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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