The 2022 NBA Draft is Thursday, and when it comes to free agents, what happens with the LA Clippers and their attempts to retain their own has been the priority. That’s especially the case this year, where the Clippers do not have a lottery pick or a first-round pick and will begin the draft with a lone second-round pick. The Clippers also have a mostly full roster, meaning that if they can retain their own free agents, there may be room for only one significant veteran contributor from outside the team.
We’ll know by next week how the team option for Ivica Zubac and the player option for Nicolas Batum resolve themselves, as teams officially will begin negotiating with free agents at the end of next weekend.
Before the draft starts reshaping rosters across the league, let’s take a look at some under-the-radar options for the Clippers to consider, one at each position. I also will include the positional rankings from The Athletic’s John Hollinger with each target.
Power forward: Otto Porter Jr.
It was interesting when the Warriors visited the Clippers for the first game after the 2021 All-Star break. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr mentioned the Warriors wanted to sign Batum after the Charlotte Hornets bought out his contract in the 2020 offseason. Batum went on to have a career renaissance with the Clippers in 2020-21, then signed a two-year deal with a player option to return for the 2021-22 season. The Warriors, on the other hand, missed the 2021 playoffs after losing two Play-In games, then signed oft-injured Porter on the low once Batum re-signed with the Clippers in 2021.
The Porter signing worked out swimmingly for the newly crowned champion Warriors. Porter was a backup power forward who was asked to do little offensively (seven-year low 8.2 points per game, career-low 15.0 usage rate), but the third pick of the 2013 NBA Draft out of Georgetown spaced the floor effectively (1.3 3s per game, 37.0 percent), rebounded hard (5.7 per game) and was active defensively (1.1 steals). Dunks are one of my favorite indicators of health and explosion, and Porter had 11 this season in 63 games after only eight in the previous three seasons combined in Washington, Chicago and Orlando.
The Clippers would prefer Batum to return; Batum also would prefer to return. So, adding a veteran power forward would seem to be a moot point. But just in case things break down somewhere, or in case there’s a trade that involves Marcus Morris Sr., Porter could be a contingency option and certainly would fit the Clippers on both ends of the floor.
Shooting guard: Delon Wright
Wright is a Los Angeles native who went to Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, Calif., and he is a former teammate of current Clippers Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard. The Hawks were Wright’s sixth team in four years, and he played a five-year low of 18.9 minutes per game while serving as a combo guard behind All-Star Trae Young and wings like De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanović.
Hollinger has Wright as a point guard, but he’s 6-5 and has played off the ball enough to fit any perimeter position. Wright is an incredibly quiet scorer who somehow attempted only 6.7 field goals and 1.6 free throws per 36 minutes last season. He can shoot the basketball, making 37.9 percent of his 3s and 85.7 percent of his free throws. Wright has active hands defensively while finishing well in transition, the latter being a major issue for the 2021-22 Clippers. Wright has always been careful with the basketball, which speaks to his lack of aggression but also reflects how he values the rock.
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue probably would have to tell Wright to shoot the basketball repeatedly. Wright is 30 years old despite being a 2015 first-round pick and coming off a quiet year in Atlanta. He could be available for a team like the Clippers, who have a couple of free-agent wings in Amir Coffey (restricted) and Rodney Hood (unrestricted). Wright could run pick-and-roll well enough to add to the cadre of playmaking wings already on the roster, with more point guard experience than anyone except incumbent starter Reggie Jackson.
Small forward: TJ Warren
The risk on Warren is obvious: He has played only four games since the 2020 restart in Florida ended. Warren underwent surgery in January 2021 to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, and even though he was participating in practice this season, he was shut down by the Pacers in March.
Warren spent the rest of this past season preparing for the 2022-23 season at home in North Carolina, and the 2014 lottery pick out of NC State will undoubtedly have to take a prove-it type of deal. Hollinger has Warren as a power forward, but Warren spent his first season with the Pacers starting at small forward with Domantas Sabonis at power forward and Myles Turner at center. He certainly has the size to play power forward, but it is his skill as an efficient scorer with 3-point range and a sublime midrange game that makes him intriguing.
As stated above with Wright and Porter, the wing position for the Clippers’ roster is quite full. But that could always change depending on what happens in free agency, and it is unclear what kind of workload Warren could fulfill. Warren could be the kind of player that does not play every day for the Clippers or takes on a heavy load of minutes when he does take the court. He has the kind of on-ball juice as a scorer and off-ball skill as a cutter to go with enough range as a shooter to be a unique difference-maker in a variety of lineups for Lue.
Center: Andre Drummond
The names are just getting bigger, aren’t they? Drummond was the ninth pick in the 2012 draft out of Connecticut by the Detroit Pistons. His first NBA head coach was none other than Lawrence Frank, who is now the current Clippers president of basketball operations. The Pistons-to-Clippers pipeline is expansive, and Drummond has played with Jackson, Morris and Luke Kennard.
Drummond has led the NBA in rebounds four times and was an All-Star in 2016 and 2018, but as evidenced by the fact that he has played on five teams in the last three seasons, his value now is not that of an elite center. Drummond was traded in the middle of two of the last three years, and the Clippers may have been interested in him after the Cleveland Cavaliers bought him out in 2020-21; Drummond went on to start for the Los Angeles Lakers instead before signing a minimum deal to back up Joel Embiid with the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2021 offseason.
Drummond doesn’t block many shots, but he’s a decent rim protector, even though he’s not on the same level as unrestricted free agent Isaiah Hartenstein or Zubac. He can get cooked in isolations, but Drummond has always had active hands, allowing him to disrupt pick-and-rolls regularly. Offensively, Drummond can be an adventure despite his imposing size. He doesn’t finish many of the surplus of offensive rebounds he inhales, turns the ball over too much to be a post option and has always struggled to shoot the ball well. But Drummond can still jump, and his passing isn’t so bad that he is completely radioactive with the ball in his hands outside of the paint.
The center position is the one that is most likely to see turnover from last season for the Clippers. That process already began when Serge Ibaka was traded in February. Zubac’s partners at center have had vastly different skill sets in each of the previous three seasons, featuring Hartenstein’s passing, Ibaka’s shooting and 2020 Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell’s interior scoring. If nothing else, Drummond would be the best rebounder, and the Clippers would certainly welcome that.
Point guard: John Wall
This is as loud as it gets right here! John Wall, the top pick of the same 2010 NBA Draft that saw Paul George go 10th. A five-time All-Star, 2015 All-Defense selection (Second Team) and 2017 All-NBA selection (Third Team) with the Washington Wizards, Wall has seen his career sidetracked by a combination of injuries and whatever you want to call his 2021-22 season where the Houston Rockets kept him on the inactive list for the entire campaign.
The last time Wall played was on April 23, 2021, when he finished with 27 points and 13 assists against the Clippers in a near upset. Overall, Wall has played in only 113 regular-season games since the 2017 postseason. But the 2020-21 season was something of a comeback for him. He competed defensively despite career-lows in rebounds (3.2) and steals (1.1), and he averaged 20.6 points, 5.3 free-throw attempts (74.9 percent), 6.9 assists and 2.0 3s. The downside with Wall’s offense is that he shot a career-low 40.4 percent from the field, made only 31.7 percent from 3 and had 3.5 turnovers to go with a career-low assists.
That brings us to why Wall would be listed here, especially when I suggested that a superior player in Kyrie Irving makes little sense for the Clippers and Wall expected to opt-in to his $47 million player option next season. Simply put, Wall would be a buyout candidate for the Clippers, not a player arriving via trade. If Wall were to come to the Clippers at a reduced rate, he’d be playing on the most talented team he’s been on. In addition to George, Wall is represented by Rich Paul, who also represents Brandon Boston Jr. and now Lue. The question would be whether he’d have to start or would be willing to come off the bench.
(Top photo: Carmen Mandato/POOL PHOTOS-USA Today)