Landing with the Los Angeles Clippers may have been the best thing for Branden Dawson’s professional career. That’s not to say that he wouldn’t have found a role with the New Orleans Pelicans, the team that selected him No. 56 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, but there probably aren’t many youngsters who’d scoff at the chance to learn alongside the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and coach Doc Rivers.
The Pelicans lightened their load by selling Dawson’s rights, while the Clippers, a rising contender in the Western Conference, picked up a late-first-round-like talent on the cheap—roughly $600,000 in cash considerations, per reports.
In essence, New Orleans drafted Dawson for Los Angeles. And in hindsight, that move makes total sense, as the 6’6", 230-pound forward had his best pre-draft outing with the Clippers.
"It was one of my best workouts, by far," said Dawson, according to NBA.com writer Rowan Kavner. "Throughout my workout, I did some things they had never seen me do at Michigan State.
"It was just that gut feeling. The whole vibe changed throughout the workout because it was one of my best workouts. It’s just amazing. It’s just an amazing feeling that that was my best workout out of 11 workouts. Doc Rivers and the whole Clippers organization is giving me an opportunity to pursue my dream.’"
Size-wise, Dawson is an in-betweener. The same is true skill-wise, as well. While playing for Spartans coach Tom Izzo, Dawson often played the power forward position—he doesn’t quite have the size to man that spot in the NBA, so look for him to focus on the 3.
But in order to do that, he’d have to develop the jumper that has been talked about for the past two years—the one that showed itself in practice but somehow didn’t make it to the court very often.
Why He Fits Now
There aren’t many better ways to improve an already solid defense, other than by adding another defensive-minded player. Dawson is such a player. Size, or the lack thereof, never kept him away from attacking the opposition’s most physical scorers and rebounders.
He'll likely do the same in the NBA.
As a senior at Michigan State, Dawson made a living in the paint, averaging a Big Ten-leading 9.1 boards per game. Throw in a respectable 11.9 points per game into the mix, and you have the makings of a potential rotation player at the next level.
However, in addition to providing to depth around Paul and Griffin, Dawson could eventually set himself up to absorb some of DeAndre Jordan’s duties. Jordan is considered one of the most coveted free agents in the league and seems all but likely to leave the Clippers.
In 2014-15, the 6’11", 260-pounder led the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage (32.4), total rebound percentage (24.5) and finished second in offensive rebounding percentage (16.2).
They're not the same type of player, but the stat column doesn't discriminate. Someone has to fill the void, and Dawson may become a potential candidate to do just that.
The Benefits of Paul
In 2014-15, Paul led the NBA with a 47.4 assist percentage. He likes to get teammates involved, and we’ve all caught a glimpse of his alley-oop tosses to Griffin and Jordan. Paul was also among the NBA’s best in the win-share category, finishing No. 2 overall with a rating of 16.0.
Playing with a winner who spreads the wealth—sounds like an ideal scenario for a rookie looking to improve his game, especially away from the ball.
Incredibly athletic in his own right, Dawson could become an added bonus feature of Los Angeles’ offense this season, assuming he makes the roster. However, based on what he showed during his four years at Michigan State, he probably has a decent shot.
"Playing for coach (Tom) Izzo for four years, I value winning," Dawson said, per Kavner . "Losing is something I hate doing. Just my toughness, how I play on the defensive end, relentless, I’m a guy who loves to compete."
Entering his third year as coach, Rivers has taken a once-laughable franchise and turned it into one of the NBA’s premier teams. Prior to moving to the Left Coast, he guided the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship (2008), an appearance in the title bout (2010) and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals (2012).
So far, Rivers appears capable of doing something similar with the Clippers, who have 10:1 odds of winning it all in 2016, per Vegas (via CBS Sports). He’s known for encouraging the development of young players, as he realizes that’s the way to ensure success, both for the team and the athlete. He’s also one of the most respected coaches in the game today, so that’s a plus for any first-year guy.
In all likelihood, Dawson would have been an entertaining complement to Pelicans franchise man and former Kentucky phenom Anthony Davis—who just signed a $145 million deal and is bound for mega-stardom—but nestling next to Paul, Griffin and a veteran coach in Los Angeles seems like a win-win-win for a rookie who needs to learn a thing or two before transitioning to the next phase of his career.
His intangibles, though, serve as a fine foundation, according to Clippers GM Dave Wohl, per Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press.
"Some of the things he does on the court, you can't teach," Wohl said. "It's just innate effort and competitiveness and toughness. Those are things that we think are skills that are going to blend in with what we want to do."
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Unless otherwise noted, all stats were obtained from Basketball Reference.