The next phase of the Los Angeles Clippers offseason is upon us — and this one actually involves playing basketball. On Monday in Las Vegas, L.A. begins their four-game summer league schedule sporting a roster filled with an intriguing mix of rookies, young veterans and former college stars looking to prove they belong in the league.
Let’s take a look at the squad, beginning with the Clippers’ three recent draft picks.
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Keon Johnson, 19, shooting guard, 6-foot-4:
Likely to be the best pure athlete on the floor at any given moment, Johnson could try and turn the Summer League into a high-flying dunk fest if he were so inclined. But that’s not what the 19-year-old has in mind. Instead, Johnson will be focusing on improving his shot, which was the main source of concern for teams who had him on their draft boards and likely the reason the Clippers were able to snag him at No. 21 (after trading up with the Knicks).
In his only season at Tennessee, Johnson, who describes himself as “defense-minded,” shot just 44.9% from the field and 27.1% from three.
“I feel once I get more comfortable making shots, being a three-level scorer, then it’ll just open up my complete game,” Johnson said when asked about the summer league, per The Athletic’s Law Murray.
Given his age and innate ability, that improvement should eventually come, and ESPN’s Mike Schmitz thinks Johnson could be one of the steals of the draft. But in the meantime, Johnson could still see plenty of minutes during the season based solely on his defensive acumen, which he said is modeled after Kawhi Leonard.
Jason Preston, 21, point guard, 6-foot-4:
All three players drafted by the Clippers this year have an intriguing backstory, but none is more unbelievable than Preston’s. A non-factor on his high school team, Preston was already a journalism student at Central Florida when he randomly competed in a couple of AAU games that caught the eye of some college coaches.
The attention would set him upon a course that would eventually result in being selected First Team All-MAC at Ohio University and then drafted 33rd overall this July.
On Monday, the Clippers signed Preston to a three-year deal with a team option for year three. While the Clippers are technically brimming with point guards, Preston is one of their few pure floor leaders (he was second in the nation in assists his sophomore year at Ohio) meaning he could see significant minutes this season if he can, once again, prove he’s up to the challenge.
Brandon “BJ” Boston, 19, shooting guard, 6-foot-7:
Boston, along with Johnson and Preston, will draw the most eyeballs in the Clippers’ summer league. California’s Mr. Basketball for 2020, Boston was a five-star recruit before heading to play at Kentucky (which we hear is a pretty good basketball school). But his lone season in Lexington did not exactly live up to expectations, as the trim teenager broke his finger in the offseason and then struggled at times to score, converting just 35.5% of his shots.
Projected by some to be a lottery pick before entering Kentucky, Boston slipped all the way to No. 51 during this year’s draft. It was a rough end to a sad offseason for Boston, who, in late April, witnessed his UK teammate Terrence Clarke die in a car accident. Boston was in a car behind Clarke’s Hyundai Genesis when it ran a red light and slammed into another vehicle before hitting a light pole and then a brick wall.
But despite the gloom preceding Boston’s NBA arrival, his coach at Kentucky, John Calipari, foresees a bright future for Boston, who the Clippers signed to a three-year deal (year three is a team option) hours before their first summer league game. On draft night, Calipari took to Twitter to warn NBA teams hesitant to select Boston.
“I’ve said this before about other players and I don’t think I’ve been wrong. He is the guy teams will regret passing on if they don’t select him. He is going to have a great pro career,” tweeted Calipari.
Daniel Oturu, 21, power forward, 6-foot-8:
This will be a pivotal first summer league for Oturu, whose rookie rear end became very familiar with the bench last season despite Serge Ibaka’s injury and the mid-season trade of Mfiondu Kabengele.
It wasn’t all Oturu’s fault, however. With the pandemic forcing the 2020 draft into November and the season starting only five weeks later, Oturu, who was selected 33rd overall out of Minnesota, missed out on valuable summer league experience, which would’ve given the Clippers a more expansive look at his capabilities. And a quad injury kept him out of the G League bubble, too.
As a result, the Clippers seemed content to sit him most of the year, even bringing in veteran DeMarcus Cousins late in the season to help down low. But with roster spots filling up faster than a Solo cup at a keg party, Oturu will have to prove his worth if he wants to get more minutes in his sophomore campaign.
Amir Coffey, 24, shooting guard/forward, 6-foot-7:
A favorite of Clippers announcer Brian Sieman due to his pun-friendly name (“Thanks a latte!”), the University of Minnesota product has a lot to play for in this week’s summer league. A two-way player the last two seasons, Coffey recently became a restricted free agent after the Clippers extended him a qualifying offer of $1.4 million at the end of July.
If Coffey plays well — which he did during L.A.’s 2019 summer league, averaging 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists. — there’s a chance, albeit small, that another team makes him a bigger offer and forces the Clippers either match or let him walk. Coffey played in 44 regular season games last season, averaging 3.2 points on 43.7% shooting in 9.0 minutes a contest.
Jay Scrubb, 20, shooting guard, 6-foot-6:
Scrubb, after overcoming a troubled youth, is in the second year of a two-year, two-way contract with the Clippers.
Scrubb underwent left-foot surgery soon after being drafted 55th overall in 2020, and it contributed to him seeing his first real minutes in 2021 in the final two games of the regular season. In those contests, which the Clippers’ coaching staff was clearly indifferent about winning, Scrubb connected on 13-of-33 shots, including 2-for-9 from three.
Given Kawhi Leonard’s rehab, Scrubb could see more minutes this season. But fans should not expect to see anything close to the 21.9 points he posted in his final year at John A. Logan College when he was named the 2020 junior college player of the year and became the first JUCO player to be drafted into the NBA since 2004 (Donta Smith).
Kerwin Roach, 24, shooting guard, 6-foot-4:
A double-digit scorer (14.6 points) as a senior in 2019 for the University of Texas, Roach played with the Wellington Saints of the New Zealand NBL last season and was named the Grand Final MVP following the Saints’ 12th league championship.
Isaiah Hicks, 27, forward, 6-foot-9:
Hicks, who was a McDonald’s All-American out of high school and started every game at UNC his senior year, played in 21 games for the New York Knicks between 2017-2019. Hicks then spent a year in Russia before joining the Seoul Samsung Thunders of the Korean Basketball League, where he led the team in scoring with 17.2 points a game.
Lydell Elmore, 23, power forward, 6-foot-9:
Perhaps no player on the roster is a bigger question mark than Elmore, who is entering the Summer League as an undrafted forward out of High Point University in North Carolina. Long and athletic, the 6-foot-9 Elmore averaged 11.0 points and 6.2 rebounds last season under head coach Tubby Smith. He finished the season 4th in total offensive rebounds with 51.
Jordan Ford, 23, point/shooting guard, 6-foot-1:
There’s no denying that Ford can fill it up. At Saint Mary’s, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged better than 21 points per game in his junior and senior years while shooting 41.1% from three. But if the second-year guard has any hope of elevating himself beyond the G League’s Agua Caliente Clippers, he will need to show that he can be a playmaker from the point. It’s a question the summer league will help to answer.
Kaleb Wesson, 22, center, 6-foot-10:
At 250 pounds, Wesson is a big boy (but not as big as he was in high school when he was named Ohio Mr. Basketball as a 300-pounder). Undrafted out of Ohio State in 2020, Wesson played in the G League bubble for Santa Cruz last season and showed some ability to take his game outside and shoot the three. But he will need to do more defensively to catch the attention of other teams.