At this point, there is no doubt that the Los Angeles Lakers got a steal when they bought the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft from the Washington Wizards for $1.8 million. The pick was used to select Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson, who has gone on to become an integral part of a rebuilding Lakers team.
In his rookie season, Clarkson played most of his minutes at point guard and then had to shift to shooting guard during his sophomore campaign to make way for the arrival of 2015 second overall pick D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers committed four years and $50 million to Clarkson this offseason, but it appears that his role is shifting once again. Clarkson started every game he played in last season, but new coach Luke Walton is asking him to become the team’s sixth man this year. To his credit, Clarkson hasn’t complained about his new challenge, as reported by Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
“Probably the biggest thing I can do is try to help us get wins. I’m comfortable with the role I’m in. I’m getting starter minutes, so it’s a good process for me. It’s a little different, but … to me it’s just, I’m helping another unit. Just helping the team, to be honest with you.”
Walton’s attempt to turn Clarkson isn’t all that surprising, even if it was a bit jarring initially. His skill set, which involves slithering to the basket off the dribble and an improving three-point shot, makes him an ideal change-of-pace guard. That, combined with the fact that he and Russell aren’t quite a natural fit together on the court, suggests that Walton is making the right decision. Clarkson’s impressive play in the Lakers’ season-opening win against the Houston Rockets also backs up this point.
As much as we deify superstars, basketball is still a five-man sport, and how all the pieces fit together is crucial. As Clarkson mentioned, he is still playing as many minutes as a starter, which means that the move isn’t as much of a demotion as it appears to be at first glance. If coming off the bench improves the team’s chemistry while allowing him to perform at his optimal level then it’s a win for all parties.