Two down, at least two more to go.
The Los Angeles Clippers addressed a couple of important needs after the free-agency signing moratorium ended Thursday, signing a quality third big man in Spencer Hawes and replacing the departed Darren Collison with Jordan Farmar. Under the assumption that rookie C.J. Wilcox will be signed shortly, the roster stands at 11 players; the league’s minimum is 13, so at least two more players must be added.
After shuffling ineffective backups behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for three seasons, Hawes is a considerable upgrade. The Clippers reportedly used their full mid-level exception to sign him to a four-year, $23 million deal, and he’s worth every penny if he can come anywhere close to replicating last season’s production of 13.2 points on 45.6 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game.
Hawes provides value as a stretch-5, knocking down 1.6 3-pointers per game on 41.6 percent shooting last season (45 percent after he was traded to Cleveland). When combining his efficiency with his volume (3.9 attempts per game), Hawes had arguably the best 3-point shooting season by a 7-footer in NBA history. His 41.6-percent 3-point shooting was the best mark among 7-footers who have attempted at least 175 3-pointers in a single season.
Ideally, Hawes’ versatility will allow him to back up Jordan and occasionally play alongside him. On offense, he can spot up and spread the floor for Griffin and Jordan to operate inside and step in closer and facilitate from the high post (he posted a 15.8 assist percentage last season). He’s a nightmare to defend in pick-and-pop scenarios, forcing defenses to pick between leaving him open to bury a jumper, or leaving Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford or Farmar to turn the corner and penetrate.
Defensively, Hawes is a minus despite decent shot-blocking skills (1.4 per 36 minutes). He lacks quickness and athleticism, allowing opponents to easily get by him in the pick-and-roll and on closeouts. Opponents shot 53.3 percent at the rim against him, according to NBA.com/Stat’s SportVU data, which is below-average for a center. He also ranked 57th out of the 81 qualifying centers in defensive real plus-minus (RPM) last season.
Meanwhile, Farmar was signed to a two-year, $4.2 million deal with the bi-annual exception and will have a player option on his second season, similar to the contract Collison signed last summer. Likewise, if Farmar exceeds expectations, he will probably opt out after next season and seek a long-term deal with better financial security.
Despite their differences in salary and projected roles, Farmar and Collison are relatively comparable players. Both are score-first point guards who thrive when given a sliver of space to attack the rim in isolation, in transition or out of pick-and-rolls. At the same time, neither has a pass-first mindset, which means the offense can suffer through lulls when they’re at the helm. Farmar has gotten better at looking for his teammates, but it can still be an issue.
As a result, Farmar will likely occupy a similar role to Collison’s last season. He’ll guide the second-unit offense and act as a secondary scorer behind Crawford. Head coach Doc Rivers has relied on dual point-guard lineups in recent years, and Farmar is comfortable sliding up to shooting guard, as he did in New Jersey.
Though he will never be mistaken for a defensive stopper, Farmar isn’t a liability on that end and is more consistent than Collison. He has the requisite length, athleticism and quickness to bother various types of guards. Farmar is better defending on the ball than off it, and in comparison to Collison, is the better defender of the two against isolations, post-ups and plays off screens, according to Synergy Sports.
There are differences offensively, too. Collison is the more efficient scorer (he shot better from the floor and the free throw line), but Farmar is the better 3-point shooter (43.8 percent to 37.6) and passer (34.6 assist percentage to 21.4), which suggests he might fit better alongside ball-dominant guards like Paul and Crawford. Whereas Collison almost acted exclusively as a slasher and scorer when he played with Paul, Farmar can provide invaluable spacing as a spot-up shooter, find the open man and/or reset the offense if necessary.
While neither signing is as impressive or impactful as adding a superstar like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, or even a second-tier player like Luol Deng or Trevor Ariza, the Clippers didn’t need to hit a home run in free agency. They were on the fringe of the Western Conference finals with last season’s core and just needed some fine-tuning. Now they’ve added two valuable pieces that maintain -- and even bolster -- their depth. Hawes is one of the better backup big men around, and Farmar provides 90 percent (or more) of what Collison did, but at 40 percent of the cost.
With a couple of other moves still to be made, such as adding a fourth big man and some size and athleticism on the wings, it’s too early to grade the Clippers’ offseason. But so far, so good.
Stats used in this post are provided by ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats, 82games.com, MySynergySports.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Salary information provided by ESPN.com.