With their backcourt situation still very much up the air heading into free agency, the Los Angeles Clippers traded a 2026 second-round pick and cash considerations to Orlando for the rights to Ohio University point guard Jason Preston, who was selected 33rd overall in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
An agreement on the trade had already been made when the Magic selected Preston with the third pick of the second round, doing so at the behest of the Clippers.
As a junior at Ohio, Preston averaged 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists, shooting 51.4% from the floor and 39.0% from three, and was named to the All-MAC First Team. Preston was also crowned MAC Tournament MVP after leading the Bobcats to a MAC Tournament championship and an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament, upsetting Virginia in the opening round but eventually losing to Creighton in the round of 32. He declared for the draft shortly thereafter.
Can’t Make This Stuff Up
It seems only right that Preston would start his professional career in Los Angeles, since his journey to the league could be straight out of a Hollywood script.
Just a few years back, Preston was about as far off the NBA radar as one can get.
As a member of the varsity squad for William R. Boone high school in Orlando, Florida, Preston stood just 6-foot tall (with shoes on) and weighed 140 pounds, and he struggled to find minutes or the bucket. In two seasons, Preston averaged just 2.0 points a game and his 28.0% from behind the arc was about as unspectacular as it sounds.
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In fact, so low were Preston’s basketball prospects, that, after graduation, he was accepted to the journalism school at the University of Central Florida, hoping one day to become an NBA writer. His love of the game had arisen at the knee of his mother, Judith, who was a rabid Detroit Pistons fan but who passed away from lung cancer during Preston’s junior year in high school. (After her death, Preston’s aunt and uncle became his legal guardians, but they lived in Jamaica, so Jason opted to live with a family friend in Florida.)
His organized playing days seemingly behind him, Preston had already begun taking classes at UCF when one day a friend invited him to play in a couple of AAU tournaments. At his age and unsigned to play ball at UCF, Preston, who had grown several inches and now stood 6-foot-4, was still eligible to participate in AAU and he made the most of his cameos.
“I felt like that was the first time I got a chance to prove myself,” Preston told The Athletic’s James L. Edwards about those AAU tournaments. “I had already been doing it my entire life but those tournaments reinforced it. I had a whole map out of what was going to happen.”
When a coach suggested he play a season at a prep school to raise his recruiting profile, Preston did just that, dropping out of UCF and enrolling at Believe Sports Academy in Athens, Tennessee.
It was at Believe that Preston finally got the opportunity to play point guard, and though his game was a far cry from his bench-warming days in Orlando, schools weren’t exactly beating down his door for scholarships. So with the help of a friend, Preston posted a highlight reel to Twitter, which resulted in two scholarship offers, one of which was from Ohio University. (Longwood was the other.)
“His [situation] was very unique. His whole background and upbringing, losing his mom, his whole high school career,” Ohio assistant coach Will Ryan told Jason Arkley of The Athens Messenger in 2019. Ryan was Preston’s primary recruiter at Ohio. “We didn’t worry about all that stuff. We liked what we saw off his prep school film.”
Preston enrolled at Ohio the next season and the rest, as they say, is history. But in order for Preston to have a true Hollywood story, he still has plenty of hurdles to clear.
Getting Drafted Is Only the First Step
For the time being, Preston joins point guards Reggie Jackson, Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Yogi Ferrell on L.A.’s roster, with the expectation that one or more of those players will not be with the team after the summer. Jackson is a newly-coveted unrestricted free agent, while Beverley and Rondo, each with one year remaining on their contracts, have often been mentioned as possible trade assets. Ferrell’s contract for the upcoming season is non-guaranteed until January 10, 2022.
Of course, whether or not Preston has a long-term future with the Clippers (or any other NBA team for that matter) remains to be seen.
His greatest skill is as a passer, which derives from his excellent feel for the game. In evaluating Preston, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie noted his “poise and calm” and specifically highlighted his live-dribble passing, saying that Preston “loves to hit the pocket pass to the roller” in pick-and-rolls.
Clearly, Clippers’ president of basketball operations, Lawrence Frank, sees much of the same.
“Jason is an outstanding playmaker and passer with terrific vision and an advanced feel for the game,” said Frank, per NBA.com. “He stood out to us as a selfless teammate who makes those around him better. We think our group will enjoy playing with him.”
But there are plenty of limitations, too. Preston is not an outstanding athlete — certainly many millions of miles away from the Clippers first-round pick, Keon Johnson, in that regard — and he lacks a great first step, which could be especially problematic given that he doesn’t change direction very well. Going past NBA defenders will be tough. He’s also still not very big and could frequently find himself getting pushed around on both sides of the floor.
He also plays in an upright style, which is, on one hand, beneficial for looking over defenses but could be a huge issue on the defensive end, as quicker guards will likely have little trouble leaving him in their wake.
Not tom mention, the odds are against him simply by where he was selected. Second-round picks, even high ones, are not given guaranteed contracts, and, according to a study from 2019, only about 20% of those players selected after the first round were still in the league between 5-10 years after their drafts. (That figure is 75% for lottery picks and 45% for players drafted No. 15 through No. 30.)
But if anyone is capable of beating the odds, it’s Preston. And even if he doesn’t make it in the league, he can always go into journalism. Or screenwriting.