While Los Angeles Lakers reserve guard Lou Williams has gathered early Sixth Man of the Year award buzz, the team’s younger and more expensive backup ballhandler has struggled at times this season. Jordan Clarkson has cooled off after a nice start to the 2015-16 campaign that had some wondering if he and Williams would steal votes for the award from each other, and Lakers head coach Luke Walton wants him to get back to his roots.
Walton told Mark Medina of the O.C. Register that he recently watched Clarkson’s final 10 games of his rookie campaign and came to the conclusion that his shooting guard needed to “get back to” finding the right balance between scoring and making plays for others.
Clarkson averaged 19.9 points on 49 percent shooting to go with 7.2 assists in the last ten games he played in that season, compared to 14.5 points on 43.5 percent shooting and 2.2 assists this year.
The “advanced” numbers paint an even clearer picture. Clarkson assisted on 33.8 percent of his teammates field goals while on the floor in the last ten games of his rookie year, compared to 12.6 percent this season. It was less of an issue of raw usage (Clarkson is using 23.8 percent of the Lakers’ possessions while on the floor this season as opposed to 24.6 percent during the aforementioned ten game span), so why is Clarkson assisting his teammates so much less this season?
Most of the time it’s because Clarkson is looking more to score. He is averaging 1.2 more shots per-36 minutes this season than he did during that stretch, but even that doesn’t fully explain Clarkson’s drop-off as a playmaker.
Clarkson has also turned the ball over more this season (11.1 percent of the time) than he did during the last 10 games of his rookie campaign (9.2 percent). Together, both of those factors could help explain Clarkson’s decline in playmaking, as could his frequently attacking scrambled defenses as a secondary option rather than initiating the offense.
As far as Clarkons’ scoring, he’s still getting decent shots (actually shooting at the rim 0.2 percent more than he did as a rookie), but the difference is his finishing. Clarkson converted 60.9 percent of his shots around the rim in his last ten games as a rookie, compared to 54.3 percent this season.
Clarkson also actually shot slightly better from distance during that ten-span (32.4 percent on three-pointers versus 31.5 percent now), which made him an even more efficient scorer because he also shot less from there (long-range attempts made up 21.6 percent of Clarkson’s shots as a rookie compared to 28 percent this season). And it stands to reason that if Clarkson was outside the arc less as a rookie, then he also would’ve had better playmaking chances while getting the defense to collapse more frequently into the paint.
Medina reports that in addition to Walton watching tape, Clarkson has been doing late night gym sessions to try and warm his suddenly icy shooting touch, so all parties are doing what they can to rectify this. Part of the solution may come from Clarkson being used more as a primary attacker (when he seems to look more to make plays) than as a secondary one where he is going against a somewhat scrambled defense and looking to create an easier shot for himself.
Whatever happens, Clarkson dusting off his playmaking skills and scoring a little more efficiently would certainly be a boon for a Lakers team that’s lost nine of their last ten and is looking for solutions anywhere they can find them. Including game tape of Clarkson’s rookie year.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.