Jordan Clarkson has become last year's iPhone model in the eyes of many Lakers fans. He still has all of the same features that captured everyone's attention last year, but in comparison to his fresh-out-of-the-box teammates that can do a bunch of new and different things, his weaknesses (mainly defense) have been more apparent than they were when he was the newest and shiniest toy.
Against his hometown San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night, Clarkson served reminder that while he has received less attention than the rest of the team's young core this season after having the entire spotlight to himself last year, there are many nights where he looks like the best player on the floor for Los Angeles.
All 21 of Clarkson's points against the Spurs in the first three quarters, as he sat the majority of the fourth while D'Angelo Russell took over the game. He did make a three minute cameo at the end of the game to watch Kobe Bryant try to shoot the Lakers into a win, but did not attempt a single shot. Clarkson shot 9-14 from the field on the night, with his 64.3 percent shooting ranking first on the team against San Antonio.
Clarkson was able to score with such efficiency by getting inside, taking 6 of his 14 shots in the restricted area and making 4 of them. That is right around normal shot distribution for Clarkson, but he was finishing against San Antonio, with that 4-6 shooting at the rim translating to 66.7%, significantly above the 51% he has been shooting from that range on the year.
Playing in front of family and friends, Clarkson did a better job of drawing and exploiting mismatches to get good shots at the tin. On this possession, Clarkson drew a switch from Boris Diaw on a ball-screen at the elbow, and was able to use his crossover to get Diaw and his heels and find his way into the paint:
To finish, Clarkson used his off-arm to keep Diaw away from him, a crafty finish from the young guard.
This is going to sound controversial, but another way to help a player's field goal percentage is dunking. When making off the ball cuts like this, Clarkson can do that too:
More significantly than his ability to finish open lobs, Clarkson was active on the offensive glass on Saturday night. While a guard crashing the boards is not great for a team's transition defense in general, if they are opportunistic about it as Clarkson was in these examples, it can be a net positive:
While it wasn't right at the rim, additionally impressive was Clarkson taking the smaller Tony Parker into the paint and shooting over him like a chair:
Also aiding Clarkson offensively in recent games has been his three-point shooting. The Mizzou product has made 42.9 percent of his shots from behind the arc over his last ten games, and looks much more confident just rising and firing than he did last season:
There is no doubt that Clarkson is quietly developing into a relatively versatile scorer, but on the other side of the floor his lack of growth has been a bit troubling. Most young guards are poor defenders, but Clarkson has not seemed to improve much from his first to second year in the league, and the same type of mental mistakes showed against the Spurs when Lakers head coach Byron Scott benched a hot D'Angelo Russell to go back to his starting guard tandem.
While Kobe's non-box out of Kawhi Leonard was probably the most glaring defensive mistake of the night because it sealed San Antonio's win, the Spurs scored four baskets in the final three minutes of the game, and Clarkson was directly or partially responsible for three of them.
First, he went under the screen on a Parker- Lamarcus Aldridge pick-and-roll, conceding this jumper that would be a bad shot for most players but is an area that Parker is shooting 45.9 percent from this season:
Then Clarkson lost Parker when the speedy Frenchman turned him around on a simple cut:
Finally, Clarkson was stuck in no man's land on the Spurs' second to last bucket of the night. He wasn't close enough to stop Parker if he were to receive the ball for a jumper, but he also late to help on Aldridge's roll, only recovering in time to foul the Spurs All-Star and send him to the line for an And-1:
These types of mistakes have been par for the course with Clarkson this year, but it's also hard to think he won't eventually improve. He certainly has the physical tools to at the very least be an average defender, and he is also young enough that there is still reason to hope he can grow when learning from a coach with experience building an effective modern defense.
Clarkson is a free agent this off-season, but due to his restricted status the Lakers would have to not want him for him to go anywhere. Despite his defensive struggles, he has shown enough knack for scoring, combined wit the work ethic necessary to improve that there is no reason for the team to start looking for an upgrade. Clarkson has a few glitches, but he still is plenty functional with reason to believe a summer spent upgrading his firmware could leave him coming in next year looking better than new.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.