Can Jordan Clarkson Carve Out a Role with LA Lakers?

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Can Jordan Clarkson Carve Out a Role with LA Lakers?
Jack Arent/Getty Images

It's going to be difficult for Jordan Clarkson to find a role with the Los Angeles Lakers because his talent doesn't complement those of his teammates.

Still, general manager Mitch Kupchak selected him with the 46th pick in the draft because he thought that, perhaps down the line, Clarkson could be a contributor for the Purple and Gold.

I can certainly see Clarkson playing for the Lakers in a few seasons, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We want to know if he will fit in with Los Angeles right out of the gate, and his current skills make that a bit of a question mark.

 

Just Another Jordan?

Fair or not, there’s a reason Clarkson fell to the second round. David Aldridge labeled him as a “streaky scorer” in March over at NBA.com, which isn’t a compliment. Streaky is the code word used in basketball to describe players whose jump shots regularly check into the "witness-protection" program.

Sports-Reference.com tells us Clarkson made 32.2 percent of his collegiate treys. It’s probably worth mentioning the college three-point line is shorter in distance from the hoop than the NBA’s.

Given that Clarkson isn’t much of an outside threat, defenses will rotate off him to load up on better offensive players. That can be an issue, but as Dwyane Wade has proved time and time again, it’s not necessarily damning, provided the player has other facets in his repertoire to exploit. Think post-ups, cuts, drives and paint finishes.

L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

If Clarkson had all that in his tool shed, he probably would have been drafted in the first round. Instead, he has different strengths, and I’m not sure how they will translate in the NBA.

Clarkson is a good and athletic ball-handler, which will allow him to get inside the paint. At 6’5’’, he can elevate and finish strong, but NBAdraft.net noted that physical defense can negate some of those advantages. Chris Dortch corroborated these findings in his prospect analysis at NBA.com.

“Has to get bigger and stronger” was listed as one of his weaknesses.

Bulking up might take time, but luckily Clarkson has other skills to work with. He was smart enough in college to recognize when the entire defense had converged on him. From there he’d find the open player for the high-percentage look. On the flip side, smart teams understood that sending only one or two extra defenders was baiting him into tough shots.

Not too coincidentally, Clarkson averaged 2.7 assists versus 2.7 turnovers in 31.7 minutes per game during his college career, which partly explains why he was ranked fairly low among point guards going into the draft.

And yet, Clarkson seems to think most teams missed out on the golden opportunity to grab him. “I have a chip on my shoulder from the draft,” Clarkson said, according to InsideSoCal’s Mark Medina. “I feel like I was one of the better point guards in the draft, maybe the best.”

For all that bravado, he’s made an impression in the Las Vegas Summer League games because of his willingness to learn the position.

Lakers.com’s Twong relayed the thoughts of Lakers associate head coach Mark Madsen on the guard: “Now what Clarkson can do is he can tell people where to go on the court, and that's a sign of a point guard who's growing into the position."

The fact that he’s eager to learn is certainly great, but he has a ways to go given his makeup. Clarkson is a scoring guard, and that might not necessarily be the ideal player to plug into a team featuring Kobe Bryant and Nick Young.

 

Laker Fit

Jack Arent/Getty Images

I struggle to see where Clarkson fits in with Los Angeles.

Sure, he’s an impressive athlete and someone you can trust to bring the ball up against pressure, but that’s probably the extent of what he will be able to accomplish without upsetting the balance of the Lakers.

Does anyone really think Kobe and Young are going to defer to the new scoring guard on the roster? I most certainly do not.

What’s more, rookies tend to struggle on defense because it takes time to grasp defensive schemes and execute them. It’s easy to justify throwing out a first-year player on the floor if he’s creating scoring opportunities, but if such isn’t the case, throwing him out there might be a simple waste of time.

But these are just generalities. If we look deeper, it will become apparent that Clarkson doesn’t seem like a fit for this team. The roster isn’t built to accommodate his “gifts.”

Steve Nash missed most of last season because of nerve damage in his back, but he’s made it clear that he intends to play during the 2014-15 campaign. In the event he’s healthy enough to go for most of the year, he will likely start in the backcourt alongside Kobe.

His job will be to set the table and make shots whenever defenders abandon him. New Laker Jeremy Lin will spell Nash and perhaps play next to him at times in some ultra-small lineups.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Lin is fearless when he puts the ball on the floor, and that allows him to get into the paint and score. That, coupled with his spot-up shooting, should complement the skills of Nash, Bryant and Young. Because Lin doesn’t absolutely need the ball in his hands to be successful, he should thrive in L.A.

That’s probably the ideal backcourt scenario for the Lakers. However, it feels like a long shot. In two seasons with the Lakers, Nash has appeared in a mere 65 games. Thus, one has to be inclined to think he won’t make it through the season.

If that’s the case, Lin likely becomes the starter, while Bryant and Young evolve into de facto backup point guards. That might seem ludicrous, but a team can only have so many gunners share the court together before the offense looks like the playbook of a playground team. That’s what made cutting Kendall Marshall a bit tough.

A pass-first guard like Marshall would have kept things balanced on offense because he would have been one less player looking to just get shots up. Instead, the Lakers were more worried about the salary-cap implications (rightfully so) and sent him packing.

The move technically promoted Clarkson to third guard on the depth chart, but I think it’ll take a combination of injuries and foul trouble for him to get some burn during the competitive stretch of the 2014-15 season. For instance, if either Young or Bryant gets hurt, I could see Clarkson getting minutes.

The Lakers could use him at both guard positions to determine if his scoring mentality complements the skills of the swingman playing with him.

In the event the stars don’t line up for him in this fashion, there is only one other instance where I could see Clarkson getting a fairly important position with the team. If the campaign looks like it’s going nowhere fairly quickly, the coaching staff might insert Clarkson into the lineup to see what he’s got.

He probably figures into the future of the Lakers more than Lin and Nash, who have expiring contracts, per ShamSports.com. Hence, if the team is truly bad, there won’t be any incentive to play guys who won’t be on the books past the 2014-15 season.

Instead, it would be the perfect time to feed Clarkson some minutes and perhaps build his confidence.

With that said, it seems fairly apparent that Clarkson will need some bad fortune to hit some of his teammates in order for him to become somewhat of a cog in the Lakers machine. In other words, Clarkson will have to sit and wait at least until the 2015-16 campaign before the team gives him a consistent role.

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