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Let’s appreciate a Laker: Jordan Clarkson, a draft day steal

Jordan Clarkson might not be the steal of the 2014 NBA Draft, but he was definitely one of them.

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Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking a daily look back at figures from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we remember Jordan Clarkson

On draft night in 2014, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired the No. 46 pick from the Washington Wizards for $1.8 million. The Lakers didn’t have their own second-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft because of the trade that sent Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns to Los Angeles in 2012.

That pick — the No. 36 pick — was used to draft Johnny O’Bryant III, who had a brief four-year, 147-game career from 2014 to 2018. Suffice to say, the Lakers haven’t lost sleep over that pick. With the pick they acquired, the Lakers drafted Jordan Clarkson, a speedy guard out of the University of Missouri.

Clarkson wasn’t the Lakers’ most exciting rookie going into the season, but that changed after Julius Randle, the No. 7 overall pick, suffered a fractured tibia in his regular season debut. Clarkson made his debut on the opening night of the regular season, too, and he despite the fact that he played three years of college basketball, he looked incredibly raw.

Like a lot of young guards, Clarkson only knew how to play the game at 100 miles per hour, and his first instinct was to score the ball whenever he got the chance. His lack of discipline on both ends of the floor caused him to fall out Byron Scott’s rotation, in favor of veteran guards like Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price. Even when the Lakers are 16 games below .500, Clarkson was a DNP-CD.

It wasn’t until Kobe Bryant suffered a torn rotator cuff in January that Clarkson started to see regular playing time. When Clarkson got his number called again, he had a new sense of confidence because of his five-game stint in the D League (now the G League) with the D-Fenders (now the South Bay Lakers). In that five-game stint, Clarkson averaged 22.6 points, 7.8 assists and 5 rebounds per game.

Those numbers didn’t translate to the NBA right away, but with each game, he looked more comfortable as the focal point of the Lakers’ offense. After the All-Star break, Clarkson’s responsibility grew because three of the Lakers’ guards — Bryant, Price and Nick Young — had suffered season-ending injuries, and he made the most of the opportunity he got.

In the 28 games Clarkson played after the All-Star break, he averaged 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The 16.7 points per game he averaged were the second-most points per game that any rookie averaged after the All-Star break. Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, ranked first.

Clarkson’s play in the month of March earned him the honor of Western Conference Rookie of the Month. Prior to Clarkson, no one in Lakers history had won Western Conference Rookie of the Month. Since Clarkson, only Kyle Kuzma has accomplished that feat in a Lakers uniform.

As if that wasn’t enough to call his rookie season a success, Clarkson was named to the All-Rookie First Team at the end of the season. If he wasn’t on anyone’s radar before that, he was after.

Clarkson never quite lived up to the expectations that Lakers fans set for him after his surprise rookie season, but he’s had a productive NBA career, which is more than a lot of No. 46 picks can say. For context, Clarkson is the second-leading scorer in 2014 NBA Draft class, trailing only Wiggins.

Now, would Clarkson go second overall in a re-draft? No. He wasn’t even the best player drafted in the second round that year — that title belongs to Nikola Jokic, the No. 41 pick. After Jokic, it’s Spencer Dinwiddie, the 38 pick.

But Clarkson undoubtedly outplayed his draft position and made an otherwise insufferable season of Lakers basketball pretty enjoyable. For his breakout rookie season, his legendary postgame quotes and the four seasons he spent with the Lakers, he’s a player worth appreciating.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.