Jason Preston was an eye-opener in pickup games last fall with his passing and play – until he suffered a serious foot injury. Then it was the leader’s turn to watch.
Spending his entire rookie season on the sidelines was not without its perks. He gained 15 pounds of muscle with countless tips from trainers and teammates who answered his endless questions. None of this, however, compared to learning by doing.
Three weeks after the Clippers’ season ended in April, the play-in tournament came the moment Preston had waited more than seven months for – five-on-five basketball with no restrictions on his game.
“It was awesome,” Preston said. “Just being able to grab a rebound, throw a pass, hit somebody on the cut, shoot a floater, do it live, because a lot of the things I just do are on the half court and face to face. Things.
“So that was amazing.”
This week, as all 30 teams descend on Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League, a healthy Preston will no longer be relegated to watching from the bench – and his performance will be a factor in how often Preston watches from the line. hits next season. The Summer League is usually a testing ground for rookies such as second-round pick Moussa Diabate and used for polishing by those with a season or more of NBA experience.
Still, for Preston and winger Brandon Boston Jr., the 2021 second-round pick who played 51 games as a Clippers rookie, this will present a low-pressure opportunity to gauge how much they can be trusted. next season when the stakes are raised significantly. during the Clippers’ pursuit of a championship.
The Clippers have built what is on paper one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, with multiple ballhandlers and wings ahead of Preston and Boston on the depth chart.
“On the defensive side, they’ve implemented our schemes and how we’re going to play and the physicality of it, so for them to step onto the pitch next season that will be their focus,” the club said. Clippers assistant. Shaun Fein, who coaches the Summer League team. “We know they are talented on the offensive side, but can they do it on the defensive side and be consistent with that? And that, in the Summer League, I hope we see that.
They are not the only ones trying to prove their membership.
Guard Jay Scrubb, a 2020 second-round pick who has spent the past two seasons on two-way deals while earning spot NBA minutes, and point guard Xavier Moon, who moonlighted with the Clippers on 10-day deals last winter before earning a two-way contract, both play with the Clippers after neither received a qualifying offer from the team that would have made them restricted free agents. As unrestricted free agents, the two are hoping to impress NBA teams who may well be their next employers – although a return to the Clippers, who still have a two-way contract available, isn’t out of the question. .
Boston and Preston, with their standard NBA contracts, could be a step ahead of their summer peers trying to find a place in the league, although their goals are no different as they try to break the rotation. of a team in contention for the title.
Like Preston, Boston rebuilt his body as a rookie, adding more than 10 pounds to weigh 198 while cutting dairy and red meats from his diet. His scoring ability was never in question; his effectiveness in doing so and his value when the ball was not in his hands were.
“I hit the weight room a lot, I eat a lot healthier, I sharpened my mind,” Boston said. “Also my decision-making on the pitch. I can score. Everyone knows that. But make the right plays at the right time.
Said Fein: “We worked a lot on decision-making with him. Again, a talented attacking player, but can we also set him up on the defensive side of the pitch and be a complete player? This is what we will be looking for in the Summer League.
The Clippers agreed to sign five-time All-Star point guard John Wall as a free agent last week, in part because of his speed and the effect it could have on an offense that, according to the team makers, required more of a downhill threat. – similar to the role Eric Bledsoe provided last season but with the potential for more damage. The speed of Preston’s first steps is a question mark that will be watched this week as he plays against the defense live in front of an audience for only the second time in his young career, following his debut in the Summer League of the ‘last year.
Away from the public eye, Preston impressed the Clippers.
“Just how it works,” Boston said. “He is here, the first here, almost the last to leave. That’s all I can ask of a player – someone who is disciplined and ready to work.
And now Preston will work on his game on the pitch again. He spent his entire rookie season asking questions. Now his play will offer answers.
“I’m really excited,” Preston said, “for this second round.”