PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Less than 48 hours after stepping off an airplane from Boston, Los Angeles Clippers head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers went to work determining the future of the franchise.
With the Clippers acquiring their new coach just two days before the 2013 NBA Draft, Rivers and vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks had little time to sit down and watch film of their top prospects. Interestingly enough, though, the decision-makers were targeting a similar mold of players -- long and athletic wing players who could shoot three-pointers and defend.
Which is why the Clippers’ front office had no hesitation selecting North Carolina swingman Reggie Bullock -- one of the top shooters in the draft and a smart, solid defender -- when he slipped to the 25th pick on Thursday night.
“There was a group of guys that we really liked and we brought in here that we thought could contribute,” Sacks said. “But quite honestly, Reggie (Bullock) was our No. 1 guy.”
As the NBA continues to transition into a smaller style of play that’s dependent on spacing, ball movement and shooting, Bullock fits the model of the coveted "3-and-D" player.
The natural comparison for Bullock (6-7, 200) is former Tar Heel and current San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green, another dead-eye shooter and stout defender who provides little else in terms of penetrating and playmaking. Bullock isn’t as strong a defender as Green was, but his size and positional versatility -- he can play small forward and shooting guard -- make him perhaps the better prospect.
Bullock shot 43.6 percent on 5.8 three-point attempts per game this season, a figure that was among the best in the nation (sixth among players with 200 or more attempts). More importantly, he made 44 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts, a strong indication that he can become an elite spot-up shooter in the NBA. He can comfortably shoot a few feet behind the 3-point arc and has a high and quick release on his shot.
In the half-court setting, most of his offense comes off of catch-and-shoot opportunities (22.6 percent) or screens (20 percent). Bullock rarely handles the ball or tries to force plays offensively, and as a result, had one of the lowest turnover rates in the country (.12 times per possession).
“He never put himself in a position that he could make a mistake,” Rivers said of watching Bullock’s workout in Boston. “And that’s really nice when you see players like that. That takes years sometimes for guys to understand who they are. One thing he did when he was open was he shot it. There was no hesitation. When he wasn’t open he passed it and he didn’t try to do too much.”
Though Bullock is not an elite athlete, his high basketball IQ makes up for his lack of length (6-9 wingspan) and explosion. He finishes well in transition and does so frequently enough that it’s a significant aspect of his game (20 percent of his offense). He also averaged 8.3 rebounds per 40 minutes, which is high number for a wing player.
Defensively, Bullock was almost always tasked with defending the opponent's top perimeter scorer. His lack of lateral quickness is a concern against athletic and speedy wings, but he moves his feet extremely well and has strong defensive instincts.
"I didn’t know he could defend the way he did in that workout," Rivers said. "I had heard about it, but I was surprised at his size and the way he defends.”
At 22 years old, Bullock is one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft. With Matt Barnes looking for a pay upgrade in free agency and Caron Butler’s name constantly floating around in trade rumors, Bullock provides nice insurance for the Clippers if they can’t add another wing player in free agency or through a trade.
While he may not be ready to play consistent minutes from Day 1, he'll have a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.
"It’s going to take a little bit of time, especially on a team like ours, to put himself in a position to be in the rotation," Sacks said. "But we feel like we got a guy who brings a skill set to our team that we can never have a shortage of and that’s shooting. So being able to do that will help him get on the floor quicker, but it’s hard to say.”
Over the past two seasons, the Clippers have used their shooting guards and small forwards as primarily spot-up threats (Bullock’s strength). Occasionally these players will make sharp basket cuts and/or run along the baseline -- which Bullock can also do -- but for the most part, the Clippers’ offense sought to surround Paul with shooters that would allow him to penetrate or isolate.
If Bullock can eventually find court time, he’ll be an ideal fit alongside Paul and Blake Griffin. While Rivers will certainly make tweaks and adjustments to the offense, the inherent value of shooters who can space the floor isn’t going to change.
A lot of mock drafts, including Chad Ford of ESPN.com’s mock draft, had Bullock going within the first 24 picks, so the Clippers were thrilled and relieved to see him still available at No. 25.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was pleasantly pleased," Sacks said. "We were hoping he would be there. He was one of the top guys on our board. Obviously we felt like what he brings to the table will help us. We were very happy he was there.”
Bullock projects as low-risk and moderate-reward player. He can shoot, defend, rebound and play multiple positions. As Rivers said, he understands his role and doesn’t try to play outside of his abilities. He isn’t going to be a star, but the Clippers weren’t expecting that from the No. 25 pick. All the Clippers need Bullock to do is play defense, and when the ball is swung to him and he’s open, just shoot.
Stats used in this post are from MySynergySports.com and DraftExpress.com.