LA Clippers Need Progression From the Young Guys

LA Clippers, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
LA Clippers, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

Barring a big trade, the LA Clippers are likely to look similar next year. If they want to improve, they’ll need development from the young players.

The LA Clippers are in an interesting situation going into the offseason. On the one hand, we have Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and role players to help make us a championship contender.

On the other hand, there’s limited flexibility going forward. With draft picks missing from the Paul George trade and already being against the cap, there’s not a lot of room for improvement via bringing in outside players.

Unless a big trade happens – and we talk about the team’s trade assets here – improvement is mostly going to happen through internal development.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are going to work on their game in the offseason, and PG will be further removed from surgery on both shoulders. There’s reason to believe they’ll be a little bit better next season than this one.

But they aren’t in their early 20s anymore. The odds of significant improvement from Kawhi at 29 and PG at 30 aren’t fantastic.

Which is fine! Both are great players. I’m not arguing that we need them to get significantly better, but that they’re probably not going to be the source of the team’s improvement.

That improvement, if it comes, will be from the development of our youth. Just to recap, our roster of 25 and under players is:

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  • Landry Shamet, 23, G
  • Ivica Zubac, 23, C
  • Amir Coffey, 23, G
  • Mfiondu Kabengele, 23, C
  • Terance Mann, 24, G
  • Johnathan Motley, 25, F

There’s potential there.

We’ve already seen Big Zu developing into looking like the center of the future for the team. He only played 18 minutes per game this past season, but his per 36 numbers were 16 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 60% shooting and 75% from the line.

You throw in his solid defense and chemistry with basically everybody on the team, and Zubac looks like he could develop into a really really good center for a long time.

Shamet’s shown flashes. He was a 42% three-point shooter last year but dropped down to 37.5% this year. He’s not exactly a defensive stopper, but he gives enough effort to be roughly a net neutral on the defensive end.

If he can become more comfortable handling the ball while getting up into the 40% from 3 area, he could be a valuable rotation piece. If he can get more run with our starters while doing those things, he’ll help open up the offense while not sacrificing too much on defense.

Those are the two developmental projects I feel pretty good about. Were I a betting man, I’d bet on seeing good improvement from Shamet and Zubac. The questions really come with the rest of the guys on that list.

Of the rest, Terance Mann probably elicits the most excitement out of Clippers fans. While the rookie had a few good games throughout the season, the large part of that excitement comes from the last game of the regular season.

Mann was an assist away from a triple-double that game. In 42 minutes, he put up 25 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists, shooting 67% from the field and 33% from three.

That one game has a lot of Clippers fans excited for potential development from Mann. His physical profile is another reason to be excited.

At 6’6 with a 6’7 wingspan, Mann’s got the size to guard multiple positions and grab rebounds over smaller guards. He’s an athlete and he hustles on defense. In a very small sample size (about 360 minutes, many of which were in garbage time), the Clippers played better on defense with Mann on the court vs. off.

If Mann can lock in on defense and get his shooting stroke going, he could find himself with rotation minutes going forward. Those could be big ifs, though, as they also require Doc to trust Mann to play some real minutes over his other guards.

After Shamet, Zubac and Mann it starts to get even more uncertain.

Amir Coffey has the size for the SG position at 6’7 and scored 21 points when Mann got his triple-double, but outside of that, he’s struggled to score, shooting 43% from the field and 32% from three. He’s not a solid plus on defense, so he’ll need to come a long way in his shooting if he wants to be a contributing player.

Mfiondu Kabengele and Johnathan Motley are our young bigs. Neither Motley nor MF DOOM saw many minutes with the Clippers, but both put up numbers in the G League. Fi put up per 36 numbers of 21.6 points and 10.7 rebounds, while Motley’s per 36 was 26 points and 8.6 rebounds.

Despite Fi’s love of the three ball (shooting 20 threes in 64 total minutes of regular-season time with the Clippers!), neither of the two contributes a ton of spacing. This will necessarily limit their ceiling to playing on the second unit for this team.

Besides, Johnathan Motley is a restricted free agent, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back next year.

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Clipper Nation is hopeful for all three of these guys, but they all have a long way to go to be rotation players. That said, if Doc and his staff can turn the foursome of Mann, Coffey, Fi, and Motley into two solid rotation players, that will do wonders for the future of the team, both next year and as Kawhi and PG age into their mid-thirties.