You look at Chris Clemons and think “football player.”
Thick and strong through the shoulders and chest, narrower at the hips and then meaty in the thighs and calves. A running back maybe or a safety. An NFL guy, perhaps.
But what about an NBA guy?
Clemons has two months until the NBA draft to prove he belongs. He was in Charlotte on Wednesday, along with five other prospects, for a workout. He finished at Campbell third all-time in NCAA Division I history in points scored. He comes across as mature in a confident-not-cocky manner. However, he has yet to be invited to the NBA Combine in Chicago later this month.
Being 5-foot-9 tends to do that.
There have been only a couple of dozen players 5-9 or shorter in NBA history. The shortest of all time was 5-3 Muggsy Bogues, who is still a Hornets folk hero. There has been the occasional star — most recently 5-9 Isaiah Thomas with the Boston Celtics — but Clemons’ height is clearly a detriment to his NBA chances.
“I think my game translates,” Clemons said following his Hornets workout. “I can score with anybody.”
That he can score with anybody — at least at the college level — is well documented. Only two Division I players — Pete Maravich at LSU and Freeman Williams at Portland State — scored more than Clemons’ 3,225 points. And that wasn’t just about staying four seasons in college; he led Division I in scoring last season at 30 points per game.
Clemons’ explosiveness (a reported 44-inch vertical leap) and jump-shooting form (36 percent from the college 3-point line) are quite a combination in a sport where scoring is the most valuable skill.
“Offensively I think I have all the pieces that I need,” he said. “I think I have all the moves to get where I want, and to take the shots at a high level. That part of the game will translate for me.”
The questions regarding Clemons are whether he can hold up defensively at the NBA level and whether he can evolve into more of true facilitator as a point guard. He wasn’t tasked first with playmaking at Campbell, but averaging 2.8 assists as a senior, while playing nearly 37 minutes per game, isn’t impressive.
Clemons was named Most Valuable Player at the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, a scouting event for players marginal to be drafted. That award felt like progress, but as of Wednesday morning he had yet to receive an invitation to the draft combine May 14-19 in Chicago.
“I feel like I got good feedback,” Clemons said. “(NBA scouts) are starting not to see me as the liability that maybe they did before. People are looking at 5-9 guys a little differently now.”
You have to respect how Clemons, lightly recruited out of Raleigh’s Millbrook High School, handled his college career. He didn’t bolt out of Campbell to transfer to a more prominent program and he used the spring windows allowed under NCAA rules to audition for a couple of NBA teams prior to this spring; essentially as dress rehearsals for now.
Wednesday was his sixth NBA workout, his third this spring (he previously auditioned for the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics). He has workouts scheduled with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves as he awaits whether that combine invitation will come.
Clemons doesn’t get defensive about all the questions concerning his height. He embraces the challenge. He has studied the intricacies of how players such as Thomas, now with the Denver Nuggets, find shots and passes through much longer arms.
So Clemons was particularly happy that one of the coaches at the All-Star Game tied to the Final Four this season was 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson, who played a decade in the NBA for eight different teams.
Robinson is stocky like Clemons (he originally went to Washington on a football scholarship). So Clemons was all over Robinson with questions about how to get beyond the height issue.
“He’d studied my game. He thought I’d be really successful with my athletic ability,” Clemons said.
“He made me smile when he said he was looking at a mirror image.”