Jordan Clarkson has emerged as a key piece of the young core that the Lakers faithful hope will return the franchise to championship contention. From being undervalued in the draft and benched as a rookie, to sharing the court (and basketball) with Kobe Bryant during his final season, Clarkson overcame many obstacles on his way to establishing himself as a star caliber player. Hopefully, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss don’t overlook this homegrown star in the making, when they look to improve the team this off-season.
Draft Day Slide
At the beginning of the 2014 draft, the Lakers found themselves with no 2nd round pick, as it had been shipped away to Phoenix in the ill-fated Steve Nash trade. However, Lakers management had identified Missouri combo guard Jordan Clarkson as a huge value. Clarkson had originally been viewed as a candidate for the late first or early second rounds, but Washington took him after an unexpected slide with the 46th overall pick, and sent his draft rights to the Lakers for cash considerations adding up to $1.8 million.
When asked about his slide in the draft, Clarkson shared that he would use the fact that so many teams passed on him to fuel him during his rookie campaign.
“I always had that chip on my shoulder. It’s just a bigger one now that I got drafted low,”
2014 Rookie Campaign and 2015 Season
In the 53 games B.C. (Before Clarkson, like what I did there?), Lakers head coach Byron Scott had allowed the talented rookie guard to languish on the bench. Byron’s tough love, “old school,” watch-and-learn philosophy with rookies led him to give middling NBA veteran Ronnie Price and journeyman Jeremy Lin the lion’s share of the backcourt minutes, with Clarkson playing in short bursts when the games were no longer competitive.
However, Jordan kept his head down. He never complained and remained focused on developing his on-court skills and off-court team relationships, in an effort to squeeze every ounce of experience out of his rookie season. Clarkson became popular in the locker room, accepting his role as a rookie and the corresponding rights of passage that accompany being a first year player in the NBA.
“I had to carry the fake baby in a pink stroller whenever I was entering or leaving Staples Center.”
-Jordan Clarkson, Player’s Tribune
Clarkson’s big break came in February, just before the NBA all-star game. After playing mostly veterans for the first part of the season, Byron Scott finally gave into pressure from the fan base and made the decision to give Clarkson the playing time he needed. Clarkson made an immediate impact, and the Lakers came out of the all-star break more aggressive, playing better defense, and winning games. Clarkson went on to put up near all-star level numbers, averaging approximately 16 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game as a starter. After the season, Clarkson became one of only five 2nd round picks in the previous 30 years to receive All Rookie First Team honors. Clarkson, who became the first starting caliber Filipino-American in NBA History, proved to be a fan favorite and gave the fans something to be excited about in an otherwise disappointing season.
Clarkson continued to develop during his second year, and was able to maintain solid numbers for the whole season. Despite sharing playing time with Lakers lottery pick D’Angelo Russell and ball dominant Kobe Bryant, Jordan averaged 15 points, 4 boards, and 2 assists in a large sample size. He improved his 3pt. field goal percentage, developed better body control when attacking the rim, and made strides defensively. Clarkson made it through the season relatively injury free, and has continued to endear himself to fans and teammates.
Measurables and Position
Clarkson stands 6 feet 5 inches, and weighs in at approximately 195 pounds, giving him a size advantage over many of the smaller guards in the NBA. Despite a pedestrian standing reach of 8’ 2’’, he boasts a 6’ 8’’ wingspan and 38.5 inch vertical leap. Overall, Clarkson’s speed, lateral quickness, and agility give him the ability to attack defenses as a primary scorer, actively defend in isolation or team defense, and participate in fast break offense and defense.
While his physical attributes fit in nicely with the NBA model for guards, Clarkson’s actual on-court position is less easily penciled in. Clarkson spent a significant amount of time playing point guard for the Lakers during his rookie and sophomore campaigns, but has also played off ball in more of a shooting guard/combo guard role. Clarkson’s size and speed give him the ability to defend the 1 and 2 guard position and score at will, but he lacks the natural passing skills of some of the premier point guards in the league. While some Los Angeles sports analysts contend that Clarkson is an ideal 3rd guard in a 3-guard rotation, this seems to be a lazy comparison, as Clarkson’s career trajectory and development over the past two seasons seem to indicate he could soon handle a starting role on a good team. The Lakers roster will see substantial changes this offseason, and the question of where Clarkson fits will linger as long as rookie lottery pick D’Angelo Russell is holding down the point for the Lakers.
Clarkson has already proven to be a valuable asset, and a solid starter for the Lakers. He has developed the ability to lead the Lakers offense in both a starting and reserve role, and established that he is a legitimate NBA talent. Clarkson is currently a restricted free agent, meaning the Lakers have the right to match any offer he gets from another team. While there are multiple avenues for the Lakers to secure his services (click here for a detailed summary of Clarkson’s contract options), the Lakers have salary cap space and leverage, making a signing with the purple & gold very likely. Jordan Clarkson’s consistent production, athleticism, and coachability have made him a sought after commodity, and it is likely the Lakers will sign him to a longterm contract this off-season.
“I definitely want to be here in L.A. and be a part of this young group and grow”