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Spencer Hawes’ Shooting is a Perfect Fit for the Clippers

Apr 9, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Spencer Hawes (32) dribbles the ball in front of Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe (10) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With shooting and spacing as trendy as ever within the NBA, particularly for big men, the L.A. Clippers took advantage of what had been a stagnant free agency period, snapping up unrestricted free agent Spencer Hawes just a few days after the market opened on a four-year, $23 million contract. Hawes picked the Clippers from a number of suitors, citing a specific desire to play for a contender — he’s spent the entirety of his seven-year career in Sacramento, Philadelphia and briefly last year in Cleveland, making just two playoff appearances for 18 games total.

His development since entering the league as a 19-year-old rookie with Sacramento has been a mix of standard and somewhat unorthodox, though some of this is certainly attributable to the teams and systems he’s been in. For instance, he saw a sharply increased role in his sophomore season, taking over 10 shots a game for a sad Kings team (a number that, along with minutes per game, remained a career high until last year) and likely overextending his skill set. But he took a back seat initially after being traded to Philly for the 2010-11 season, starting all 81 games he appeared in but barely cracking 20 minutes a night.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 10.03.49 AMCuriously, for most of his time in Philadelphia the 76ers seemed uninterested in developing the shooting potential he displayed early in his career with the Kings, likely a mistake given the results he’s produced since1. He nearly tripled his nightly attempts for the 2012-13 season and then tripled that number again last year, this while following a trajectory nearly opposite what most shooters experience as they drastically up their volume — Hawes simply got more accurate the more he shot from distance. His 41.6% shooting on three-pointers, combined between Philly and Cleveland last year, was easily a career high, as were his 4.5 attempts per game.

The fit for Hawes with the Clippers is solid and fairly clear — backing up the big tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, providing floor spacing for the second unit and combo lineups when either of those two hits the bench. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Doc Rivers manages his big rotations; Jordan and Hawes together, though a strange match on the surface, could provide some intriguing possibilities. Hawes has blossomed into a real threat from outside, but is a liability in close — he shot just 54.5 percent on shots within five feet of the basket last year, 61st of 71 centers league-wide attempting at least 100 such shots. Jordan, meanwhile, is a well-known specialist near the hoop as one of the league’s premier lob threats, but can’t shoot a lick. The pairing would have to be used selectively, as Hawes is an immobile and somewhat clunky defender, but Jordan’s strengths here could make such experimenting fun for Rivers.

Of course, he may choose to keep the two mostly separate — both are strong pick-and-roll threats, though Hawes gets less credit since much of his prowess here derives from the gravity his outside shot creates. He ended last season as a top-50 per-possession finisher as the roll man, per Synergy, shooting an even 50 percent from beyond the arc on a decent sample size from such sets. He’s a solid screen-setter, and he and Jamal Crawford will have a field day throwing unprepared defenses off-balance. He’s a heady, opportunistic player away from the ball, with a Kevin Love-esque sense of when his decoy actions will spring him for good looks:

Hawes isn’t a good defender, but he can be functional enough in a conservative system that suits him, which Rivers will surely implement while he’s on the court. He’s bulky enough to hold his own down low and rebounds acceptably for his size, but the Clippers will lack rim protection with him out there unless Jordan is alongside him — per SportVU, his two separate player seasons last year (Philly and Cleveland) both ranked in the bottom 20 of 76 rotation players defending at least five such shots per game, with his Cavs number (56.0 percent against, eww) nearly cracking the bottom five. He’s also very slow laterally, and quicker bigs will go to town on him. Los Angeles knew this going in, though, and it’s part of the reason his price tag didn’t come in even slightly higher.

But overall, one has to like the fit for an LA team that could use the breathing room he’ll offer the second unit. The Clippers have a strong defensive culture that will help contain some of his weaknesses there, and he’ll thrive as a spacing menace in a Rivers system that’ll maximize that element of his game. He’ll free up Griffin and Jordan to do their thing down low when he pairs with either, and will stretch opposing defenses already at the limits of their elasticity with LA’s strong inside-out play. Los Angeles may not be making the most noise in a high-decibel West this summer, but they’re smartly re-tooling and will be a force to be reckoned with once again.

  1. Although that may have been a product of the regime. He started shooting three-pointers more regularly as soon as Doug Collins was replaced by Brett Brown

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) is a general sports fanatic and jack-of-all trades analytics nerd. He also writes for ESPN TrueHoop affiliate Salt City Hoops and Beacon Reader, and enjoys the sound of his own voice even more than his own writing — he can also be found on the airwaves in Salt Lake City on ESPN Radio AM 700. If you don’t think Alec Burks is an All Star, the two of you likely won’t have much to talk about.