#3. Jordan Clarkson
Average Rank: 2.9
Heading into the 2014 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers had a general idea of who they might have been able to select with the seventh-overall pick. After Julius Randle fell to them at No. 7, it appeared that the Lakers — bereft of another draft pick at the time — were done for the evening, until a player they liked started tumbling down the draft board.
That’s when Los Angeles swooped in, buying the 46th-overall pick from the Washington Wizards, allowing them to select Jordan Clarkson.
After sitting on the bench for a large portion of his rookie season, Clarkson stormed onto the scene for the Lakers when he was finally given a chance to play, finishing the year with a line of 11.9 points, 3.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. His play was a pleasant surprise for Los Angeles, but many people wondered how he would handle his second season, since teams knew who he was and had film to help game-plan for him.
Although the circumstances in Clarkson’s second season were noticeably different, his play remained relatively consistent. Certain areas of his game fluctuated, but only marginally. Here is a look at his per game averages from the two seasons, along with his statistics on a per-36 minute basis.
Overall, his production last season was very aligned with what he was able to accomplish as a rookie, but the efficiency did take a slight dip. In some ways, the performance during his second year was both encouraging and disappointing at the same time, depending on how you look at it.
Naturally, with the experience of his first season, one would hope that Clarkson would elevate his game to the next level, seeing his averages and efficiency increase. But we have to remember that part of Clarkson’s surprising play as a rookie could be attributed to being an unknown second-round pick that teams were not necessarily scouting or game-planning for. Last season, that was certainly no longer the case, yet he was still able to play at basically the same level.
Perhaps the greatest factor to account for from year one to year two was the massive difference in situations that Clarkson endured. As a rookie, the vast majority of his time in the starting lineup came later on in the season, when Kobe Bryant was sidelined with a torn rotator cuff.
In year two, while D’Angelo Russell came off the bench for a sizable amount of games, Clarkson started at point guard, alongside Bryant and Lou Williams, two volume shooters that typically halted the Lakers’ offensive flow and ball movement. The lack of creativity from former head coach Byron Scott certainly did not help things either, as the Lakers reverted to isolation basketball far too often, resulting in forced shots from Bryant and Williams, among others.
If Luke Walton wants to implement an offensive system similar to what the Golden State Warriors run, this means the Lakers will look to space the floor, creating more room to operate in half-court sets. It also indicates that Walton wants the young Lakers to get out on the break and run early and often, netting some easy buckets in transition. Gifted with a ton of athletic ability, Clarkson would be one of the main beneficiaries of a more up-tempo style of play.
The new regime with Walton at the helm also means that Clarkson will slide over to the two, giving the point guard minutes to Russell, Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas. Although Clarkson does have elements of a typical point guard skill set, shooting guard is a more natural position for his game. In his first two seasons, he had to create much of his own offense. This year, he should be presented with some better, less strenuous opportunities on that end, feeding off of the playmaking ability of some of his teammates. That could include more open looks from three this year, and if his perimeter shooting keeps improving like it did last season, Clarkson could be in for some big nights on the offensive end.
On the other end of the floor, however, Clarkson has plenty of room for improvement. Far too often the last two years, he would get beat by his man both on and off the ball, making him a defensive liability. Hopefully this is an area of his game that will be refined through better coaching, seeing as the root of his defensive woes are more so because of his technique than his effort.
Clarkson has a knack for hopping on defense, similar to what Goran Dragic does in the play above. Instead of that little hop, Clarkson needs to slide his feet, keeping himself grounded as to limit vulnerability as a defender. Also, getting lower and wide could help his on-ball defense, preventing him from leaning too far forward or to either side, allowing ball-handlers to blow right by him off the dribble.
Again, this should be something that is addressed with the new coaching staff, as they work to improve a team that has been one of the league’s worst defensive teams for the past few years. If Clarkson is able to become a better defender while seeing his three-point percentage continue to climb, it could take his game to the next level, opening up an array of options for the Lakers.
There is no question that Clarkson has put in the work to get better this offseason. That work, time and effort, combined with a new coaching staff and system in place could result in a big 2016-17 campaign for Clarkson.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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