Jordan Clarkson’s NBA career can’t be called anything but an astounding success so far given his status as a second round pick. He’s already far exceeded the average career trajectory for a player selected so late, but his success has also opened him up for criticism of the warts on his game.
The main issue for Clarkson has always been defense. The guard has spoken often during the offseason of his desire to improve on that end of the floor, but it remains to be seen how improved he’ll be when the Los Angeles Lakers kick off training camp next Monday.
New Lakers head coach Luke Walton is among those who believe Clarkson can and will improve on defense this season. Walton told Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News that he’s seen some encouraging signs during the team’s offseason workouts that point towards the third-year guard becoming a difference maker on the defensive end.
“A couple of times I’ve seen it this summer where he gets after the ball. Because of his quickness, he disrupts the players,” Walton said. “That’s going to be more of a mindset thing with him. He can be a very solid defender because of the way he can move out there on the court.”
Walton is absolutely right that Clarkson’s length and athleticism would seem to lend themselves towards being a plus defender, but those raw tools certainly haven’t translated at the NBA level yet.
So what’s been the problem for Clarkson? Well, as friend of the site Pete Zayas (better known as Laker Film Room) points out in this excellent breakdown, the issue was often technique, rather than effort, for the young Lakers guard:
As Zayas makes clear in the above video, there are reasons for optimism about Clarkson’s if one wants to find it.
All rookies are bad on defense, so we can basically throw out Clarkson’s first season as he went from benchwarmer to defending Chris Paul basically overnight. In Clarkson’s sophomore campaign, the addition of D’Angelo Russell and return of Kobe Bryant forced him to a much more supplementary role at shooting guard, which was already an entirely new position for him to learn.
This summer, Clarkson has already played off-guard for a whole season and knows the position. He’s had the whole offseason to focus on his deficiencies in that spot. Even though he’s an older third-year player, those (and the insertion of what is hopefully better coaching and a competent defensive gameplan) are reasons to hope Clarkson can look better on defense than he has in the past two seasons.
The bad news is that it would be hard to look worse than Clarkson did defensively at times over the last two years. However, Walton’s praise offers reason to hope the workaholic third-year guard addressed those issues and can at the very least become a league average defender by the end of this year.
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