One of the bigger surprises of the Los Angeles Lakers preseason opener (a win against the Sacramento Kings) was Jordan Clarkson coming off the bench, in favor of Lou Williams in the starting unit, alongside D’Angelo Russell, Luol Deng, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov. However, head coach Luke Walton said not to make too much of the lineups in the preseason, as the staff is doing their due diligence experimenting with different lineup combinations.
Clarkson, though, fared well in the second unit, finishing with 12 points (two three-pointers), six rebounds and a steal in his 20 minutes of playing time. But it was Clarkson’s defense that Walton was most impressed with in his first preseason game, singling out his on-ball defense, fighting over screens, getting deflections and overall activity on that side of the floor.
“I told him I think he can be a phenomenal defender in this league,” Walton said after the Lakers win Tuesday night. “Whether he’s playing with D’Angelo (Russell) and the starters or playing with the second unit, we want him being aggressive. We want him hounding the ball…getting out and running the lanes.”
Clarkson has never had an issue finding a way to score. The 46th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, started all 79 games last season and finished second only to Kobe Bryant in scoring (averaging 15.5 points per game), earning his way to a four-year $50 million contract with the Lakers. But, whether or not Clarkson starts this season, doesn’t matter to him.
“Don’t matter to me as long as I’m on the court, playing minutes,” Clarkson said on Thursday about coming off the bench. “I’m going to impact the game some way, if thats defensively or offensively. I’m always going to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, that’s where I’m going to make my mark.”
Walton recently challenged Clarkson to become a better defender, and the third-year guard is up for the challenge. Clarkson said a big emphasis for him now is watching film, something he admits he didn’t do enough of last season. He’s already noticing that angles (whether that’s taking a wrong angle on a closeout, finding the right points to cut people off, using his chest to contest shots, etc.) is an area he needs to continue to focus on improving.
With one win under their belts, the Lakers have another chance to continue to show improvement when they take on the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on Friday night.