On Jordan Clarkson, Playmaking, and Getting Back in Balance

Darius Soriano —  December 19, 2016

I really like Jordan Clarkson. He cares about getting better. He works hard. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is self aware enough to see some of the weaknesses in his game and then takes measures to try to eliminate them. Any player who has these traits will endear themselves to me because not all players are like this. A lot of them are the opposite.

Jordan Clarkson also frustrates me at times. He has become increasingly one dimensional as an offensive player. When watching him play live, especially recently, I’ve wondered if he realized he had teammates on the floor. During the recent game against the 76ers, his general approach led me to actually tweet this:

I don’t think I am the only one seeing these things. In fact, I know I’m not. Luke Walton, in his more diplomatic way, had his own comments about this. From Mark Medina of the LA Daily News (h/t Silver Screen & Roll):

In his latest effort to mold Jordan Clarkson into a complete player, Lakers coach Luke Walton pulled up some game footage. It did not involve highlights of this season. Instead, the film featured the past 10 games of Clarkson’s rookie year when he blended both scoring and playmaking.

“I just wanted to encourage him,” Walton said, “to get back to that.”

And then there’s this:

“We know he’s capable of doing it. We also know he’s a very capable scorer,” Walton said.

“We kind of just want him to be in attack mode, but be ready to make the right play each time. Sometimes that’s a shot. Sometimes that’s a pass.”

This is the internet so I should point this out again: I really like Clarkson. I think most fans do. It’s obvious his coaches do. They are seeking more balance from him and while some of my recent comments in posts here and on social media speak to a level of frustration, it’s only because I want things to be more in balance too.

The Lakers have 5 rotation players who play most of their minutes on the wing, handle the ball, and can initiate the offense some: Russell, Williams, Ingram, Clarkson, and Young. Of those 5 players, Clarkson is 4th in passes made per game (only Young passes less). I know there’s an argument to be made that Clarkson plays SG (like Young) while the other guys are initiating the offense more, upping their passes.

That logic can also be used to explain that Clarkson, of the aforementioned 5 wing ball handlers, ranks 4th in number of dribbles per touch. Again, this makes sense. The guys who dribble more per touch (Russell, Lou, Ingram) are often the guys who bring the ball up the floor to initiate the offense. Of course they dribble more. But, I think what’s telling is that Clarkson’s number of dribbles per touch is only a hair lower than Lou (2.91 to 3.02) and a lot more than Young (1.32).

This tells me Clarkson is dribbling a lot in the front court and appreciably more than some of his teammates who play a similar role. For example, we think of Nick Young as some sort of isolation hungry gunner, but only 26.8% of Young’s baskets are unassisted this season. That number is 63.4% for Clarkson. That number is actually more in line with Lou Williams’ unassisted baskets percentage (60.3%) than anyone else’s from that group of guards/wings. It should also be noted, though, that Lou’s assist percentage is 10 points higher than Clarkson’s as well (22.9 to 12.7), so even if they’re creating their own shots at about the same rate, Lou is doing a better job of creating shots for others than Clarkson is.

This, I think, brings us back to Walton’s point above. Clarkson’s game is out of balance and needs to be recalibrated. This might matter less if Clarkson was a more efficient scorer or if he wasn’t already paired with another high-usage, (relatively) low passing guard like Williams. It might also matter less if Clarkson hadn’t shown capable of being more of a playmaker for others during his rookie season.

But none of those things are currently true. Additionally, as Medina noted, the goal is to still turn Clarkson into the most well rounded player he can be. That means making better shot pass decisions, making them more quickly, and having it become a more permanent part of his game. The only way that happens is if Clarkson takes it upon himself to make those changes. The good thing is we know he is capable. Now it’s just a matter of moving him more in that direction. We’ll see if he can do it.


Darius Soriano

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to On Jordan Clarkson, Playmaking, and Getting Back in Balance

  1. Jordan, listen to your coach Walton who  actually was a player and won championships

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  2. I love Clarkson’s attitude and personality.

    However,..I wonder if Clarkson has the mentality to be a distributor, I have rarely seen plays which would indicate it, so Walton may be barking up the wrong tree.
    I also get weary of him running into the thick of the offense, time and time again, which when he’s cut off, forces him to make quick decisions that are usually the wrong ones.

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  3. What I remember about Clarkson prior to being drafted was him working on PG skills.  They were saying he is slightly small for a SG but he has great size for a PG.  When he finally got his chance with the Lakers he played PG.  When the Lakers drafted Russell he moved back over to SG.  Clarkson worked very hard to develop those passing skills but, when asked to fill a role he used to fill he went back to being that.  Sometimes it can be difficult to wear 2 hats at the same time.

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  4. A Horse With No Name December 19, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Any chance I get I remind everyone here that I was the original Clarkson booster on this site; having had him in my draft as a sleeper pick (along with Spencer Dinwoody).  When the lakers actually bought the pick and drafted him I was totally geeked out.  I was one of those who believed he should be more point than two guard, because of his great size as a point. He was developing nicely as a point, made the all rookie team and had everyone excited.  With the drafting of  DLO, he had to move to more of a two role (attacking combo guard/sixth man scorer) which he took on with a great attitude, and also worked hard to improve defensively (which overall he has).   I kind of hated for him to lose out on developing as a point and starter, and felt that he was somewhat disadvantaged size wise against many of the bigger twos he faces.  Ce la vie.  He’s been struggling with his role and needs coaching (lots of film) to find the balance Darius is writing about here.

    I’m partial to him, on account for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but the biggest reason I think he can and will correct and continue to develop his game is his character.  He’s a earnest, team-first, hard worker who is very coach-able.  I think we saw signs from the Cavs game that he was gettting back on track.

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  5. Clarkson just has to unlearn some bad habits.  He was criticized last year for being too turnover prone and it looked like he solved the problem by not passing.  I agree that he waits too long before he decides to pass and it remains to be seen how much he can improve.

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  6. If I was JC I would want a trade so I could play my natural position which is PG. What is good for the Lakers is probably not good for the long term success of JC. It will end up costing him millions of dollars if he stays in a backup role and out of position.

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  7. I was standing next to JC at LAX this summer and he is not 6′ 5″ about 6′ 3″ and slight of frame.

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  8. Darius: absolutely on point regarding Jordan Clarkson.
    Coming off the bench as part of the 2nd unit, Clarkson should study the Spur’s Tony Parker’s moves and tendencies:  how he penetrates, how he passes and how he puts himself in position to receive passes.  How he utilizes his time on the court and how he gets himself into the paint.  Because Clarkson is bigger and stronger;  he can use Parker’s learned tendencies over time to morph into a better rounded player. 
    In a nutshell, Clarkson can start by not dribbling so much.

    Go lakers

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  9. KevTheBold He may not be a natural distributor but getting back to last year’s level should be entirely doable. If anyone can nudge him there, it is Luke.

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