When fans see an advertisement for the Los Angeles Lakers, it inevitably features the faces of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram with the proud proclamation that they represent the team’s bright future. If people are not discussing the “big three,” they are most likely mentioning Lou Williams’ big year as a scorer off the bench or the fact that Nick Young has resurrected his career as a starter which is something no one expected when the season began.
Fans frequently lament the team’s free agent signings last summer and how disappointing Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng have been. They are sure to point out how their huge, long-term contracts are another example of questionable decision-making by Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.
People are even starting to talk about rookie Ivica Zubac, who captured the imagination of the fan base in summer league and is finally getting a chance to play in real games. Larry Nance, Jr. is also set to
return from injury, and there is ample dialogue at the moment that with his all-around skillset and
calm leadership he displays, he is a key to the team’s fortunes despite his modest statistics.
The one person you are unlikely to hear much about is Jordan Clarkson. What a difference two years can make in the fortunes of a young NBA player.
Everyone knows Clarkson’s story by now. He is a 24 year old combo guard who was born in San Antonio, Texas and played college basketball for two seasons at the University of Tulsa and one season at the University of Missouri. He was chosen with the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA draft by the Washington Wizards, who shipped him immediately to the Lakers for a large sum of cash.
Clarkson was an instant hit in the 2014 summer league, showing unusual determination and athleticism for a mid-second round selection. Fans were clamoring for him to play when the season started, but then-coach Byron Scott would have none of it. Clarkson languished on the bench for the first half of his rookie year before fate intervened. Kobe Bryant was lost for the year mid-season and Clarkson got his chance. He took full advantage of the opportunity.
What was most astonishing was that Clarkson seemed to improve before our very eyes virtually every game he started that season.
In one priceless moment in a game against the Memphis Grizzles, Clarkson got off to a sizzling start but no one on the Grizzles knew who he was. As he continued his first half onslaught, Memphis star Zach Randolph turned to Lakers center Ed Davis who had played for the Grizzles the year before and shouted: “Who is that guy?”
Clarkson came out of nowhere to earn first team All-Rookie honors in 2015. One could argue that after Andrew Wiggins, Clarkson was the best rookie in the league that season. Everyone knows what happened next. In the following draft, the Lakers passed on the big men they seemed to need most in favor of selecting another point guard, D’Angelo Russell. Still, it was Clarkson who Byron Scott trusted.
While Russell and Randle were up and down last season, Clarkson averaged a team-high 32.3 minutes a contest, started 79 games, and was the team’s second leading scorer after Kobe Bryant.
As a second-round pick hit free agency after only two years in the league. Clarkson was a restricted free
agent who could sign a big contract elsewhere, but he showed loyalty and without testing the market, re-signed with the Lakers. His pay increase was sizable, but most experts reported that he could have earned more by going elsewhere.
This past summer the fates struck again for Clarkson. Coach Luke Walton came in and immediately demoted him to the second unit, where he has languished all year. He is playing respectable minutes but far less than before. His shooting percentage has improved from .433 lastseason to a very respectable .453 this year. His three point percentage remains the same as do his assists and rebounds in fewer minutes.
Clarkson’s defense, which was a sore point before, is vastly improved this year which is something Walton has noted on more than one occasion.
Some people expected even more from Clarkson in his third NBA season. The improvement he has shown from his eye-opening rookie season to now has been less than the Lakers hoped for. One could argue, however, that nobody could grow much during the circus that became Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour last year; and it is hard to become a star coming off the bench and playing fewer minutes.
Still, the present perception is that Clarkson’s ceiling is probably not as high as was once believed. For that reason, Clarkson’s future with the Lakers is uncertain despite the new contract he signed.
The team has gone “all in” on Russell as the face of the franchise and future point guard. They gave career reserve Nick Young the starting nod at shooting guard and show no sign of reconsidering that
decision, even though the team is near the bottom of the standings and has little to play for but the
The coaching staff refuses to pair Clarkson with Russell in the starting line-up and they rarely play together at all, even mid-game. This strongly suggests that the Lakers no longer see Clarkson as a
future starter. It also infers that if the Lakers do make a trade down the line and have to give up a
member of their young core to make it happen, Clarkson is likely to be the one to go.
Of course, no one knows for sure what will happen, but for now, whenever he is called upon to play, the Lakers can count on Clarkson to give it his all. Amidst all the injuries, he remains the most durable member of the team. He is a relentless worker in the offseason and at practices. He has endless
energy and is always in attack mode.
He may never become the star some thought was possible a mere two years ago, but Jordan Clarkson is the kind of young, serious-minded basketball player most teams would covet.