The young core of the Los Angeles Lakers has gotten a lot of attention this season. But with so much focus on the team’s lottery selections, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and the constant Kobe Bryant celebration that is ongoing in his final season, it seems as if Jordan Clarkson’s play has gone a little under the radar.
Coming into the season, Clarkson was viewed as the most polished of the Lakers young players, on account of him being older as well as his experiences last season which led to him being named All-Rookie First Team. Most, however, also believe that his ceiling is lower than that of his fellow core players.
While much of the talk has been about the ups and downs of Russell and Randle, Clarkson has arguably been the Lakers most consistent player and his improvements have been apparent. He is second on the team in scoring and has improved his rebounding as well as his three-point shooting.
February has proven to be his best month yet as he has averaged 17.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 10 games this month while shooting an outstanding 49.6 percent from the field and an even more ridiculous 45.8 percent from deep. And this is after accounting for an awful showing Friday night against Memphis.
Some were unsure if Clarkson could improve on his play last season, but he has clearly shown that he can grow. So we asked our panel of experts if Clarkson’s recent play has caused you to re-think his ceiling. This is what they had to say:
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): There is no question that Jordan Clarkson has been playing very good basketball lately, but I would hesitate to say that it has made me re-think his NBA ceiling.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Clarkson a lot, but much of his recent success has been thanks to a hot streak from deep that isn’t sustainable. Since the All-Star break Jordan has connected on 59 percent of his threes, up from 34.6 percent for the rest of the season. Clearly that isn’t going to continue, and his scoring numbers will drop accordingly.
That isn’t a knock on Clarkson, and his improved three point shooting on the season is a sign of the hard work he has put in to grow as a player. However, even as his shooting has improved, Clarkson’s playmaking skills have regressed. He is putting up just over half as many assists as he did last season (when adjusted for minutes). The knee-jerk reaction would be to assume that the addition of D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant has taken the ball out of his hands, but Clarkson’s usage percentage is essentially identical to last year. As a result, his PER is actually down compared to last season.
That said, the eye test has shown that Jordan Clarkson has made improvements and grown as a player, and his role in the offense has to be considered at least a partial culprit behind the drop in his assists. Needless to say, there is a lot to consider when evaluating Clarkson’s performance, but it’s simply too early to definitively state that his ceiling has been raised.
I still think he tops out as a Monta Ellis-style player who excels at scoring the basketball and can create his own shot, although Clarkson’s improved percentages gives some hope that he may be more efficient than Monta. Now, if Clarkson shows up for training camp next season as a lock-down defender then yes, we will have no choice but to raise that roof.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): I understand why some are hesitant on Jordan Clarkson. Four-year college players generally have less room to grow than 19 year olds, and Clarkson was the lone playmaker on a bad team last year and he would not have that same role. That being said, his play this season, and especially recently, has absolutely caused me to re-think just how good he can become.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely still some issues with Clarkson. He has a ways to go on the defensive end both individually and off the ball, and he has not finished at the rim nearly as well as his rookie season. That being said he has proven his ability to work and improve his game in the off-season and I have no doubts that this work ethic can carry him to an All-Star level at some point.
Clarkson has some tools that simply can’t be taught. Very few players at his height are as fast as he is. When combined with his athleticism and ball-handling, it’s a tough combo and he will always be a threat to attack the basket. He will continue to improve his shooting and improving his chemistry with Russell should allow Clarkson to get more easy baskets as well.
Some doubted whether Clarkson would even improve from last season, but I’m done questioning what he can be. Someone with Clarkson’s natural talent and work ethic can go very far and I have every belief that Clarkson will get everything possible out of himself, which I think will result in All-Star level play at some point.
Nathaniel Lastrapes (@NathanielP2): I used to think that Jordan Clarkson had a low ceiling solely based on my skepticism that the 46th overall draft pick could be as good as he is. I’ve always told myself, “Wow, Jordan Clarkson is a nice surprise, but this is going to be about as good as he can be.”
Clarkson has been proving me wrong throughout his young career, and I couldn’t be more pleased about being wrong. As a Lakers fan, I try to be as objective as possible and not let emotions get to me. I’ve wanted to believe in Clarkson since he surprised folks during the 2014 Summer League, but I have been cautiously optimistic.
Clarkson’s play as of late has really impressed me and I now believe he can be a premier guard in this league with All-Star potential. Pairing him alongside D’Angelo Russell seems to be a recipe for success for many years to come. I am still cautiously optimistic that Clarkson will be an All-Star someday, but I hope he can exceed those expectations as well as he already has exceeded my initial expectations.
Alan Huerta (@Alan_Huerta24): Even though Jordan Clarkson has had some impressive performances in the last month, it hasn’t made me re-think his NBA ceiling. I’m not saying this because I don’t think he’s capable of this high level of play, I’m saying it because I know the potential that the second year guard has. He may have had a slow start to his rookie year – riding the bench to even being assigned to the NBA Developmental League for five games – but the 46th pick in the 2014 draft has made the most out of his opportunities as we’ve seen his game flourish ever since.
Remember, when the Lakers kept going down with injuries last season, Clarkson was one the only one besides Nick Young who could create offense for himself and others. This of course led to NBA All-Rookie First Team honors, which is where Laker fans got a sense of the type of player Clarkson has potential to be.
That said, I think he has a high ceiling in the NBA because of his scoring abilities at either guard position. In his rookie season we saw how he could run an offense and still find ways to get his, while this season we’ve seen him adjust just fine to playing off-the-ball. However, the biggest adjustments I’ve seen in Clarkson’s game in this recent stretch has been his scoring efficiency and rebounding totals. He’s averaged above his season totals in all major categories (20.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, four assists and 1.3 steals) since the All-Star break and I think it’s something that’ll continue to improve as he gets more game reps in.
While Clarkson is primarily known for his speed and quickness that allows him to blow by defenders and attack the paint, his jump shot has vastly improved from all areas of the floor. If he can continue to work on becoming more consistent offensively and he learns how to play better defense, Clarkson has the potential to become a great player in this league. Seeing that he and the rest of the young Laker core are still far from a finished product, the best is yet to come for both the 23-year-old Clarkson and the team. It’s just a matter of time.