LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Clippers draft picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, at only 19 and 21 years old, respectively, are acutely aware of the distractions that this city presents to young players, and that is likely one of the reasons they ended up here.
“We knew we wanted Shai and we didn’t take any chances,” president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said as he introduced the two as part of the “Clippers family” Monday.
“Jerome, likewise, was another player we targeted early and was a clear choice with our 13th pick.”
Both draftees include character, not just their on-court play, in their personal list of strengths.
“What I’m bringing to this culture: toughness, leadership, work ethic. … I’m going to try to capitalize on this ability and bring the organization everything I can,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who was taken by the Charlotte Hornets with the 11th overall pick and traded to the Clippers. “That’s what they expect from me and that’s what they’ll get.”
Frank confirmed, agreeing Gilgeous-Alexander is a “natural leader with tremendous work ethic, who plays a winning brand of basketball.”
“I’m here and I’m ready to work,” Robinson said. “I’m a guy that’s going to give it his all and work every day and be the best teammate possible.”
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Both new players sound primed to excel in the high-pressure environment. They’re aware of, but unfazed by, their star potential.
“When I look at it, it’s just basketball. You go out there to go hoop, and now it’s a dream come true that I’m in the NBA,” Robinson said. “I’ll treat it the same way – I feel like it’s kind of ‘no pressure.’ ”
On the L.A. lifestyle, Robinson said: “I’m an outdoorsman, so just being outside, being at the beach. I like to fish and stuff like that, movies, different things, so I think I fit well.”
Like many people these days, he also enjoys playing “Fornite” with his brothers. “One is always running by himself and just gets killed and we have to go find him, it’s hilarious,” Robinson said. “So funny.”
Gilgeous-Alexander agreed L.A. offers plenty to do. “It’s fun out here, a lot of distraction,” he said, “but you’ve just got to stay focused and do what you need to do.”
One of the things Gilgeous-Alexander will undoubtedly need to do is pack on weight to his 6-foot-6, 180 pound frame.
“I look at Shai – once we feed him a little more – as the [point guard, shooting guard and small forward] at times because of his length and his size, and his toughness,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I look at Jerome as a guy who can play at the two and the one.”
In the immediate, both players’ decision to play it safe in the face of risky L.A. temptations is telling.
“I’m going to stay away from surfing right now,” Robinson said. “I’m good on that one.” Gilgeous-Alexander also doesn’t plan to recycle his daring draft-night attire. “The suit was a little too crazy,” he said. “I can’t re-wear it, it’s put up.”
That level-headed mindset is part of why Rivers touts them both as “high-character” acquisitions who are perfect fits to advance the Clippers’ culture and shape the team of the future.
“They bring impressive basketball IQ and are highly competitive, selfless athletes who love to play the game,” Rivers said. “[Eleven] and 13 are great numbers to be drafted at now, but we believe that five years from now when everyone does the redraft, they’re going to say, ‘Wow, these guys should have been two and three, one and two.’ And I believe that because of their work ethic, and, really, their character.”
Fittingly, Rivers, who played 13 years in the NBA, understands the sometimes-delicate balance of being a young player who wants to lead.
“I was a rookie point guard that started in the NBA,” he said. “I had to use my voice and ask guys who had been in the league for 12 years to listen. It’s an interesting dynamic, but that’s the way it’s going to be.”