overtake in Doc Rivers’ rotation. Furthermore, if there’s new competition in the form of another big man signed on a veteran’s minimum contract, Dawson will still have to prove himself in the same way.

Two backup power forwards the Clippers are reportedly interested in are Carlos Boozer and Amar’e Stoudemire, who both possess some ability to stretch the floor and rebound. This year, they both averaged at least 17 points and 8 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is a fair rate of production — especially in comparison to that of Glen Davis. However, neither of them are strong defenders.

Which is where Branden Dawson comes into the equation.

Again, we can’t make a final judgment on him until he’s actually played in the NBA. But as we look forward to the 2015-16 season, wondering what’s in store for the Clippers, it looks like Branden Dawson could end up being far more valuable to L.A. than Davis. And due to his signature attributes as an aggressive defender, he could be more valuable than other possible signings due to the Clippers’ need for defense over offense.

All he needs is enough playing time to make his defensive presence and aggressive attitude known.

Next: Could Gerald Green be a great signing for the Clippers?