Last week, the Clippers announced they had signed draft-pick Brice Johnson to a rookie contract. This sort of news wouldn’t be extraordinary during the off-season if it wasn’t during the so-called ‘one and done’ era of professional basketball. Instead of the usual 19 year old wunderkinds we’re used to, Johnson is a mature 22 year old and a graduate from the University of North Carolina.
Of the rookies drafted this year, only four other seniors were drafted before Johnson (Buddy Hield, Taurean Prince, Denzel Valentine and Caris LeVert). Johnson, a 6-foot-10 power forward, was selected 25th overall in this year's draft, and will be a Clipper for the next two years. Of the Clippers’ other two draft picks, David Michineau and Diamond Stone (the 39th and 40th overall picks respectively), only Stone has signed a contract.
Johnson graduated from UNC this year and was selected by consensus to the first-team All-American making him the 17th player from UNC to get the nod. He led all major conference players last year in double-doubles with 23. After making the selection, Doc Rivers announced how pleased he was with the outcome, stating: “I mean, he's athletic, he can rebound, runs the floor, got a great motor and he can shoot the ball.” This is an understatement; Johnson was one of the best two-way players in the NCAA last year and proves to be a great addition to a team which was short on power-forwards last year after superstar Blake Griffin went down with a nearly season-ending quad injury.
In addition, ESPN’s stat-based website, FiveThirtyEight, has Johnson ear-marked as a ‘Great Prospect’ and compares his size, athleticism, and prospects to 2006-era David Lee and 2008 Joakim Noah. It is this scrappy, hard-playing type of work ethic that the Clippers need desperately in a Western Conference which, for lack of a better word, is unipolar. If the odds were stacked against them last year, in Golden State’s win-record breaking year, then the odds this year have only gotten worse.
Johnson is guaranteed his rookie salary this season. The Clippers’ other draftees, Michineau and Stone, face more uncertainty as Doc Rivers looks to fill the roster with more veterans. Finally, Clippers’ 2014 first-round pick, C.J. Wilcox was also recently traded to Orlando in order to make room on the roster. The next few months will be crucial as the Clippers look to fill out a roster which has to stand up to the newly Durantized Warriors.