Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson has been open about his goal to win Sixth Man of the Year this season if he comes off of the bench, and he isn’t the only person in the organization with such a goal.
“I have challenged him because I want him to be Sixth Man of the Year, so I’ve challenged him to play like that,” Johnson said of Clarkson during the latter’s basketball camp (as captured by Serena Winters of Lakers Nation). “I think he has the potential, the talent, he’s worked hard this summer.”
Clarkson has flashed that sort of potential at times during his first three NBA seasons while averaging 14.2 points and 2.8 assists while shooting 44.1 percent from the field.
Whether those are good enough numbers to win the award aside, he’s also never really been in a reserve role consistently enough to even truly receive consideration.That looks set to change this season, as it appears extremely unlikely Clarkson will crack the Lakers’ starting five.
With newly-signed shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the Lakers’ second-highest-paid player and the type of defender Lakers head coach Luke Walton wants in that spot, Clarkson probably won’t take a starting spot from him at the two. Ditto for incoming rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who Clarkson has about as good of chance of taking a starting role from (without an injury) as I do.
With those two players entrenched ahead of him, Clarkson will have the type of consistent role that’s eluded him during his first three seasons, in which he went from buried on the bench to hub of the offense to off-ball with Kobe and then back to the bench with Lou Williams, before closing last year as the Lakers’ nominal “starting point guard” so they could look at D’Angelo Russell at “shooting guard” (distinctions that don’t totally matter with the way the Lakers play offense).
For the 2017-18 season, Clarkson appears locked in as the Lakers’ sixth man. With no high-usage players like Lou Williams on the bench beside him and Walton’s predilection for playing five-man units together as much as possible instead of staggering his starters, Clarkson will probably spend the majority of his minutes with Ivica Zubac, Larry Nance, Jr., Luol Deng and Tyler Ennis. None of those guys are going to be creating a ton of offense on their own, meaning Clarkson will probably be called upon in a role similar to his breakout rookie year in which he ran tons of pick-and-rolls to create a shot for himself or a teammate.
Such a role would certainly give Clarkson the type of usage that would allow him to have a Sixth Man of the Year-caliber season, but it will be up to Clarkson to make sure he produces at that level. The other wildcard will be if he’s traded mid-season in a similar fashion to Williams, who had his own Sixth Man of the Year campaign going before getting shipped to the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers’ pretty much have to move Clarkson if they want to create the necessary cap space to sign two max players next offseason, although it remains to be seen if they’ll do so in the middle of the year or wait until the summer. A lot will probably depend on the types of offers they get towards the trade deadline, which might actually be the biggest reason Johnson would like to see a Sixth Man of the Year campaign out of Clarkson: It would make it a lot easier to get assets for him.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.