Can Jordan Clarkson Stick?

Darius Soriano —  September 5, 2017

What do you make of Jordan Clarkson? Seriously. The perception of him as a player fascinates me.

I think we all have our opinions of Clarkson at this stage of his career — with some being more harsh (or forgiving) than others. But, one thing that intrigues me about him now is the path he took to get to this point and, more importantly, what the next steps are for him as a player (and with the Lakers — which are, of course, connected).

Regarding his path, it’s hard to not view Clarkson as a major success story. A college transfer out of Tulsa into Missouri after his sophomore season, Clarkson found his way as a combo guard and ended up being drafted #46 overall in 2014. Going that late doesn’t come with many expectations, but whatever ones existed Clarkson obliterated them. After flashing some game in summer league his rookie year, Clarkson ended up becoming a major contributor in the 2nd half of that first season. Under Byron Scott and with assistance from Steve Nash, Clarkson found his niche as a scoring PG with some play-making ability. He played so well, he ended up making 1st Team All-Rookie.

In his 2nd season, however, Clarkson found himself in a bit of a pinch. The Lakers didn’t keep him at PG, instead drafting D’Angelo Russell 2nd overall. The point guard of the future was now Russell and JC was moved to SG sandwiched between the new hot prospect and Kobe effing Bryant (who slid up to SF). Clarkson’s natural mindset of scoring could be satiated in this role, but Kobe being in and out of the lineup, the position switch in general, and playing next to Russell (who Scott tried to turn into a traditional lead guard), did not have the best affect on his game. Yes, his scoring and 3 point shooting percentage climbed, but the play-making regressed.

Last season, Clarkson again had his role shifted. After signing a 4-year, $50 million contract in July, Luke Walton decided early in the pre-season to give Clarkson extended looks as the reserve SG behind Nick Young. No longer a starter, maybe Clarkson could be unleashed more as as scorer/play-maker against 2nd units. This was somewhat successful, but Clarkson, playing next to Lou Williams, often took a “your turn, my turn” approach to the offense. His assist rate was flat from his 2nd season and down almost 10 points from his rookie year. Luke Walton commented during the season that he wanted to see JC rekindle some of the passing and play-making he flashed as a rookie, even moving him to the starting PG spot late in the year to try to coax it out of him. There were some bright spots down the stretch, but overall, it all seemed fleeting.

Clarkson will now face more change this season. The roster has been turned over. Gone is Russell, in is Lonzo Ball. Gone is Nick Young (and Lou Williams), in is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The only backup PG on the roster is Tyler Ennis. The backup SF’s on the roster are…Corey Brewer and…Luol Deng? Kyle Kuzma? In other words, there are minutes to be had in the backcourt and on the wing, should someone seize them. That could, in theory be Clarkson.

Can he reaffirm some of his PG skills and usurp Ennis as the main backup to Lonzo? Can he grab minutes on the wing and facilitate more three guard lineups? Can he defend better than he has in the past, be more of a natural ball mover, and make some of the higher level reads as a passer in the pick and roll? How will he adjust to playing with Lonzo and can he adapt to the shifting culture of ball movement and unselfishness? These are open questions that will have a major impact on Clarkson’s future in Los Angeles.

A future that, right now, is truly in question. There have already been comments made about the Lakers being “confident” they can unload Clarkson in a trade if they need to. Remember, the Lakers are in hot pursuit of two max-level free agents next summer. In order to get there, the Lakers will likely need to dispose themselves of at least two of the Clarkson/Deng/Julius Randle trio. If the team is sure they can trade Clarkson and Randle is an RFA, might that solve their cap crunch right there? If they are able to unload Deng, it very well could come down to the Lakers needing to choose between Clarkson and Randle — ironic since both were drafted the same season.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can say most every fan I have a dialogue with assumes Clarkson will not finish his contract in Los Angeles. The combination of the salary cap math + his game becoming more one dimensional over the past two seasons lends itself to a certain amount of souring on JC as a long term piece of the puzzle.

That said, if a leap can be made, Clarkson may defy his critics and find a way to stick. Looking at how he got to where he is now, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Darius Soriano

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to Can Jordan Clarkson Stick?

  1. I think he’s a product of what the last regime was. He’s a player that came in and went above expectations in his first year and had to carve his niche while the F.O. Ignored maximizing his talent. They were more focused on their first rounf picks rightfully so, but it didn’t help clarckson. Between kobes farewell tour, deangelo being the focal point and now Ingram and Lonzo he’s stayed consistent as far as being who his is as a scorer and someone who can attack the rim. I thought he randle and deangelo got a raw deal being that the FO was dysfunctional to say the least. They we’re encouraged to tank thus marking them look worse than they were and to trade away pieces and change lineups that didnt play well together magnified that. I think he’s a player LA needs to be competitive. Besides he and maybe Ingram who can consistently create offense for themselves or go one on one when needed down the stretch


  2. Clarkson has gotten a raw deal from the beginning. He does whatever has been asked and does it willingly and with a professional attitude, but in return no one gives him any slack for the terrible conditions he was handed in all three of his professional seasons. No one could have thrived on this team the past three years. Clarkson is better than it has become fashionable to acknowledge, and if he ever played a consistent role in a stable environment and a consistent role with a solid cast around him Carkson would be able to show just how good he is.


  3. IMO, he will be worth more than his salary if he can play some defense. He should be working on his lateral movement and to avoid reaching with his hands. Working with KCP should materially help him up his skillset and either make it very hard to move him or make him the prime target by other teams, should Deng be targeted to be moved.


  4. sure he can!
    will he?


  5. No, he has peaked as a player. So far JC seems more interested in his “brand” than in being a better basketball player. He is focused on his fashion line, playing for the Philippines national team, dating models, clubbing, then shooting more, and if there is time left, may be defense and some passing.

    He is caught up in the LA lifestyle not the professional basketball player lifestyle.


  6. I agree Darius. Clarkson’s worth is much higher as a trade piece, and his salary is much more valuable for someone else.

    It matters not what his season is like, as he will never rise to match the talent we could go after, by saying: Bon voyage Clarkson.


    • As a player I would like to see him pass the ball at SG like he did when he played PG. For a player with his natural athleticism there is no reason his defense should be as bad as it is. As a team though I think Clarkson’s best value is as a trade chip.


  7. Lest we forget bball is a team game. For a 46th pick with skills like that, expectations so great. He’s the only laker heavily scrutinized for the last 3yrs may it be in off & def. But the 2 coaches have made him more versatile as JC have been moved from PG to 2nd unit, no other.


  8. I’m sure Clarkson understands what’s at stake this season and he’s going to do everything he can to prove he deserves to stay in LA, but it’s really out of his hands if the FO gets an offer they can’t refuse. Unfortunately for JC, his value is tied not only to his own production and salary, but that of Randle’s. I expect both players to be more productive this coming season but the real question is which player is more valuable to the roster in 2018 and beyond?


  9. It’s rough with JC. There was a stretch there a couple of years ago when he was the only ray of hope on the team, and it’s hard to forget rooting and investing so much in him when there was nothing else.
    But the assessment is fair–if anything, too much so. The above is a generous assessment of some of the games I watched the last two years.
    Would love to see him become a Lou Will type 6th man scorer with defense equal to his athletic ability (could/should be comparable to someone like, i don’t know, KCP, given enough will and effort to improve).
    But–and this goes for everyone this year: if you don’t want the team to trade or release you so they can afford a “star”, play better than that star. Make it a really hard choice. This season would be a massive success if, just based on basketball contributions, the front office had to think twice (or more) between getting rid of Clarkson or Randle (or whomever) to get a max guy, vs. sticking with the home grown.


  10. I don’t think that the front office will be able to stop themselves from spending it all on two players,Maybe it’s the answer and maybe a disaster,but the hype of an NBA superstar is too strong to resist,Therefore I believe we will be watching players that were once ours become NBA studs for someone else.My play is to Buy one and keep what you earned the hard way.


    • The thing is, if one of our players really breaks out this year, we may already have at least one superstar on the team. That could complicate bringing other superstars on board, except that both the most likely candidates (Ingram & Ball) are team players and easy to play with. Now if Clarkson should really break out, then he could possibly limit which superstar we brought in.


  11. This year is a fresh start for everybody – new front office, new look with Lonzo, 3 new starters, 4 new rookies.

    Clarkson as a shooting guard has played with Kobe, Swaggy, Lou Will. Hardly the greatest examples as ball movers. I am interested in seeing how JC responds to Lonzo’s ball-moving culture.


  12. With KCP out for the first two games,Clarkson will probably start next to Lonzo.What he does on both ends will tell us a lot about this years version of JC.


  13. Unfortunately, it appears that Clarkson’s time has come and gone. And its mainly due to the size of his contract.

    Almost from the beginning, the new FO ditched the idea of a slow progressive rebuild, and very vocally voiced their desire to try to add TWO max free agents in 2018.

    With that goal presumably still in mind, Its not difficult to immagine that all non-essential players (basically everyone not named Ball or Ingram), will be fighting for their futures in the NBA.

    This is a very risky move for the Lakers FO. Somewhat similar to when West traded Divak and rolled the dice on trying to acquire Shaq.

    But getting back to Clarkson (and Randle & Deng), to salvage their careers, they need to really show improvement coming out of the gate.

    If two new all-stars arrive next summer, it has been surmized that at least two of the three will be gone.

    They dont need to impress the Lakers. They need to impress other teams, so that they can land in a favorable environment and avoid being just trade fodder.

    In my opinion, Clarkson, Deng & Randle are basically Dead Men Walking. The only thing yet to be determined is their eventual destination.

    The only problem is there is a season of basketball yet to play and a lot can happen. First off, lets see how the new additions of Ball, Pope & Lopez mesh with the existing core. Next summer is over 10 months away. A lot can happen between now & then.


    • “This is a very risky move for the Lakers FO. Somewhat similar to when West traded Divak and rolled the dice on trying to acquire Shaq.”


      Exactly what I was thinking. As you may recall, not only was Vlade traded to Charlotte, but I believe JW had to also off load Anthony Peeler and George Lynch both of whom were recent draft picks and rotation players. Quite similar to the type of players that the FO will perhaps shed to bag the Elephants.

      Randle could be the wild card if he has a real break out year running the lanes with Lonzo on the Fast Break and if he can show an outside shot.


      • Thanks Clay, as you know, great minds think alike!

        Seriously, this Magic-Pelinka grand plan could easily backfire, although I’ve been impressed with their moves so far!

        If their grand scheme works, they could be competitive very quickly. But if it fails, they’ve alienated (and probably lost) some of their young core.

        Randle (irrespective of his potential), just does NOT fit Walton’s system. That’s why he’s a goner. Clarkson makes too much money to be a reserve guard. That’s why he’s a goner.

        Paul George would be an absolute great addition, but I’m concerned that if he and Westbrook have success in OKC, he could decide to stay there.

        DeMarcus Cousins is a possibility (if he will come) but can or will he adapt to Walton’s system? I would play him at PF, because he has enough talent to dominate Golden State’s Green as well as most other PF’s.

        What other alternatives are out there? Could the Lakers FO talk the Pelicans out of Davis? Other than just adding more shooters, it looks like the PF position may arguably be the Lakers biggest weakness.

        In looking around the league, what other players do you see that would flourish in Walton’s system?


  14. My money is on Randle improving , possibly so much as to then be unable to afford him. Clarkson has a moveable deal and is what he is, not bad, not great, and paid just about right. Deng would only be able to be moved if attached to a quality player, and l can only see Randle at that level.
    I agree,one FA and sign Randle andKCP, assuming good health and play.


  15. There are some excellent comments above. Good job by all.

    Having said that, there is a subset of fans who have always mistified me by their passionate (I’m almost tempted to say, rabid) animosity toward Jordan Clarkson. I’m also not entirely convinced that Clarkson (and Randle, for that matter) have necessarily peaked. Clarkson is somewhat older (25) than Randle. That’s true. But he’s played for the last 3 years under less than ideal circumstances. Let’s look at the facts.

    As a rookie, he played well but essentially out-of-position as a PG. In his sophomore year, he was sandwiched between Kobe and D’Angelo Russell, both of whom have shoot-first mindsets. Last year, his 3rd, he was paired with Lou Williams, the epitome of a modern-day ball-dominant player. None of these situations was ideal.

    Even so, as a #46 draft pick, this is what the Lakers have received from Jordan Clarkson:

    Year One — 11.9 ppg, 44.8 FG%, 3.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game, .9 steals per game;
    Year Two — 15.5 ppg (2nd only to Kobe), 43.5%, 4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1,1 steals per game;
    Year Three — 14.7 ppg (highest returning scorer on the team), 44.5%, 3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals per game.

    Considering that he has done all of this while being jerked around a bit (forgive the slang), I’d say that they Lakers have actually gotten their money’s worth. Can his defense improve? Yes, of course (but he’s well aware of this and has reportedly spent the summer guarding Brandon Ingram–who’s 4 inches taller–to help improve his D). Can he pass the ball more? Definitely, although his assist numbers do not differ that much from other SGs such as Klay Thompson. Can he be a more efficient scorer? Yes, for sure. But playing alongside Lonzo Ball could actually help him get some easier looks (as is the case with those who play with Chris Paul).

    Given all of this, I would suggest the following. Let’s have an open mind on JC (and on Randle and the others).

    1) Let’s see if JC just simply improves on his own. (It could happen. After all, he’s 25, not 35.)
    2) Let’s see if he blossoms a bit by not being hampered by the suffocating presence of a Kobe or a DAR or a Lou Williams, players who are as ball-dominant as they come.
    3) Let’s see if Lonzo Ball has a beneficial effect on JC’s play (as he could on others).

    If the answer to even two of these scenarios is at all positive, then who’s to say? Jordan Clarkson could very well be a keeper. If not, then the Lakers can always ship him out at the appropriate time.

    But right now, I would say that Jordan Clarkson’s future is very much an open question (as it is for Randle, KCP, Brook Lopez, Larry Nance, Jr., et. al.). To write him off as ‘a dead man walking” is a bid over-the-top. Let’s give him a chance and see what happens.

    He could prove to be merely trade-bait. Or, in this new environment, he could surprise us all. All we need is an open mind.


    • Mid, yes in most years and under most circumstances with most teams, Clarkson would continue to be a building block for an up & coming team.

      However, with the Lakers FO sticking to their well publicized plan to acquire two max free agents next summer, it really impacts the whole team and creates a very abnormal situation.

      As you may recall, the Lakers did make an offer earlier this year to Indiana for Paul George, which was turned down. As part of that offer, a choice of Clarkson or Randle were reportedly named.

      Similar to the Lakers attempted trade for Chris Paul years ago, this recent attempted trade has to have some demoralizing effect on Clarkson & Randle.

      Clarkson, Randle & Deng ar the most frequently mentioned trade prospects in nearly all media discussions.

      Based on current estimated cap figures for summer 2018, the Lakers are still short of being able to make two max offers.

      I dont mean this to sound aragent, but regardless of our personal feelings for these players, if the Lakers FO remains focused on their well publicized goals of two max players, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that one or two players will be moved.

      And unfortunately, Clarkson, Randle & Deng are the most logical, when compared to the rest of the roster.


  16. I’m currently fantasizing about JC having too good of a season for the FO to trade him, and end up winning the 6th Man award next season.
    Can’t help it. Dude seems too real & passionate since Day 1 to not root for him.


  17. I get the sentimental hope of JC or JR improving enough to keep. That would have to be some improvement, if indeed two max players are within our reach. Unlike Jerry West and Shaq, Magic will know by next summer who’s willing to come. Assuming Paul George takes our 1st max under the cap, would you really not (effectively) “trade” next June JR and JC for LBJ (or RW or BC, all MVP candidates)? Really?


  18. As long as the Lakers keep an open mind, many things are possible. We won’t know exactly what will happen–until it happens. Clarkston is a credible asset—and not just for trade. Like everyone else, I see him drawn into trade scenarios–but I won’t be unhappy if he stays.


    • “As long as the Lakers keep an open mind, many things are possible. We won’t know exactly what will happen–until it happens.”

      This sounds like you may have a future in the WRITING FORTUNES FOR FORTUNE COOKIES business brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      True though. We are all in WAIT AND SEE mode. I mean, we are always in that mode I suppose but this time, the SUPERSTAR(s) to the Lakers scenario is almost palpable. It feels like we KNOW something is coming this time………Perhaps there is some reality to Pelinka crowing about BIG TIME players wanting to come to L.A. That kind of confidence comes from a guy who know something we don’t…..a man who TAMPERS…….

      Start of NFL means NBA Training Camp is less than 3 weeks away!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We have almost made it thru another Summer w no Lakers!!!!!!!!

      Lastly, glad Lonzo is getting all of this BS Doesn’t Amount to Anything Hollywood Crap out of the way before his career starts. A Reality Show and a Rap Single in the course of two weeks basically?!?!!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!!? The real REALITY SHOW will be the damn games!!!!!!!!!


  19. I would like hear someone, who is really familiar with the Center position in the NBA, talk about the reduced reliance on the traditional center role.

    I understand the increasing reliance on shooters due to other teams trying to copy the Golden State-led small ball model.

    In their final year, Kupchak & Buss made at least two publicized attempts to acquire Cousins from Sacramento (& perhaps other non-publicized inquiries).
    When he is focused, Cousins is arguably one of the best centers in the game today.

    However, the Lakers are looking more and more like a younger version of Golden State. Guess I’m just more of a traditionalist, because I’m really looking forward to seeing how Lopez (and Pope) mesh with our young core.

    I’m still having a lot of trouble visualizing how players like LeBron & Westbrook would complement and not overwhelm this young team. Though we all loved Kobe, there were times when he was a ball hogging one man show. Players would just defer to him and watch Kobe’s one on five circus shots. As much as Kobe helped win titles, I dont think that adding LBJ & Westbrook are the answers.

    I really wanna see how this team plays as currently constructed. The Pope & Lopez signings were huge.
    Lets see what Walton has in mind. A good coach constructs his system to make the best use of his talent.

    I cannot wait for training camp to begin, to get a better picture of how well this current set of players fits together. But if Pope is resigned (as a SG), and Paul George added in free agency, (to play PF in small ball lineups, would the team still need a traditional center (Lopez)?

    One immediate problem with that scenario is that Lakers dont have Bird rights on Pope, although they do on Lopez.

    Would Lakers then perhaps use Lopez in a sign & trade? Could Lopez & Clarkson/Randle bring back a player like Cousins, if he proves to not fit well in New Orleans?

    So many unanswered questions…The new season can’t start soon enough…