Coming out of college, NBA experts projected Jordan Clarkson would be drafted in the late first round. Standing 6'4, he had good size for an NBA point guard and his ability to attack the basketball was a strong point. Still, many questioned whether Clarkson's defense and outside shooting could improve enough to become a solid NBA player.
Perhaps it was those question marks that allowed the Los Angeles Lakers to swoop in and draft Clarkson with the 46th pick. The Missouri product didn't play much in his first season until after the All-Star break, but his solid late season play was noticed. Clarkson averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds on 48 percent shooting after the All-Star break, good enough production to be named to the All-Rookie first team. Despite the recognition, experts still questioned whether Clarkson was a viable NBA player or whether he was simply a "good numbers on a bad team" guy.
Clarkson has continued to prove the doubters wrong and has quietly become a solid starter in his sophomore season. Seven point guards were off the board before the Lakers took Clarkson 46th and the second-round pick has become a better overall player than all of them. Three of those players are fluctuating between the NBA and the D-League. Elfrid Payton and Marcus Smart may be better defensively, but Clarkson's offensive arsenal is more diverse. Dante Exum has only played a year. In the wake of all of this, Clarkson has become an above-average guard for the Lakers, mostly because of his improvement shooting the ball from the perimeter.
At Missouri, Clarkson took 3.3 shots from behind the arc per game, only hitting 28 percent of those shots. Prior to his time in Columbia, Clarkson played two seasons in Tulsa. He hit 35 percent of his threes in two seasons there, but the dip from 37 percent in his final season at Tulsa to the 28 percent in his only year at Missouri was a red flag for many.
Clarkson is shooting 36.4 percent from behind the three-point line with the Lakers this season, improving 5 percent from his rookie year. In his 10 games since the All-Star break, Clarkson has canned 40 percent of his threes. Part of this improvement comes from more reps. The second-year guard is averaging 7.2 attempts from behind the arc per game since the break, more than double the three attempts he averaged before the break. Clarkson is taking about the same number of shots per game since the break, but now half of his shots are threes.
Clarkson is averaging 15.7 points per game, which is 12th among point guards and 10th among shooting guards. Some may still argue that Clarkson's points per game total is misleading. After all, the Lakers are staring at their worst season ever. But while some numbers can lie, shooting percentages don't. Clarkson is hitting 44 percent of his shots from the field. This ranks 12th among point guards and 14th among twos. Finally, Clarkson is shooting 36 percent from behind the arc. This puts him at 18th among both point guards and shooting guards.
The outside shooting can stay at the same level and Clarkson is an above-average starter at either guard position. It's hard to find that in the second round and credit the Lakers for jumping in and grabbing Clarkson when they had the chance.
At 23, Clarkson is young enough to continue to make improvements to his game. The guard needs to learn how to distribute the ball better (his assist to turnover ratio is tied for last among qualified point guards) and play better defense, although he has also improved in that area this year. Clarkson's game is continuing to evolve and some may question if the shooting percentage can consistently be there, but his continuing growth as a player is already proving the doubters wrong and the Lakers right.
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