#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Los Angeles Clippers for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The Los Angeles Clippers, who no longer have Chris Paul but managed to recover nicely from the offseason departure.

17. Tyrone Wallace: 1.33

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks (for Salt Lake City Stars)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

For Tyrone Wallace to make it in the NBA, he needs to either develop as a facilitator or showcase a vastly improved shot. The southpaw knocked down just 29.8 percent of his triples as a senior at California in 2015-16, and he went his entire collegiate career without ever averaging posting an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio.

Unfortunately, that didn’t change during his G League campaign with the Salt Lake City Stars.

Those per-game marks listed above are respectable, but they lose some of their luster once you dig below the surface level. Wallace’s 3.6 dimes per contest were accompanied by an average of 2.5 turnovers, and he slashed just 45.2/24.2/69.7. The latter two numbers simply aren’t acceptable, particularly because this 23-year-old won’t be able to get by against competent NBA stoppers when he’s only capable of bursting toward the hoop and attempting to finish at the rim.

16. Marshall Plumlee: 1.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 1.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-8.84 TPA (for New York Knicks)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Marshall Plumlee wasn’t terrible during his cup of coffee with the New York Knicks. Gleaning any real information from such a minuscule sample is a tough endeavor, but he finished effectively around the hoop, created his own shots from the low block, thrived while cleaning the glass, showed off some nice passing touch and held his own defensively. Granted, this was largely against backups when games were already decided, which takes away even more of the shine.

Unfortunately, this Plumlee wasn’t gifted the same athleticism possessed by brothers Mason and Miles. He’s out of place operating in or defending the pick-and-roll, which forces him to understand his limitations and act accordingly. Blossoming into anything more than an end-of-bench big capable of looking decent in mop-up duty would be an unexpected development, though there’s no shame in simply making an NBA roster and continuing to work hard at his craft.

15. Jawun Evans: 1.94

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 19.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 155.02 TPA (for Oklahoma State Cowboys)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Jawun Evans will always be limited by his physical frame (6’0″ with a 6’5.5″ wingspan) and lack of lateral quickness. His occasional inability to finish plays around the hoop is troubling as well, whether that applies to his creative layups in traffic or floaters to counter the outstretched arms of a bigger defender. But as he proved throughout his time with Oklahoma State, he’s a preternatural passer who already has plenty of experience operating in the pick-and-roll.

Evans’ experience with the NBA’s pet half-court play should serve him well as he attempts to transition into the ranks of professional basketball, but his success will ultimately be determined by his shooting. If he hits like he did as a freshman (47.5 percent on 1.8 attempts per game), he’ll justify the three voters who saw him as a depth piece. If he replicates his sophomore exploits (37.9 percent on 3.0 attempts per game as he tried to mix in more pull-ups), he’ll struggle to earn even the tiniest spot in the rotation.

14. Sindarius Thornwell: 2.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.0 blocks, 298.39 TPA (for South Carolina Gamecocks)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Maybe the lack of outside shooting, limited explosion off the dribble and careless turnovers will hold Sindarius Thornwell back when he’s not in complete control of an offense, as he was throughout this past season with South Carolina. But it’s still worth noting just how ridiculously talented the reigning SEC Player of the Year was during his breakout campaign. Bolstered by 39.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc (the shooting concerns stem more from the rest of his career), he paced the entire nation in TPA:

Since 2011, only six players have topped his score: Anthony Davis, Kemba Walker, Frank Kaminsky, Jae Crowder, Delon Wright and Victor Oladipo. Not all are stars, but all have proved they belong in the NBA.

Thornwell could be next.

13. Brice Johnson: 2.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 1.3 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.25 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

As Helene Elliott wrote for the Los Angeles Times, Brice Johnson’s rookie season didn’t exactly go according to plan:

Brice Johnson can’t forget the season he lost. The 6-foot-10 power forward still wonders what might have happened if he hadn’t suffered a herniated disk in his back in an exhibition game in October, still imagines the effect he might have had on the Clippers, who drafted him at No. 25 after a four-year career at North Carolina.

“I still think about it,” said Johnson, who was projected as a possible backup for Blake Griffin. “I can’t get it out of my head, just because I was ready. I thought I was ready to go, I was ready for the NBA. And then I got injured and it kind of set me back.”

Now, perception is entirely different.

Rather than being viewed as a stud rebounder with a developing jumper, Johnson is caught in the morass of bigs attempting to carve out minutes behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Still only 23 years old, he’ll have a chance to distinguish himself, but he can’t afford any major missteps or significant injuries.

12. DeAndre Liggins: 2.50

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-32.67 TPA (for Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Ryan Jarvis)

Defense, defense, defense.

DeAndre Liggins doesn’t add much as a shooter, though he can occasionally knock down a corner triple. He’s not a strong facilitator and instead prefers to play off the ball. Little about his game stands out on the offensive end, to be perfectly honest. But he’s a bona fide lockdown defender, always willing to sacrifice his body and make life a living hell for his foes. Just this last year, he helped drop the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defensive rating by 3.8 points per 100 possessions while finishing No. 12 among the league’s 2-guards in ESPN.com’s defensive real plus/minus.

Opposing teams are already worried about the inevitable backcourt pairing of Liggins and Patrick Beverley when the Clippers truly need a stop.

11. Wesley Johnson: 2.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, minus-29.19 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Brian Sampson)

Gone is the notion that Wesley Johnson could develop into a three-and-D contributor. Though he once offered hope of providing a floor-spacing boost for his teammates, he’s now followed up a 33.3 three-point percentage in 2015-16 by hitting his treys at a 24.6 percent clip during 2016-17. That’s not anywhere close to where it needs to be as he tries justifying his playing time, and the errant nature of his shooting forces him to work even harder on the defensive side.

Fortunately, his length isn’t going anywhere.

Johnson loves taking risks in any and all situations. He uses his long arms to burst into passing lanes at the last second or come over from the weak side to provide help. He gambles for steals in one-on-one situations. And though it exposes him to some trouble, it also helps him make a palpable impact, thereby counteracting—at least partially—his shooting woes.

10. Willie Reed: 3.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 27
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, minus-10.22 TPA (for Miami Heat)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Willie Reed might not offer much upside or floor-spacing off the Clippers bench, but he’s more than adept at the elements of the game in which he specializes.

Need someone to clean the glass? Reed collected 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes during his final season with the Miami Heat, excelling on both the offensive and defensive sides. Need someone to protect the rim and play fairly disciplined defense on the interior? Reed can do that as well, and he’s now coming off a season in which he held opponents to 50.4 percent shooting while stationed at the bucket.

Little about his game is glamorous, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

9. Sam Dekker: 3.38

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-29.57 TPA (for Houston Rockets)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

After a back injury limited him to just three appearances as a rookie, Sam Dekker started to prove he belonged in the NBA during his sophomore season. He showed hints of shooting upside and excelled cutting to the hoop, flashing his explosive athleticism as a frequent recipient of alley-oop feeds and passes on the break like the one you can see below:

Dekker posted a whopping 1.52 points per possession as a cutter, which left him in the 92.3 percentile. Despite his minimal playing time (just 18.4 minutes per game), he was so devastatingly effective in this area and used so frequently while on the floor that he managed to add more value with the play type than all but 36 players throughout the league.

Given the passing wizardry of the Clippers’ likely backup point guard (Milos Teodosic) and the chemistry Dekker enjoys with the probably starter (Patrick Beverley) thanks to their mutual time with the Houston Rockets, he might not experience much regression.

8. Montrezl Harrell: 3.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PF/C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 22.16 TPA (for Houston Rockets)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

If you could see a physical representation of pure energy, it might look something like Montrezl Harrell—the beard, the long locks, the total package.

Harrell plays like he doesn’t have an off switch, constantly hustling on both ends of the court as he seeks out shots to block, rebounds to grab and orange spheres to throw down through the cylinder with relentless ferocity. Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t have quite enough explosion to validate comparisons to other high-energy, undersized bigs such as Kenneth Faried. Those limitations primarily show up in his work on the glass, where he averaged just 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.

If discipline comes during his age-24 campaign (he celebrates that birthday in late January), he could suddenly start sticking his box-outs and not biting on as many fakes while playing defense.

7. Austin Rivers: 3.69

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 12.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-65.79 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (Adam Fromal)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Austin Rivers might have served as the butt of some NBA jokes during his early years, but he’s developed nicely. Earning a consistent starting job for the first time since his rookie season (partially thanks to injured teammates), he excelled throughout 2016-17 in his low-usage role. The shot began coming around, and he asserted himself as a beneficial defensive presence who finally understood that’s where he might be able to make the biggest impact.

The next step? Continuing to improve his perimeter stroke and facilitating skills when he’s operating with the ball, and learning to play with more defensive discipline away from the primary action. Rivers gets beat on backdoor cuts a little too frequently, and he displays a penchant for wandering away from his assignments to focus on far-developing action on the other side of half-court sets. If that changes, he has the tools necessary to become a significant plus on the less glamorous end, much to the chagrin of those refusing to accept the very real development he’s already shown.

6. Milos Teodosic: 3.94

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks (for CSKA Moscow)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

If you’ve seen this play before, you’re welcome for showing it to you again. If you’ve never witnessed this moment of passing ridiculousness, please set a pillow underneath you to avoid bruising your jaw on the floor when it drops:

That’s not an aberration.

Milos Teodosic is going to get destroyed on defense as he adjusts to the NBA, and it’s tough to know if his shooting stroke will translate from the FIBA arc to the lengthier one used at the sport’s highest level. But he’s one of the world’s most gifted passers and should have no trouble thriving in the pick-and-roll game alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

Last season, Kyle Lowry finished 10th among qualified players by averaging an even seven assists. Consider that a reasonable over/under for this distributing maestro, even as he learns how to work with the increased speed in the Association.

5. Lou Williams: 4.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 28.76 TPA (for Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Arjun Baradwaj)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

Lou Williams can flat-out score the basketball.

Though his defense remains concerning and he can sometimes dribble away possessions without so much as thinking about a pass, he chipped in with 17.5 points per game while splitting time between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets in 2016-17. Those points were by no means empty. With a flair for driving into the teeth of the opposition and finishing around the rim or drawing a whistle, he shot 42.9 percent from the field, 36.5 percent from downtown and 88.0 percent at the stripe.

Those marks may not seem worth writing home about, but he generated so many free-throw attempts that his true shooting percentage, in spite of a second-half dip as he adjusted to the Rockets’ schemes, still sat at a career-high 59.3 percent. Only 14 others could match both his scoring volume and efficiency.

3(tie). Patrick Beverley: 6.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 98.61 TPA (for Houston Rockets)
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (Tim Stubbs)

Patrick Beverley is by no means just a defensive stalwart, though he did make the All-Defensive First Team for the first time in his career.

One of the league’s best rebounding guards and a stealthily effective passer, Beverley has honed his craft from beyond the arc. Though he’s been a capable shooter ever since leaving Arkansas, he’s developed into one of the game’s premier spot-up threats during the past two seasons. This last go-round, he contributed 1.12 points per possession as a spot-up sniper, which placed him in the 79.8 percentile.

Dealing with lead-guard responsibilities should be an adventure for Beverley now that he no longer has James Harden to draw away defensive attention. But he should be up for the challenge, continuing to use his two-way prowess to assert himself as one of the NBA’s most overlooked backcourt players.

3(tie). Danilo Gallinari: 6.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 18.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 34.96 TPA (for Denver Nuggets)
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (Michael Brock)

Let’s dive into our Play-Type Profiles. First, a look at Danilo Gallinari’s offensive value added:

Next, his defensive value added:

A couple caveats: This is looking at scoring possessions only, and the defensive metrics are particularly shaky. Players only receive credit when the men they’re guarding turns the ball over or shoot, so forcing their marks into passes doesn’t matter—an unfortunate but necessary reality.

These results do not mean Gallinari is one of the NBA’s absolute best players. Take a peek at the numbers above each column, and you’ll see that he isn’t adding too much value in any area, so much as providing slightly positive contributions across the board. But he is the league’s lone contributor with a positive score in every single play type on both sides of the court, which hints at the versatility that’ll make him so useful to the Clippers.

2. DeAndre Jordan: 7.81

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.7 blocks, 205.81 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 9 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)

Please, don’t believe that Chris Paul made DeAndre Jordan into an All-Star. Not by himself, at least.

The tremendous passing of the ex-Clipper certainly helped this 7-footer’s development, but he’s become an all-world center through plenty of his own hard work. His athleticism should play well around the hoop no matter who’s feeding him the rock off cuts or pick-and-rolls, and he’s slowly developed into a monumentally beneficial defensive presence. Though his Defensive Player of the Year candidacies have often been overhyped by head coach Doc Rivers, he truly does deter players from entering his domain when he’s not swatting away their ill-advised shots.

Don’t knock Jordan’s limited offense, either. It still contains plenty of value, despite not coming through a multi-faceted role. If more players could finish such a high percentage of their shots in close proximity to the basket while winding up with double-digit scoring averages, they would.

But they can’t. Jordan stands alone in the field-goal-percentage department and has become one of the NBA’s most unique players—assuming uniqueness operates on a spectrum and isn’t just a fit-all descriptor.

1. Blake Griffin: 8.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, 187.03 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 9 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 8 (multiple voters)

Bold prediction: Blake Griffin posts at least 10 triple-doubles during the 2017-18 campaign, despite previously topping out at two in 2010-11. That shouldn’t upset too many of our panelists, since every single one of the 16 viewed him as either an All-Star or All-NBA candidate.

Griffin might not get mentioned among the league’s unicorns, but he basically functions as such. The Clippers have used him as a point forward before when Chris Paul has missed time to injuries, and he should fill that role even more frequently now that his former running mate has departed for good. Don’t be surprised when he frequently brings the ball up in transition and initiates offense from the top of the key, throwing defenses for a loop with the unique scheme.

Though he entered the league as a dunking monster, Griffin has developed into so much more. Maybe he hasn’t turned into a true MVP candidate, as so many seemed to expect after his breakout rookie campaign, but he’s developed an unorthodox set of effective post moves, a working mid-range jumper and passing skills off the dribble that would make almost every frontcourt player jealous. He’s addressed just about every perceived weakness in his own way.

Now, assuming he can finally stay healthy, he’ll have a chance to show off the entire tool box as his team’s unquestioned featured player.

Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun BaradwajNick BirdsongMichael BrockTony EastDan FavaleAdam FromalRyan JarvisJordan McGillisTom RendeBrian SampsonAdam SpinellaEric SpyropolousTim StubbsFrank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo