Could Los Angeles Lakers Backcourt of the Future Be Hiding in Plain Sight?

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IMarch 22, 2015

Jabari Brown (l) and Jordan Clarkson are teammates once again.
Jabari Brown (l) and Jordan Clarkson are teammates once again.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

For all the persistent questions the Los Angeles Lakers have had in trying to find a solid backcourt solution the past few seasons, the answer may just possibly be right in front of them.

This is not meant to say that, given the opportunity, they shouldn't pluck either point guard Emmanuel Mudiay or shooting guard D'Angelo Russell in the upcoming NBA draft. The Lakers might even consider drafting UCLA's athletic Norman Powell with their second first-round pick.

But, there are a couple of young Lakers making a lot of noise right now who deserve a long look for big future roles with the team come training camp next fall.

One year removed from the University of Missouri, former college teammates Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown could never have predicted they’d be sharing the backcourt again a year later as professionals playing for one of the game's iconic franchises.

Though it’s been just 24 games for Clarkson as the starting point guard and only four for Brown at the 2 position, their sheer energy, athleticism and raw talent have some thinking they might stick around Lakers Nation for awhile.

After an outstanding summer league season, Clarkson made the Lakers roster in October but mostly sat on the bench for the first half of the season. It wasn't until January 23, with the team obviously going nowhere, that head coach Byron Scott finally inserted the former Tiger into the starting lineup.

With the Lakers descending further and further into the league's black hole of futility, Scott felt it was time to give the 6’5” Clarkson an opportunity to run the point and see if he had a future with the Purple and Gold.

Not only has Clarkson surpassed expectations, he probably has also been the Lakers' best player over the last 24 games. Mr. Steady is averaging 14 points in 30 minutes and continually showing improvements on both ends of the floor, especially defense.

As assistant coach Mark Madsen told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

"I’ve never see a point guard rebound the ball the way Jordan can rebound. ... Jordan has heart, he has tremendous timing and he has a desire to get the ball. He has a nose for the ball and he’s tough."

Despite having a few games where he seemed to press and shoot poorly, the 22-year-old Clarkson looks more and more comfortable at the point. His assist average has come up to five per game during March and he’s rebounding at a rate of 4.7 boards this month.

Clarkson was the 46th player picked in the draft last summer, taken by the Washington Wizards who sold their rights to the Lakers for cash. There were seven point guards drafted before Clarkson, a distinction he carries and thinks about constantly.

After scoring 25 points on 12-18 shooting against the Memphis Grizzlies stingy defense earlier this month, Clarkson sounded off: Per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

"It's definitely motivation, the guys that went in front of me. Bigger chip for me on my shoulder. I'm going out there and trying to prove people wrong and get wins as well."

Clarkson provides the Lakers with height, quickness and a knack for getting to the rim in traffic—all traits the team has sorely lacked.

As hard as it has been for Clarkson to break through, consider Jabari Brown's journey. After averaging 19.9 points his junior year at Mizzou, the 6’5” California native decided to enter the draft. There was a lot to like about Brown, including his size, shooting and running the offense.

According to Josh Riddell of Draft Express, Brown possessed much of the tools needed to make it in the pros following that junior season when he made SEC All-Conference First Team:

Projecting ahead to a potential NBA career, Brown has made his case to teams by becoming a more well-rounded offensive player. His three point shooting (41% last season) will be a necessary skill for him to earn playing time, but he should be able to carve out a niche if he can improve his defense and do a better job of staying within himself and creating offense for teammates.

Brown has the potential to be a complementary offensive piece on the right team and could be drafted as high as late in the first round or somewhere in the second round to a team looking for a player with his skill-set.

The draft came and went. Brown’s name was never called.

The Lakers invited Brown to training camp, and head coach Byron Scott liked what he saw of him on the offensive side of the ball but felt he lacked intensity and a willingness to play hard from start to finish.

Brown saw little action in four preseason games and was let go by the team before the regular season. After Scott told him he needed to get stronger and tougher, Brown took up with the Lakers' D-League affiliate, the L.A. Defenders.

Scott told InsideSoCal.com reporter Mark Medina: 

He kept that in the back of his mind and revealed it the first day he had a chance to play. He took it real well. He was wondering what were some of the things he had to do to get better like most young guys.

I told him, ‘I didn’t see the aggressive part of you until the last preseason game or two. You have to have that attitude from day one as soon as you step on the court, just be aggressive and be physical in attacking the basket and get your shot off.

Brown has not looked back since. Determined to prove his worth, he went to the Defenders and played aggressively from the very start of the season and didn't let up until the Lakers came calling. 

The 6’4”, 215-pound Brown led the D-League in scoring, averaging 24.4 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. Highlights included 50- and 48-point games during the season and selection to the NBA D-League All-Star team.

The Lakers signed Brown to a 10-day contract on March 10. In four games, he is averaging seven points on 58 percent shooting in 20 minutes. The intensity and focus, absent during the preseason, has been in full force since the call-up.

Brown signed a second 10-day contract on Saturday, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.

With Kobe Bryant working toward a return next season at shooting guard, one could see Clarkson paired with the Mamba in the starting backcourt. And with as many as four draft picks plus free agency, the Lakers might very well add a couple of more pieces at the guard position, thus making it that much harder for Brown to stick around.

But don't count him out just yet. His play the past couple of weeks has earned him a second contract and should pique the team's interest enough to invite him to training camp in Hawaii next fall.

For now, Clarkson and Brown share a special spotlight, having traveled a long, winding road from the same college to the back court of the 16-time world champions.

Injuries to veterans Ronnie Price and Nick Young have allowed the team to experiment with Brown and Clarkson. Wayne Ellington is a good outside shooter, but it's uncertain if he'll return next year.

And point guard Jeremy Lin, though much-improved since the All-Star break, would appear to be on his way out of L.A. when the season ends.

Per Mark Medina, L.A Daily News:

When Lin becomes a free agent after this season, his future with the team is unclear. It would be difficult to see him return as the Lakers seem to be invested in the young Clarkson.

Additionally, the Lakers have a protected top-five pick and could draft Emmanuel Mudiay or D’Angelo Russell in June or try to lure Rajon Rondo or Goran Dragic in July when free agency opens.

One never knows who will rise and who will fail in the NBA. There is no such thing as a sure thing.

Klay Thompson (11th) and Stephen Curry (seventh) were both first-round picks by the Golden State Warriors, but who saw the Splash Brothers becoming the best tandem in the league?

Five NBA teams passed on Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers. And there have been many notable stars who dropped to the second round of the draft, including Marc Gasol, Monta Ellis and Manu Ginobili.

Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown may not be the next coming of Parker and Ginobili. Or Thompson and Curry. Then again, who's to say they won't?

What is apparent is that the Lakers may have found themselves one and possibly two backcourt pieces for the future.

Clarkson especially has taken his two-month role as starting point guard to heart. He regularly calls out teammates if he feels they are not carrying their weight.

Clarkson called out Jordan Hill for missing an assignment late in Thursday's loss to the Utah Jazz. Per L.A. Daily News' Mark Medina:

"It’s my job being a point guard to be vocal and put people in their places. I kind of got mad at J-Hill because we weren’t communicating."

This is a young rookie playing with a lot of confidence. It's a good sign for the future of the team.

So as the Lakers go about adding a slew of new talent this summer through the draft, free agency and trades, they will want to take a very long look at two outstanding players already in their midst.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Brown and Clarkson are solid building blocks, young players with tremendous upside, drive and focus. And they may just be the solution to a problem that has dogged this club for too long.

From losing Chris Paul to the whims of the former commissioner and Steve Nash to the ravages of age and injuries, the Lakers have consistently struck out with their backcourt choices the past several years.

They may finally be turning the corner.


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