As a longtime former NBA point guard, Tyronn Lue knows how to evaluate the position he once played. And he has not yet decided, he said, whether incumbent Reggie Jackson or John Wall will be the starting point guard when the Clippers’ season begins Thursday.
His comments before a Sunday scrimmage at the team’s practice facility came one day after Yahoo Sports reported that Jackson was expected to earn the starting nod. Lue said he hasn’t made that call yet and that the report “didn’t come from me.”
Lue was instead complimentary of both veterans’ preseason performances, including during another long intrasquad scrimmage Friday, which he said made his evaluation tougher.
“Both guys are in a great position and their mind set is in the right place,” Lue said. “It is about winning. It is not about who’s the starter, who’s the best player. It’s about the right fit and trying to win and both of those guys are on board with that.”
Of course, whatever decision is made won’t necessarily apply all season, and won’t necessarily guarantee a spot in Lue’s lineups that close games either. Since his promotion to coach in 2020, Lue has regularly waited until 10 games into the season before making lineup changes. That early evaluation period will likely last longer than 10 games this season, Lue said, because if key contributors sit games for rest-related reasons, he’ll need more time to get the sample size he wants.
Asked directly on Saturday whether he cared about being the starter, the typically loquacious Jackson, who has developed a familiarity with fellow starters Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac, Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. since 2020, was to the point.
“I just care about winning, man,” said Jackson, who last season started all 75 games he appeared in and helped the Clippers secure their 11th consecutive winning season despite a litany of injuries.
“We just got so many pieces so we’ve got to figure out how all these units work together,” Jackson added. “I’m sure I’m happy that’s not my job, I just got to play. But I think we got the best coach in the league especially with this team and this depth of talent.”
Coming off of the bench would be a significant departure for Wall, the former No. 1 overall draft pick who has played 613 career games and started all but 12 of them. Previously during the preseason Lue has acknowledged that it fits stylistically to play Wall off the bench with younger teammates who can match his willingness to push offensive pace in transition. But Wall said his biggest adjustment since joining the Clippers as a free agent in July has been realizing that he doesn’t have to do that job alone.
“I’m used to every time a rebound go, I have to go and get the ball, be the outlet guy,” Wall said. “We have so many guys that can push the pace — Kawhi, PG, Norm [Powell], Reggie Jackson, [Terance] Mann. Like, they get the rebound, I don’t have to come back and get the ball. They can push and now I gotta get used to running the lane.
“I never got to do that as much. That’s the only thing that’s probably been pretty different for me.”
Also to consider is that bringing Wall off the bench wouldn’t preclude him from pairing with starting center Ivica Zubac. Though Zubac will start, Lue wants to substitute him early out of first quarters in order to then bring him back in later in the quarter with the second unit to help with rebounding. The Clippers want Zubac to “punish” smaller defenders in the post if they are switched onto the 7-footer; last season, they also noted that they needed to do a better job getting the ball to Zubac in such situations. Wall’s assist average ranks seventh all-time.
“I think Zu playing with him, he would get some easier shots, easier dunks because of John’s penetration and getting to the basket but also being able to read and see the floor,” Lue said.
“Just giving him the opportunity to get eight to 10 easy points a game,” Wall said. “I feel like once he’s touching the paint, he’s gotta be trying to dunk on everybody — one dribble and get to their chest. That’s how I see it.”
Since training camp opened in late September, Lue has preached that the point guard slotted with the starting — and closing — lineups will be determined by fit, not pure talent. In that respect, the Clippers have been clear early that Wall’s fit has already been valuable. Morris, a Clipper since 2020, said the camaraderie has been better this season than previously and credited Wall’s outspoken, aggressive personality for that.
“I feel like we needed that,” Morris said. “Other than myself, we were kinda like a little quiet.”
“Any room I walk in, just being yourself gets you more respect than anything than trying to fit in and be something you’re not,” Wall said. “I don’t try to step on nobody’s toes but I just try to be vocal, be the leader that I know how to be as a point guard.”