The business of scouting potential NBA players is a thorny endeavor, too complex to reduce to a simple rule of thumb.
That said, Lawrence Frank finds it helpful to look for one indicator, in particular.
“I’m a pretty simple guy,” the Clippers’ president of basketball operations said. “You get some hard-playing, tough dudes and you become a hard-playing, tough team.”
Such a formula guided the Clippers’ construction of last season’s overachieving playoff team and their selections of Florida State teammates Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann in the NBA draft Thursday suggest the team’s priorities haven’t changed.
If the Clippers were looking for tough dudes, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said, they found it in Kabengele, a 6-foot-10 forward/center taken 27th overall as part of a draft-night trade with Brooklyn, and Mann, a 6-7 guard selected 48th overall.
“It’s hard to be in my program if you ain’t tough,” Hamilton said in a phone interview. “Soft guys don’t last.”
They not only lasted but thrived with the Seminoles, who went 29-8 last season and lost in the NCAA West Region final to Gonzaga.
A late bloomer, Kabengele went from a lightly recruited Canadian forward set to attend Binghamton during his lone year at an Indiana prep school, to the top reserve in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference last season, all in four years. He led the Seminoles in scoring in fewer than 22 minutes a night as a redshirt sophomore and his average of 24.5 points per 40 minutes ranked third in the conference behind only No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson and No. 3 pick RJ Barrett.
Mann grew up within competitive environments as the son of former Georgetown player and Rhode Island women’s basketball head coach Daynia La-Force. He did not miss a game while playing much of his senior season on a bruised heel.
“I always judge players that when the going gets tough, are they the kind of guys that go get in the fox hole with you?” Hamilton said. He made clear the question was rhetorical.
They also made teammates better, he said.
Mann turned heads with his intelligence when he took matters into his own hands and drove the length of the court to beat Virginia Tech at the buzzer in the ACC tournament — a play in which his teammates did not appear to understand the time and score.
Kabengele was considered a magnetic personality. Like the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell, Kabengele was one of his team’s most talented players but accepted a bench role because it afforded his team better matchups. In one case, late during a victory this season, Kabengele told Hamilton from the bench that he didn’t want to re-enter the game because the team’s center on the floor deserved the increased minutes as a confidence boost.
When Kabengele climbed the steps to the draft’s main stage Thursday night in Brooklyn, he did so wearing a custom suit in which the names of his Seminoles teammates were sewn into the jacket’s lining.
“He’s a team guy,” Hamilton said.
Said Frank: “Way at the beginning of the draft process with both [Mfiondu] and Terance, and this isn’t some like, PR stuff, those were two guys that we targeted. The fact that it came together was really, really unique.”
Both were rated much higher on the Clippers’ draft board than their ultimate draft position. The Clippers are drawn to tall guards, Frank said, and the selection of Mann — with his 7-foot wingspan and oft-praised perimeter defense — could signal a willingness by the team to move on from one or both of Sindarius Thornwell and Ty Wallace, two former second-round picks on non-guaranteed contracts for next season.
Mann made 39% of his three-pointers as a senior but 32% overall during his four seasons at Florida State, and increasing that percentage will be one of his primary tasks as a pro. Kabengele was a natural shooter attempting collegiate three-pointers but his transition to the NBA-distance three, as well as improvements in passing and keeping pace in the NBA, are adjustment the Clippers will monitor.
“I feel very comfortable saying these guys are going to work their butt off,” Hamilton said. “They are kids who are basketball junkies.”
Kabengele and Mann will make their Clippers debuts July 6 against the Lakers during the Las Vegas Summer League. The NBA announced the league schedule Friday, which includes at least five games for each team.
The Clippers will tip off against the Lakers on an ESPNU broadcast at 8:30 p.m. The Clippers will follow with games against Memphis on July 7 (8:30 p.m., ESPN2), Washington on July 9 (8:30 p.m., NBA TV) and Sacramento on July 11 (7 p.m., NBA TV). The top eight teams will advance to a tournament round that runs July 12-15. Teams not seeded in the tournament will play one consolation game.
The Clippers’ team will be coached by Brian Adams, a former Clippers assistant and current head coach of the team’s G League affiliate in Ontario. The roster will be headlined by 2018 first-round pick Jerome Robinson. Undrafted Syracuse forward Oshae Brissett announced Friday on social media that he will play, as well, and former Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes also is expected to be part of the team. Coming off NBA All-Rookie accolades, fellow guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet will not be on the team’s summer roster.