How Much Has Jordan Clarkson Improved?

Darius Soriano —  February 25, 2016

I need to start out by saying I am a big Jordan Clarkson fan. By all accounts, both public and from what sources have told me, he is one of, if not the, hardest workers on the team and is a good teammate. He takes the game seriously, genuinely wants to become a great player, and seems willing to do what is necessary to improve.

In watching this season, though, a nagging question I have had is how much improvement has he shown from his rookie season to this point in his sophomore campaign? Reflexively, I think most would say a fair amount. I know I did when I first asked myself that question. The truth, though, isn’t so straight forward.

Simple per game stat-line watching says Clarkson’s scoring, rebounding, steals, and three point shooting percentage are all up. His assists are down, however. His minutes are also up nearly 8.5 per night, so measuring improvement in how his counting stats are affected is sloppy and offers incomplete conclusions.

Per-36 minute measurements give us a cleaner statistical look by making minutes a constant. When using this measure, then, we see Clarkson’s numbers are mostly flat or down. Scoring, rebounding, and free throw attempts are all basically the same as his rookie season. Assists are down by nearly two a game per-36 minutes, which is noteworthy. But the uptick in his 3 point shooting by nearly 7 percentage points stands out just as much.

When looking at “advanced” stats, his PER is down by over a point and a half, while his true shooting and effective field goal percentages are both slightly up, though not enough to say they are improved in a tangible way.

What clouds the picture further is how, in very specific individual ways, Clarkson is better than last year. His handle is tighter, his ability to create his own shot is better, and his finishing in both the short-range (3-10 feet) and long-range (16-23 feet and behind the arc) are much improved. In general, he’s just a more polished scorer than he was last season.

This is countered, however, by how much his playmaking for others has fallen off. His position change to shooting guard helps explain some of this, but he still does log PG minutes when sharing the backcourt with Lou Williams. And, as noted, his assist rate is well down and, just by watching the games, you can see that he is pounding his dribble a lot and not organizing the team’s offense as well as he could be.

Make no mistake, this represents a regression from the path he was on last season when the Lakers were grooming him as a point guard. There is context at play — when the Lakers made Clarkson a starter last year, they ditched most of the Princeton sets they were running in favor of more P&R’s and spread floor sets while pairing him with a good roll man in Ed Davis — but the difference in his approach has consequences.

No one is saying Clarkson should be a pass-first player, but by shifting to being mostly a scorer — even when playing PG — it changes how smoothly the offense operates with him at the helm and impacts his ceiling as a player. One of the benefits of the idea “Jordan Clarkson: combo guard” is that his ability to play on the ball as a playmaker for others allows him pair with Russell even more seamlessly by allowing the latter to do some work off the ball as a scorer too. I would also argue it is in Clarkson’s best interests to be as well rounded a player as possible, which means continuing to grow as both a scorer and a distributor.

None of this is to say Clarkson is a bad player — he clearly is not. If he can hold his three point percentage at above 35% for the season while continuing to score somewhat efficiently from 2-point range (both of which seem like a lock), he will continue to be a viable scoring option regardless of the type of offense he plays in. Add in his athleticism and individual shot creation ability and he has a nice skill set any smart team can effectively mine to boost a lineup.

Add to all this his hard work and self awareness on what his weaknesses are — in a recent interview he noted he wanted to focus on improving his defense and playmaking for others — and there is little not to like about his approach or his want to do the right things to improve.

I also do not want to undersell Clarkson’s ability to make plays for others — he certainly can be a good assist man and has shown to have a good chemistry with Russell this year as both a ball handler and off-ball worker. And, no matter which way you cut his numbers, Clarkson has been a bright spot for these Lakers via his consistency and approach to playing, practicing, and putting in the extra work.

However, I would be lying if I did not say his improvement — and in some areas, lack thereof — has gone by unnoticed by me. Maybe this ins’t a big deal for a second year pro who isn’t in the most ideal situation in terms of offensive system and switching between positions. Those factors certainly add needed context to the discussion. But it is a discussion worth having nonetheless.

Darius Soriano

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28 responses to How Much Has Jordan Clarkson Improved?

  1. Good points. I’m a little worried about his defense. It seems like he gives up a lot in size and strength in an awful lot of matchups.

  2. We still don’t know the answer to how well Clarkson and Russell play together — they simply haven’t had enough minutes on floor in the same back court. That’s the question the FO should want to have an answer for heading into the summer.

    Part of me still sees Clarkson as the first guard off the bench – which sounds like a criticism but really it isn’t. I think the Lakers need a high percentage 3pt shooter at the SG position because we don’t have that skill at the other positions.

  3. Not mentioned is this year he has been playing alongside Kobe, interesting to see both him and Russell when they are the main offensive focus.

  4. He is not a starter on a winning team, decent 7th man, hoping he can be a sixth man.

    Bad defense out of control,gets ripped cleanly to often.

    I think he can grow into a real good 6th man in a few years, I don’t want him sharing the ball with Russell though.

  5. He is not a starter on a winning team, decent 7th man, hoping he can be a sixth man.
    __

    The problem is that effective this summer he will be paid like a starter even if his best role would be as a third guard.

    Per a recent LA Times article: Teams with enough salary-cap room can give Clarkson a max of $57.8 million over four years or $34.1 million over three years. Clarkson can sign an offer sheet with only one team, which the Lakers have the option of matching. Or the Lakers could swoop in before he starts talking to other teams and offer a four-year contract up to $88.9 million.

    With a rising cap and so few viable targets this summer, Clarkson is almost guaranteed to get a max offer.

  6. Gary, et. al.,

    Below is a quote from Darius’s article on Clarkson’s forthcoming contractual situation which he posted on February 1 on FB&G. He sites at article by Tom Ziller who seems, by and large, very impressed with Clarkson. Darius offers a good explanation of the “Arenas Provision” which applies to JC:

    “As Ziller points out, Clarkson is a restricted free agent, but because he is a 2nd year player rather than a 3rd year player (when most drafted players enter RFA), his situation is a bit different. First, Clarkson is subject to the ‘Arenas Provision’ which limits what opposing teams can offer Clarkson in FA while also allowing the Lakers to match.

    “Second, because Clarkson is a 2nd year player rather than a 3rd, he is unable to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017 by simply signing the Lakers qualifying offer this summer and playing out a single year under that contract. Signing the QO only puts him back in RFA in the summer of 2017 when he would face standard RFA limitations (without the Arenas Provision). This is, for Clarkson, not ideal.

    “These details put the Lakers firmly in the driver’s seat when trying to retain Clarkson. In fact, the Lakers have such control here that the only way they actually lose Clarkson is because they no longer want to keep him. Consider the following:

    “Because of the Arenas Provision, the most any team can offer Clarkson in his first two seasons is $5.6 million in year 1 and $5.9 million in year 2.

    “The salary cap is scheduled to jump in the next two seasons with early projections estimating a salary cap of $89 then $109 million in the next two seasons.

    “Any team offering Clarkson a contract can try to insert a ‘poison pill’ year into his deal, with a large jump in salary in the 3rd season. However, the value of any contract offered by another team is averaged by the number of years of the deal for that team. So, if Team X offers Clarkson a 3 year $33 million dollar contract (this is a made up number just for the purposes of easy math), they would actually need $11 million in cap space to sign him to that deal, even though he would only make $5.6 million his first season.

    “For the Lakers, however, the cap hit on that offer sheet is not averaged, but instead hits their cap at the actual annual value of the deal. So, citing the example above, the cap hit the Lakers would experience if they matched that offer sheet would be: $5.6 million (year 1), $5.9 million (year 2), $21.5 million (year 3).

    “That’s a lot of math I just threw at you, but it’s important to understand this conceptually because it’s one of the key reasons the Lakers’ hand is so strong. Should another team try to steal Clarkson via a backloaded offer sheet, the structure of the contract actually helps the Lakers because of the impending cap jumps and the timeline for when the Lakers will be good again.

    “Said another way, in the seasons the Lakers want to maximize free agent spending (the next two summers) Clarkson’s potential contract (per the example above) is the most inexpensive it will be. When his contract jumps, the cap will likely be over $110 million and Clarkson’s salary will likely be 1/5th if the total cap (or less). If you’re looking for a present day comparison, the salary cap this year is $70 million so a comparable contract to what Clarkson could make in year 3 is around $14 million in today’s money. That’s totally reasonable for a starting caliber player.”

  7. I, too, am a big fan of Jordan Clarkson who has followed his exploits this year with equal parts hope, exhilaration, and frustration. Considering that he is only 23 years old, this might be expected.

    So with that, I thought I’d do a little comparison. I researched Klay Thompson’s statistics for his first 3 years in the league. Now bear in mind that Klay and JC are very different kinds of players (Thompson is bigger, for one thing; more of a 3-point shooter and less of a slasher). But they both entered the league at the same age (22) and they both play the same position (although on very different teams and surrounded by very different levels of talent). Here are the comparisons:

    KLAY THOMPSON

    2011-12 (22 y.o.) — 24:21 minutes per game, 12.5 ppg, 44.3% FG, 41.4 3-point shooting, 2.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists

    JORDAN CLARKSON

    2014-2015 (22 y.o.) — 25:00 minutes per game, 11.9 ppg, 44.8% FG, 31.4% 3-point shooting, 3.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists

    KLAY THOMPSON

    2012-13 (23 y.o.) — 35.48 mpg, 16.6 ppg, 42.2% FG, 40.1% 3-pt. shooting, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists

    JORDAN CLARKSON

    2015-16 (23 y.o.) — 32.26 mpg, 15.7 ppg., 45.2% FG, 38.2% 3-pt. shooting, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists

    KLAY THOMPSON

    2013-14 (24 y.o.) — 35.24, 18.4 ppg., 44.4% fg, 41.7% 3-pt. shooting, 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists

    JORDAN CLARKSON

    2016-17 — ? ? ? ?

    Now, obviously, this only considers their offensive statistics. This says nothing about defense which is an entirely different topic. Even so, I believe that there are several valuable conclusions to draw from this comparison.

    1) The development of young players is anything but linear. It’s filled with starts and stops. And it makes their ultimate destiny almost impossible to predict. (How many of us thought that after his 2nd season Klay Thompson would become an All Star and one of the 2-3 best shooting guards in the league?)

    2) Coaching matters. Klay has received excellent guidance both on the court (from Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr) and off the court (from his father, Mychal Thompson). And it shows. In that sense, it could be argued that he has had a significant advantage over Jordan Clarkson.

    3) Second years, for some reason, are treacherous. They often seem filled with a certain amount of back-sliding, even for very good players.

    4) Klay didn’t really hit his stride until his 4th year in the league when he averaged 21.7 ppg. This year he’s averaging 21.8 ppg (47.1% FG). Obviously, it takes time to develop. It seems as if players don’t really hit their peak until they are 25-26 years old. (Steve Nash didn’t hit his peak until he was 29-30.) As a result, we won’t really know Jordan Clarkson’s ceiling for another 2-3 years. To say that JC is destined to be nothing more than a 6th or 7th man is ludicrous. The truth is — at this point — that we just don’t know. But the comparisons are actually encouraging.

    For these reasons, I don’t believe that we will see the “real” Jordan Clarkson until next year (or even the year after). With new team mates, very possibly a new coach, a new “system,” and no Kobe circus to endure, who knows what 2016-17 might bring? Only time will tell.

    But it should be interesting to watch things unfold.

    Now (as I’ve said before), imagine if we didn’t have him.

  8. Damn……Phoenix is completely bypassing the TANK and going straight to the CESS POOL. How can you be down 20 to Brooklyn AT HOME??? Hope Philly drafts well with our pick……smh

  9. I get that the Lakers can only lose him if they decide to let him go. The last line of the article holds my concern, ‘that’s totally reasonable for a starting caliber player.’

    Well, it would be nice to be a little more sure that he is a solid starter along side Russell — we has BS to thank for keeping us in suspense. I guess there is little downside since Clarkson is young and the Lakers aren’t likely to spend all their cap space this summer anyways.

  10. I see Clarkson as a better % shooting and perhaps a more in control version of Monta Ellis with a potentially higher ceiling. His work ethic is evident in his improvement over the summer especially in the 3pt shooting. His being a starter or reserve player depends on the rest of the roster but its much too early to peg a guy a career bench player when he is our most consistent starter.

    His D is nothing to brag about but today’s NBA MUST be more about team D than individual D because of the HEAVY PnR offenses and the 3 point shooting. The PnR has to be defended as a team w the screener’s man and the shooter’s man and others rotating accordingly. Everyone’s TEAM D needs work on this team. Byron Scott is a defensive coach why don’t we just hire him???? Ohhhhhh too late….

  11. The Lakers aren’t exactly awash in talent – or draft picks for that matter – and can ill afford to let Clarkson go.

    Maybe he’s only a 6th or 7th man on a championship roster but the Lakers are light years away from that level. He’s a top three Laker – the “young core” right? – and its questionable if much help is on the way any time soon.

  12. Another good read Darius; however, while I do agree that statistically JC is producing less, I believe those statistics are misleading. Last year, we didn’t get to see JC shine until Kobe went down and Byron gave him the keys in January. Furthermore, neither Randle nor Russell were around at this point either, for obvious reasons. Now, despite all these new variables in play, JC is still putting up similar numbers as last year. As much as it pains me to say it, running an offense where Kobe isos or shoots 3s 20-25 times per game, is not exactly a great environment for a slashing scorer of a 2 guard to make a bigger impact.

    I would argue that Clarkson could easily have averaged 20ppg this season, if not for the current circumstances of the Lakers’ season.

  13. – Interesting, no direct mention about the affect of playing next to Kobe has on JC. Which is why I see the answer to your question as “no clue”, waiting until next year.

  14. BSC is such a troll. I’ll help Darius. Kobe actually assists JC and DLO at a higher rate than anyone on the team. Their efficiency and plus/minus are higher in lineups in which they play with Kobe. The Russell/JC/Kobe pairing by the numbers is one of our best. Heres a lakerground discussion in which the mods started posting numbers to back all of that up because of agenda driven posters like you. I try to ignore it but lord this guy never stops
    http://forums.lakersground.net/viewtopic.php?t=170944&start=8200&sid=978c8dccfd34d92cc2f706ed123cff9d

  15. I would argue that Clarkson could easily have averaged 20ppg this season, if not for the current circumstances of the Lakers’ season.
    __

    Absent any talent infusion this summer he’ll certainly have to average 20+ PPG next season.

  16. The Lakers need to give Clarkson the 4 year max deal he will be eligible for. The team can’t afford to lose anymore talent. That goes double if they lose their fist rounder to Philly.

  17. I was going to post some numbers, but Josh beat me to it. If you want to have an agenda at least try to only comment when the numbers/eye test actually back up your agenda. Otherwise your comments will not be taken seriously and credibility goes away. I’m sure some commenters don’t care if no one takes them seriously, but I would if I were them…

  18. T. Rogers,

    Please clarify what you mean by your comment about giving Clarkson the max. The max the Lakers can offer him far exceeds the max another team can offer in in restricted free agency. If you are advocating the Lakers giving him the max they can offer, that’s a bad deal. The Lakers’ offer really should not exceed what another team can offer him. No need to bid against themselves, here. If Clarkson gets a bit upset about that…well, welcome to restricted free agency.

  19. Clarkson had free reign last year. This year he has Lou, Kobe, Dlo, Randle, and Swaggy taking the ball out of his hands. I believe this is reflected in his usage rate being down from last year. Considering his decreased usage and moving him off the ball I think his progress this year has been encouraging. Shooting percentages are up, and when he hits that 36 minute threshold he gets in better rythmn. Defense needs a lot of work. Picks destroy him. He needs to learn to slither around picks like Dlo.

  20. Darius, I agree with you the vast majority of the time, however this ‘eye test’ idea is invalidated by perceptive issues, as perceptions are shaped by what a person wants to believe, and indeed ignorance of facts.

    Stats and circumstances imo are only worthy of valid consideration.

  21. The Lakers’ offer really should not exceed what another team can offer him.
    _

    Wholeheartedly agree. The Lakers should wait for Clarkson to get an offer (which he will) then simply match it. A 4 yr $90/mil deal would be ridiculous and would be a handicap when they’ll need the extra space in the summer of 2017.

    Spending money wisely matters even in a rising cap environment.

  22. Kev,

    Sure, which is why all information should be used in concert to try and formulate/confirm our beliefs rather than saying “this is what I saw” or “this is what the numbers say” only. With Clarkson, as I wrote above, it is a bit complicated. The eye test tells me he’s not calling as many plays and is pounding the ball a lot more this year when P&R sets break down early in possessions. This is backed up by how his assist rate and totals per-36 minutes have fallen off.

    Another example is how I see a tighter handle and better understanding of getting to key spots on the floor and that is reflected in better finishing in the 3-10 foot range (he’s getting off his floater more cleanly this year).

  23. I admit I wasn’t really a Clarkson fan early on but he’s surprised me.
    He’s clearly a guy who works hard and puts the time in developing his game. His jumper looks clean and his 3 PT % is rising. That’s a good sign and also tells me he’s aware of the NBA trending that direction.

    If I had to guess I’d bet his assists are down because
    A. He’s in a contract year and wants to prove he’s worth serious treatment and
    B. I’m sure he sees the writing on the wall regarding D Angelo as being the team’s chosen PG of the future so he probably figures, hey, I’m gonna be the shooting guard on this team so I may as well shoot.

    One problem with waiting to match another team’s offer may arise if it’s heavily back loaded poison pill contract? What then?

    Another factor could be the Lakers seem to covet Demar Derozan. How many shooting guards do we need? If the Lakers get Derozan will Clarkson be happy coming off the bench?
    And how will this affect salary negotiations?

    Side note
    I was interested to see Joe Johnson released.
    It reminded me of the days when we were one piece away from contending and guys like Johnson were the type of feather we’d add to our cap to make a nice championship team.

  24. Fair enough Darius.

    If only others backed up their eyes with facts.

  25. Darius,

    That was negligence on my part. Yes, the Lakers should match on Clarkson. No need for them to outbid themselves.

  26. I would say Clarkson’s individual defense is lacking, however it has more to deal with the team defense.

    There are far too many times when Lakers get lost on rotations and lack to help the helper. I have no doubt that Byron Scott is a defensive minded coach. The problem stems from personnel and not having individual accountability.

    How can Clarkson get better on defense when the entire team is porous?

    This is Kobe’s farewell tour and he literally is inching and limping his way through his final season. The problem is he doesn’t have the physical ability to play hard on both sides of the floor and yet he is playing the most minutes!

    Also, with a simple PnR offense, which is what Nash was teaching Clarkson, he was able to probe and make simple passes.

    With the Princeton offense, it does not lead to point guards getting a high uptake in assists.

    Bottom line, we need better personnel, less iso, less long contested jumpers, and a better offense.

    If you are the second worst team in the league, you’ve got to be willing to scrap your current defensive and offensive strategies.

  27. I saw a mock draft on YouTube dated January 2014 that had clarkson going 1st round pick 28 in his draft, compared him to ramon sessions

  28. Just a side note on clarksons Defense, watch him in there with bass, compared to in there with hibbert