When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted D'Angelo Russell with the second overall pick last summer, it was a surprise to some in no small part due to the presence of Jordan Clarkson on the roster. Traditional thinking suggested that the Lakers already had their point guard of the future after a season in which Clarkson averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists on the way to a spot on the All-Rookie first teams.
The Lakers disagreed with that line of thinking, believing that Clarkson and Russell could play together in the same backcourt. "Our vision would be for both of those players to play in the backcourt for the next 10-to-12 years," said Mitch Kupchak in an interview following Russell's selection.
The results in their first season were mixed. Clarkson shot a slightly lower percentage overall with Russell on the court with him (42.3 percent vs. 44.2 percent when Russell sat), but he did can more of his three-pointers when Russell played (35.4 percent) than when he was on the bench (33.8 percent).
Most of that lower overall field goal percentage can probably be chalked up to his attempting a tad more threes with Russell on the court and going against opposing starters with the rest of the Lakers' starting lineup (one of the worst groups in the league last year), but Clarkson told Michael Pina of Bleacher Report that he's willing to sacrifice his starting spot for the betterment on the team if necessary (empashis mine):
Those flaws make pairing him beside D'Angelo Russell (another guard who's most comfortable with the ball in his hands and subpar defensively) for the foreseeable future feel like a questionable call. But Clarkson doesn't see it that way.
"We're both 6'5", long and able to put the ball on the ground. Score as well as pass. So we kind of want to make our own lane," he said. "When it comes to defense, there's a lot of team stuff that has to go on. Steph [Curry] is not the greatest defender in the world. But if we find the right pieces to put together with us, I think it will help us a lot. At the same time, I feel like we can grow in that area, for sure."
If it's the eventual solution to a problem that may never even bubble up in Walton's egalitarian offense, Clarkson has no problem coming off the bench so long as his minutes don't dwindle.
Clarkson's ball-handling does make him a capable option to tun point at times, but he also showed the ability to thrive at times as a secondary attacker while playing off of Russell last season. Incoming Lakers head coach Luke Walton has says he plans to install an offense similar to the type he ran with the Warriors, and part of what makes that system so successful is it's integration of multiple ball handlers to threaten defenses several times on the same possession until they break down.
Clarkson and Russell should be staggered more often this season so that one of them is almost always on the court to handle the ball, but while it's good to hear Clarkson would be willing to take over as sixth man if asked, it's premature to assume it's necessary just yet.
Pina's entire feature on Clarkson is well worth the read, and you can do so here.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.