NOT JUST FLASH : Point Guard Gary Grant Is Starting to Make the Clippers’ Patience Pay Off

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Gary Grant has been both a highlight and a headache waiting to happen.

The Clipper rookie has a penchant for coming downcourt in a whirl, slicing the ball between his legs and around his back, and threading a pass between defenders for a layup.

But he also has a tendency to rocket a would-be-assist through the lane and untouched into the third row of the stands. Such on-again, off-again ballhandling has made the Clippers crazy.

But nearing the end of his 82-game on-the-run maturing process, Grant is, unquestionably, the Clippers’ starting point guard, a position that had been all but his for the last several weeks anyway. Norm Nixon’s retirement Thursday simply took away the competition.


At the same time, it increases the focus on the 23-year-old rookie from the University of Michigan who struggled early in making the transition from one of the more undisciplined college programs to the pro game. For better or worse, he is running the offense.

Actually, for better and worse.

In one 11-game stretch, he averaged 7.2 assists and 3.6 turnovers. Poor shot selection was another problem.

In the five outings that followed--the five most recent games--he is at 13.2 assists and 4.6 turnovers.


But, as further testimony to his up-and-down season, the most recent effort, in a 108-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets last Friday, was so erratic, Coach Don Casey took him out down the stretch. That left the Clippers with Tom Garrick, a rookie better suited to shooting guard, running the show.

Still, the Clippers have been increasingly satisfied with Grant’s progress, after bringing his assist-to-turnover ratio for the season up to nearly 2 to 1 (5.9-3.3). He also is averaging 10.6 points a game, shooting 41.7% and making the plays down the stretch that helped beat Cleveland and San Antonio recently.

“I think it’s just me not trying to create a lot of stuff on my own,” Grant said. “Everyone has played well recently, so I give them a lot of credit. They’re getting out on the fast break, which makes it easier for me. It used to be that too many guys quit or faded away on the break, so I felt I had to create something.

“I decided to just make the simple pass and get the job done that way and keep us in games. That’s better than making one or two great passes, a bunch of turnovers and us getting blown out.”

It’s part of his settling-in process. Having also been held back by nagging injuries (a bruised thigh, a sore lower back, a pulled abdominal muscle, a sore ankle), he spent too much time earlier in the season trying to impress with flashy moves instead of consistent play.

“At times,” admitted Grant, an All-American last season at Michigan, “I didn’t mean to, but sometimes I did.”

Grant, who turns 24 on April 21, the day before the season finale, has started 12 consecutive games and 30 of the Clippers’ 53. It’s in recent outings that he has been impressive without trying to be.

“He’s a little more calm now,” Garrick said. “He still has a lot of talent, but he waits for the situation to come to him now, instead of trying to force a pass with some spectacular pass.”


The flashy style is still there, a reminder of what he probably always will be. So are the turnovers, a reminder, the Clippers hope, only of what he once was. That’s the headache they would just as soon go away.

Clipper Notes

The 23 rebounds by Benoit Benjamin in last Friday’s loss to Charlotte matched the second most in Los Angeles Clippers history. Michael Cage, now with Seattle, collected 23 on four different occasions and also had 30, the latter in the final game of the 1987-88 season to win the league rebounding title. . . . The Clippers, in conjunction with radio station KLSX, staged a Kurt Rambis look-alike contest at halftime of the Charlotte game to commemorate the return of the former Laker. “It’ll be funny,” Rambis said beforehand. “I’d like to see if there’s someone out there as ugly as I am.” The three judges decided that Bruce Kasson of Saugus was close enough, awarding him an autographed game jersey from Rambis, a brief half-court meeting with the real Rambis and a pair of tickets to Comic Relief last Saturday. . . . The Clippers play host to Dallas Wednesday.