Contrary to popular belief, the Los Angeles Clippers do not need a natural point guard and have never needed a natural point guard. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will handle most of the ball and both have developed into very good playmakers. In his time with the Clippers, Leonard has averaged career highs in assists with 4.9 during the 2019-20 season and 5.4 during the 2020-21 season. The past three seasons, George has also dished out career-highs in assists with 5.2, 5.7 and 5.1 this season. With their two superstars doing most of the ‘point guard’ duties, they don’t have a traditional ball handler alongside them. They’ve just needed someone who can catch and shoot 3-pointers, defend on the perimeter, and get the ball up the court with occasional playmaking duties in the midcourt.
In recent games, the Clippers seem to have found that player who can fit the point guard job in Terance Mann. Mann isn’t a traditional playmaker, but he’s capable of it and provides good size on the wings alongside Leonard and George. So if the Clippers don’t need a true point guard, what becomes their biggest need at the NBA trade deadline?
The Clippers have gotten away with using a small lineup this season and head coach Tyronn Lue has bolstered the rotation in that regard as well. Rather than use a multi-guard lineup off the bench, Lue has opted to go with more minutes for Robert Covington with him or Nicolas Batum playing small-ball center with spot minutes for Moses Brown. In hindsight, the Clippers can probably get away with it as long as they stay healthy for the rest of the season and make the playoffs. Part of what made them successful last season was that they had a proper backup center in Isaiah Hartenstein, who left in free agency.
Ivica Zubac is playing a lot of minutes this season and to take some of the wear and tear on him, the Clippers should try to make acquiring a backup center a priority at the NBA trade deadline. It’s been rumored to be one of the teams interested in Myles Turner from the Indiana Pacers, but it’s unclear if Turner is still available. Plus, Turner has been a starter for most of his career and doesn’t really add anything that Zubac doesn’t. With Turner seeking a contract extension, that’s a lot of money for the Clippers to pay someone off the bench.
So, realistically, who is available that the Clippers can grab from extra depth up front? For starters, someone would have to be okay with playing occasional minutes to give Zubac a breather here and there, as well as perhaps not playing at all depending on the matchup and Lue’s affinity for smaller lineups.
One name that immediately comes to mind is Andre Drummond. Drummond is playing a career-low 13.5 minutes per game with the Chicago Bulls and probably won’t require the Clippers to give up much to acquire him. He is still averaging 6.2 points per game and 6.8 rebounds. You’ll never mistake him for an all-defensive first-team player, but he’s not much worse than Moses Brown. He has an affinity for rebounding and is still capable of finishing around the basket.
Another potential name that comes to mind is Nerlens Noel of the Detroit Pistons. He’s been mostly out of the Pistons’ rotation this season and provides everything the Clippers need in a backup center. He can shoot at the basket, he can rebound and he can protect the paint. This season, in the few minutes he’s getting, he’s averaging more rebounds (3.0) than points (2.3).
The Clippers should also ask about the three-headed monster at center with the Charlotte Hornets. Miles Plumlee is the current starter, but he’s been largely surpassed by Mark Williams and Nick Richards. Williams seems to be the center of the future, so he’s probably not an option. But Plumlee wouldn’t be bad as a backup and neither would Richards. Another potential option the Clippers could consult about is old friend Boban Marjanovic. He is out of the rotation with the Houston Rockets and was a fan favorite with the Clippers.
In any case, the Clippers should ignore the clamor for a point guard and turn their attention to landing a backup center at the NBA trade deadline.