Jordan Clarkson has all the basketball potential in the world. But the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard has a long ways to go before he’s a complete player.
The good news is the second-round draft pick has finally been thrown into the competitive fire in order to grow and develop during a woeful season.
And perhaps the other good news is the Lakers will lose a lot more games in the process, thus increasing their chances of a prime draft pick in June, to pair with Clarkson and the rehabbing Julius Randle.
The trick is making sure the impressionable speedster keeps up with a steep learning curve and that he doesn’t become overwhelmed by the relentless beatdowns.
Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News recently wrote about the competition that Clarkson has been facing and his coach’s cognizance of the developmental challenge.
“I didn’t do him any favors by throwing him in the fire by going up against teams he played against and some of the point guards he had to face,” said Byron Scott. “But he held his own. That’s obviously a great sign for us and for him. I want him to continue to develop and take the challenge.”
The Lakers paid $1.8 million to the Washington Wizards on draft night for their No. 46 pick and selected Clarkson. The Texas native played both guard positions for two seasons at Tulsa before transferring to Missouri where he started at the point, averaging 17.5 points per game.
There were positional questions about Clarkson for the first half of his rookie campaign—he contributed limited minutes as a 2-guard, and he also played five games with the Lakers’ D-league team, the D-Fenders.
But since Jan. 23 in a losing effort against the San Antonio Spurs, the 6’5” guard has been thrust into the starting lineup. There has been one win and seven losses so far, with some red-hot shooting nights balanced out by games with cringe-worthy mistakes.
Simply going by numbers, however, the progress is evident.
|Jordan Clarkson before-and-after stats|
And after all, players don’t learn if they don’t fall down in the process. Clarkson has been matched up against some of the league’s top talents so far, including Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Kyrie Irving.
The 22-year-old played a generally strong game Friday against the Orlando Magic, with the Lakers up 11 points in the fourth quarter. But the Magic—guided by interim coach James Borrego in the wake of Jacque Vaughn’s firing—won in overtime.
As is often the case with Clarkson, he played with a modicum of discipline in the early stages and pressed too hard once the Lakers’ lead ebbed away.
Restraint is not this neophyte’s strong suit.
But it is also worth noting that Scott is often playing Jeremy Lin in fourth-quarter situations, and that was the case Friday—Clarkson didn’t reenter the game until the Lakers’ lead was down to a single point with four minutes, 17 seconds left in regulation.
Sunday presented a different level of competition as an injury-depleted Lakers roster faced LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Clarkson scored a career-high 20 points along with four assists and three steals in just 27 minutes, but the Lakers' squadron of misfits was clearly in over its head.
The Cavs romped 120-105 for their 13th win out of their last 14 games, while the Lakers lost their 13th of their last 14.
Regardless of what part of the game Clarkson’s increased minutes come from, or the heat of the opposition, the young prospect still needs to find a better consistency—learning to choose his moments more wisely and trusting teammates when they have an open look.
Per Medina, the high-octane guard is well aware of the need for balance. “I just have to slow down in my mind,” Clarkson said. “It’s definitely challenging. You want to be aggressive and want to go. At the same time, you can’t play at that pace. You got to stop and go in this league.”
Lakers management—in the early stages of a rebuild—has to face reality. Clarkson not only has youth on his side but is the only point guard under contract for next season.
Lin will be an unrestricted free agent and has not shown a confidence-inspiring level of consistency. There’s also Ronnie Price—an inexpensive veteran who plays hard on defense and will also be a free agent.
Scott seems committed to seeing the development process through with Clarkson, regardless of peaks and valleys. After the Orlando loss, the coach noted (per Lakers.com):
With guys like Jordan, especially, this was a great experience for him. He’s going to go through some heartaches and pains—some growing pains going through it. But at the end of the day, he has to gain that experience. And that’s the biggest thing. You lose the game but you gain some experience with a young man that I think is going to be in our future as well.
If slashing to the basket and creating opportunities for himself are among Clarkson’s strong suits, assisting others is an area that he needs tutoring in.
This is where one of the league’s legendary facilitators comes in—maybe. Steve Nash, who has been absent from the Lakers’ facilities since being declared out for the season with nerve root and back issues, recently spent some time tutoring Clarkson in person.
“I was actually with Steve yesterday,” said Clarkson (per Lakers Nation video), after a win against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 29. “That was our first time meeting face-to-face, just talking about stuff, so it was good."
Clarkson may never be an assists leader—his 2.9 dimes per 36 minutes is extremely low for a point guard. Yet, those stats are weighted by the season on whole and don’t accurately reflect the newbie’s progress as of late.
Finding a comfort level at a controlled pace, allowing the game to come to him and not succumbing to tunnel vision that ends only at the basket are all among things Clarkson needs to work on.
But his athleticism, passion for winning, superior ball-handling skills and remarkable acceleration are all qualities that can help propel his development.
For all his rookie mistakes, the latest purple and gold point guard prospect has showed a remarkable surge since being thrown into the fire.
During a dismal season, Clarkson is giving fans something to look forward to for the uncertain future.