Unfortunately, the Clippers’ 2020 season ended in disappoint. The team gave up a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. A plethora of factors played into the unfortunate end to the Clippers season including questionable coaching decisions, inadequate play from role players, and an inexcusable Game 7 performance from both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. However, we’re not here to pinpoint what exactly went wrong. Instead we look to the future. What pieces could the Clipper potentially add in the offseason to compete for the championship next season?
Clippers Depth Chart
The Clippers have the best wing duo in the league on lock for at least one more season, as well as a decent amount of depth behind them. Every other position however is in for a few decisions this offseason. It’s possible the Clippers resign players like Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell, but for the sake of this article we are taking the depth chart for what it is without the current free agents included.
Clippers’ 2020 free agents this season include: Reggie Jackson (PG, unrestricted), Marcus Morris (PF, unrestricted), Patrick Patterson (PF, unrestricted), Johnathan Motley (PF, Restricted), Montrezl Harrell (C, unrestricted).
The Clippers’ current depth chart is as follows:
|Pos||1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|PG||Patrick Beverley||Terance Mann|
|SG||Paul George||Lou Williams||Amir Coffey|
|SF||Kawhi Leonard||Landry Shamet||Rodney McGruder|
|PF||JaMychal Green (P/O)|
|C||Ivica Zubac||Joakim Noah||Mfiondu Kabengele|
The center position has been one of the most storied positions for the Clippers over the last year. More specifically, the coaching decisions regarding the center rotations. Though Zubac has proven capable of being a starting center in this league, now former head coach Doc Rivers had a frustrating tendency to play backup center Montrezl Harrell for far more minutes. Don’t get me wrong, Harrell has been a vital piece to the bench unit and team as a whole, but his short-comings provide mismatches for opposing centers far too often. Now a few things still hang in the balance for this position. First, who will be the new head coach, and how much will they play Zubac? Second, what will the Clippers do about Harrell becoming a free agent this offseason?
Regardless of what happens, center depth is a valuable asset the Clippers will likely explore once the season ends.
Top Ten Free Agent Centers to Target
Keep in mind, this list is based solely on centers that are set to be free agents. Any sort of trade or sign-and-trade speculation will be considered in a different article. These players are simply those on the market to be signed this summer.
Other Notable Free Agent Centers
#10 Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside found a home new home in Portland in 2020 where he showed he’s still a top tier center. He started 61 of 67 games, averaging 15.5 PPG, 13.5 RPG, and a lead leading 2.9 BPG. He even hit four of his seven 3PT attempts this season! The defensive minded big men also benefited greatly from playing alongside shooter like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He led the league in total offensive rebounds with 258, roughly 3.9 per game. This led to scoring or assist opportunities for Whiteside.
You may be asking why he’s so low on this list with all these league leading stats. The answer is sort of in the question: he’s too good. Whiteside will likely cost a team more money than the Clippers are willing to pay with a young Zubac already on the roster. Not to mention Whiteside may be looking for a guaranteed starting role after splitting time in the Orlando Bubble with Jusuf Nurkic once he returned from injury. Whiteside is a great complimentary option alongside star players, but the only scenario I can imagine where he comes to the Clippers involves trading Zubac in a different deal. This feels unlikely for the time being.
Biyombo is a name most associate with the late Charlotte Bobcats back in 2012-2014. However, the 27-year-old big is still a serviceable player in the league. He averaged a career high 7.4 PPG in 2020 along with 5.8 RPG and 0.9 BPG game. These are similar numbers to what Clipper fans could expect should Biyombo join the squad considering they came in large part from a bench role. He started just over half of his games last year, logging 53 games and 29 starts.
Biyombo’s downsides however may be more than he’s worth. Very similar to Montrezl Harrell, Biyombo is an incredibly undersized center. He’s listed at only 6’8, 255lb. Unlike Harrell however, Biyombo does not provide the same offense, defense, or over intensity. He averages less points, less rebounds, and less blocked shots. However, don’t forget that Harrell was literally voted most valuable bench player in the league this year; no one has stats like he does off the bench. Biyombo remains a quality, veteran, cheap value option should the Clippers dump more money into a different position this off season.
#8 Jakob Poeltl
This 24-year-old center may have found a forever home in San Antonio. He is exactly the type of role playing, foreign born big man the Popovich loves to utilize in his team style of basketball. However, playing for two years under Pop makes him even more valuable to other teams than his numbers might suggest. In 2020, Poeltl started only 18 of 66 games played and averaged 5.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Though not eye catching, these are more than solid numbers for a player largely filling a backup role to one of the team’s top two players, LaMarcus Aldridge. Throw in his 1.8 APG, 1.4 BPG, and 62.4% shooting last season and you have yourself a fantastic back up center. As most bench players do, Poeltl has his fair share of downfalls. He shoots only 53.6% from the FT on his career, including an abysmal 46.5% last season. The 7’1 big man also possesses little ability to stretch the floor from the center position, making only one of his two career 3PT attempts. However, these are not deal breakers considering his youth, what positives he does bring, and his expected bench role.
#7 Enes Kanter
After starting all 71 games he played for the Knicks in 2018, Kanter has reverted in large part to a bench role. This season with Boston, Kanter started only seven of his 58 games played. He still averaged 16.9 minutes per game while putting up 8.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per contest. Again, these are not attention drawing stats, but they’re more than serviceable in a bench role on a deep roster. Kanter is able to provide instant offense and rebounding to a team that struggled with interior height behind Zubac last season.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Kanter’s game comes on the offensive glass. His career 2.9 offensive rebounds per game is one of the best marks in the league. He has had multiple seasons averaging upwards of 3.5 offensive boards, including a 26-game stint with the Thunder in 2015 where he averaged 5.0 OREB per game. This is also something Harrell has done very well for the Clippers over the last two years. This may allow Kanter to provide somewhat of an energy-play replacement should Harrell leave in free agency.
An impressive NCAA career landed Kaminsky as the 9th overall pick in 2015. Since then, he has been a valuable stretch big for a relatively bad Hornets team. Last season he joined Devin Booker in Phoenix where he started 13 of his 39 games played and averaged 9.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.9 APG. The Suns were in playoff contention from the jump this season, including an incredible 8-0 run in the Orlando Bubble.
Kaminsky’s biggest value is in his ability to stretch the defense. He averages 42.2% from the field and 34.7% from 3PT range on his career. This includes a career high 38% from deep in 2018. Standing at 7’0, Kaminsky provides tremendous value in several aspects, especially for a role player coming off the bench. His career 0.4 BPG is less than ideal for someone his size, but he’s a deadly shooter, playable defender, and lanky player that can aid any bench unit.
Plumlee has been an ideal backup option behind Nikola Jokic for 3.5 seasons now. The 6’11 center has top tier athleticism for his position. He’s capable of catching lobs thrown anywhere remotely close to him, as well as grabbing rebounds on both ends of the court. On his career, Plumlee averages 8.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.9 BPG, and 0.8 SPG. None of which are elite, but all of which are above or near average for his position.
The most notable part of Plumlee’s game is his playmaking ability. The listed stat line above may cover up those 2.2 APG as a center. It also doesn’t show his averages of 2.5 and 3.0 over the last two seasons in Denver. The Nuggets have been known to run the P&R involving both Plumlee and Jokic, two seven footers. Either of the two are capable of handling the ball or rolling to the rim, but it works best when Plumlee is the one setting the pick and catching a high lob at the rim. This is a skillset easy to utilize on a team that has stars like Leonard and George alongside shooters like Shamet, Bevelery, Williams, etc.
Thompson is one of the better centers that is very likely to change locations. The Cavs acquired Andre Drummond midseason in 2020, eliminating their need for another starting caliber, rebounding center. Thompson still averaged 12.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG (just shy of a career high), and 0.9 BPG last season. The 29-year-old vet obviously still has some gas in the tank. Though he has not spent a majority of his time as a bench player, Thompson has reached the point in his career where making the move to veteran bench presence makes a lot of sense.
Though he’s still capable of rebounding with the best of them, he is not the same athlete vertically that he once was. Playing significant minutes behind a rising center like Zubac would allow Thompson to matchup against opposing bench players as well, potentially causing a mismatch in his favor. Playing on a team with the level of fire power the Clippers possess also takes away almost any need for him to be a consistent offensive threat, which he is not known to be. The fit is there, and if Harrell leaves, the opportunity might be too good to pass up for both parties.
#3 Nerlens Noel
Noel has been a major contributing factor off the bench for the Thunder over the last two seasons. It feels like the 25-year-old vet has been in the league for longer than just six years. Noel has career averages of 8.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.4 BPG, and 1.3 SPG. All of these are great stats for a backup center, especially the defensive stats. Anyone that averages higher than one steal and block for his career should be considered a good defender.
At 6’10 and only 220lb, Noel is also capable of playing the power forward position, or filling the starting center role in case of injury. This type of versatility is invaluable for any team, but especially one built around versatility like the Clippers are. Noel is headed into his 6th season next year, and the Thunder are likely to ship out other veterans like Chris Paul in preparation for a rebuild. At only 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds, Nerlens could prove to be a great value signing for the Clippers when reloading their bench.
The Dwight Howard of old needs little introduction, but let’s take a look back through his career regardless. He’s led the league in rebounding five different times, including a career high 14.5 RPG in 2012. Howard averaged 20+ PPG four times during his time in Orlando, phenomenal numbers for a defensive minded center. Speaking of defense, Howard also led the league in blocks twice including a career high 2.9 BPG.
Obviously, Howard is not the same player he used to be in his 16th season, but even a non-prime Dwight Howard has the potential to aid any bench unit. This season with the Lakers, Howard started only two games out of 69 games played. In 18.9 minutes, Howard averaged 7.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 1.1 BPG. Per 36 minutes, those stats translate to 14.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. Clearly, Howard won’t be playing 36 minutes per contest, but these numbers go to show how efficient he can still be in a limited role.
Given the Lakers success this season, I would be very surprised if Howard left LAL for the team across the hall. However, if he were to decide to leave, he would be a fantastic plugin replacement for Montrezl Harrell should he leave.
#1 Aron Baynes
Aron Baynes. That’s it. That’s the tweet.
The likable center become a bonafide fan favorite during last season with Phoenix. His small manbun hairstyle combined with his larger stature helps in his popularity, but Baynes is a serviceable center nonetheless. He averaged career highs in points (11.5), rebounds (5.6), and assists (1.6). These are tremendous stats for a backup center, especially one that stands at 6’10 260lb.
The most valuable asset of Baynes’ game is his ability to spread the floor. In 2019, he made 21 of his 61 three-point attempts, shooting roughly 34.4%. This an above average mark for a stretch big, but admittedly a small sample size through 51 games. In 2020 however, Baynes took the next step as a three-points marksmen. Through only 42 games (28 starts), Baynes hit 59 threes on 168 attempts. This puts him upwards of 35% from downtown last season. The soon-to-be 34-year-old center is also a perfect plug and play option if the Clippers need a spot starter at center. His skillset on both ends of the floor compliment stars like Leonard and George perfectly from the center position.
Imagine with me, a lineup of Beverley, Shamet, George, Leonard, and Baynes. The amount of shooting on that lineup is nothing short of amazing. Baynes is a clear favorite in the backup center market should the Clippers lose Harrell this off season.
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