The newest resident of Lob City seems to have it all backward.
He’s 7 feet 1, can dunk almost flat-footed and yet …
“I’m a lob thrower more” than a catcher, Spencer Hawes said.
The Clippers’ forward-center has been that way since begging his youth coach, who also happened to be his father, to let him dribble the ball up the court at the end of blowouts. Entering his senior season at Seattle Prep, Hawes told his coach he was the best point guard on the team even though he towered over everyone else.
The thing was, Hawes was right.
“He was our best passer,” said Coach Mike Kelly, whose team won the state title with Hawes continually distributing the ball out of the post. “He could have averaged 30 points a game and instead he made the kids around him better and we were a hell of a basketball team.”
The Clippers hope Hawes can complete their frontcourt after spurning several other offers this summer to accept a four-year, $23-million contract. The eight-year veteran will give Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan a backup who would be starting for many other teams.
Hawes’ gifts include the ability to space the floor with three-point shooting (career accuracy: 36.1%), score in bunches (he once dropped 30 points on the Lakers) and make the kinds of passes usually associated with players a foot shorter (he’s logged nine assists in a game three times).
“His shooting is great, but his passing is better,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “I mean, he just creates a lot of problems because you’ve got a five that’s popping out to the three-point line and most teams’ defense relies on their big clogging up the paint. Well, if they’re standing in the paint and Spencer’s standing out behind the three, that’s hard to guard.”
Hawes, 26, is coming off a season in which he compiled career highs in every major statistical category, averaging 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists while making 41.6% of his three-pointers for Philadelphia and Cleveland.
He was coveted by a bevy of teams in free agency but picked the Clippers largely because of the team’s promising core and the opportunity to play for Rivers.
“Obviously, outside of LeBron [James],” Clippers forward Matt Barnes said, “he’s probably one of the biggest free-agent pickups of the summer that people really aren’t talking about as much as they should.”
Informed of Barnes’ assessment, Hawes smiled and said, “I agree wholeheartedly.”
Disagreeing with Hawes can lead to some spirited exchanges. The devoted Republican once participated in a student debate before the 2004 presidential election, advocating for the reelection of George W. Bush after arranging the desks in his class to form “the right wing.”
More recently he’s created a Facebook page for fans of conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
He’s now in a red (and blue) state of sorts with the Clippers, though he hasn’t participated in any political discussions with his new teammates.
“We’ll wait awhile for those,” Hawes said. “It will get heated up come November, though.”
Hawes’ basketball talents can be traced in part to his bloodlines. His father, Jeff, was a high school standout who played forward for the University of Washington, and his uncle Steve Hawes spent a decade in the NBA as a power forward and center with four different teams.
Hawes said he believes he was born with an innate court vision that has allowed him to thrive as a playmaker.
“It’s one thing to be unselfish but it’s another thing to be efficient and advanced as a passer,” said University of Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar, who coached Hawes for one season before the Sacramento Kings selected him with the 10th pick in the 2007 draft. “Any time you have a guy his size who can pass the ball like that, it makes any offense better.”
Hawes figures to play close to a starter’s minutes with the Clippers because of his ability to back up two positions. Rivers said he might even play Hawes alongside the 6-10 Griffin and 6-11 Jordan “if a team has a gigantic three like LeBron.”
That colossal lineup would put Hawes in the unique position of throwing alley-oop passes to players shorter than himself. It could be the new civic tradition in Lob City.
Cross sharpshooter Ray Allen off the list of candidates to take the Clippers’ final roster spot.
Rivers said the team’s glut of shooting guards would preclude the veteran free agent from joining the team.
“Ray’s looking at our team and it’s like you’ve got Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick,” Rivers said of the player who has not decided whether he will return for a 19th NBA season. “I mean, I don’t think there’s a lot of interest.”
Rivers said training camp invitees Joe Ingles and Jared Cunningham were options to complete the roster.