Clippers rookie guard Jason Preston isn’t concerned about where he was selected in the 2021 NBA draft.
“Whether you were one, whether you were 60, whether you were undrafted, you still have to play, you still have to do your role,” says Preston, who the Magic selected at No. 33 and promptly traded to the Clippers. “You still have to play as hard as you can.”
And with his first professional season about to begin, Preston has been focused on getting as prepared as he can. Key to his transition is improving his body, and his game.
The Ohio University product says he has gained 10 lbs. since his college career concluded, improving his lower body strength, among other areas. He has also been in regular contact with members of the Clippers player development staff, who have helped the 6' 4" guard craft a healthier diet.
Preston left Ohio University as one of the best pure passers in the 2021 draft. While logging heavy minutes for the Bobcats in each of the past two seasons, he put up assist rates of 37.6% and 39.8%, averaging 7.2 dimes per game, behind a bevy of creative playmaking and pinpoint accuracy. He also proved to be a reliable scorer, averaging 15.7 points on 12.4 shot attempts per game during his junior season.
Still, Preston spent the offseason looking to refine a number of elements of his repertoire, namely improving his ballhandling and shooting. The latter he worked on by making a series of small tweaks to his mechanics. “So far in the workouts I’ve had, I’m even more excited to show it this season,” he says.
With the Clippers, it is possible that Preston could emerge as a secondary ballhandler sooner than later, especially with Kawhi Leonard expected to be out for most, if not all, of this season. Plus, the franchise recently traded Patrick Beverley to the Timberwolves, freeing up even more potential opportunity for the second-round pick.
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While Preston has yet to play a regular-season game with his teammates, he still has achieved some familiarity with them. Throughout the offseason, he sought advice from veteran teammates like Reggie Jackson, Paul George and Luke Kennard, asking about what tips they would have for rookies and how he can get over a possible first-year wall. “They’ve embraced me,” Preston says.
For Preston, who scored just 52 points during his senior year of high school, his rapid rise to the pros marks the latest step in what has been an unexpected journey. Nevertheless he’s now focused on the present and how he can work to make the most of it.
“In the moment, it’s really hard to process what’s actually going on,” Preston says. “Even now, I’m still having a hard time doing that. So maybe when I’m all done with my career I can look back, but for right now I’m just really focused. I have a lot more to do.”
Sports Illustrated’s Alex Hampl contributed to this report.
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