While the Los Angeles Lakers continue to battle through their 82-game season, the young core continues to grow and evolve under head coach Luke Walton, gaining the necessary experience. The Lakers have done an internal rebuilding process, drafting players from different backgrounds to form a team to grow with.
When taking a look at the cornerstones of the franchise, guard Jordan Clarkson can be viewed as the elder statesmen in a way. While only 24 years old, teammates D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are all younger than him, with Clarkson entering his third season in the NBA.
Many basketball aficionados consider Clarkson the steal of the 2014 NBA Draft, being chosen 46th overall by the Washington Wizards, only to be traded to the Lakers. The Florida native has blossomed into a contributing NBA player, showing signs of explosiveness and a knack for scoring.
It wasn’t that long ago when Clarkson was growing up in the streets of San Antonio, after his father moved the family to accept a job with the Air Force. Through his father’s job there, paired with his stepmother’s job at a hotel on the Riverwalk, he was introduced to many polarizing figures in the NBA.
While seeing many of his childhood idols, San Antonio also taught him about the underdog mentality and that hard work and grit that is required in order to become successful. In an interview with Mark Medina of the O.C. Register, Clarkson alluded to the lack of opportunities presented:
“We had to make our own way. Nothing was ever given to us,” said Clarkson. “It was about having an opportunity to just be here. We all took it.”
While encompassing the underdog role, Clarkson used it as motivation, as his high school coaches would often find him putting up shots in the gym before and after practice. Even when the gym would close for the night, Clarkson would wander off somewhere else in order to improve his game.
While being viewed as an intriguing prospect, Clarkson said that his roots always brought him back to San Antonio, even when other areas were recruiting him for AAU teams. However, Clarkson stated that he and his teammates wouldn’t let that distract them from their ultimate goal:
“A lot of guys on our team and a lot of teams in the NBA had AAU teams that were sponsored. We really had to grind for everything,” Clarkson said. “We had a bunch of guys who didn’t give a (expletive). We were all out there hooping. We knew they were looking at us like we can’t do anything. But when we stepped on that court, we were trying to prove people wrong.”
During his first two seasons in the NBA, Clarkson emerged into a reliable option, putting up consistent statistics to garner attention around the league. During free agency this summer, Clarkson received a lot of interest, only for him to return to the Lakers on a four-year, $50 million contract.
The second-round draft pick has found comfort in the Lakers, buying a home in Los Angeles to remain close to the organization. Now in a different role with a new contract, Clarkson can relax and let his game grow alongside his teammates.
In 42 games this season, Clarkson is averaging 13.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 44.5 percent in 27.3 minutes per game.