Thank goodness for Jordan Clarkson. Wait. What?
If I’d have told you, when the season’s schedule came out, that the thing I’d be looking forward to the most when the Lakers and Knicks played a Sunday day game — originally scheduled to be on ABC — was the second round rookie’s play, you’d have thought I was making some sort of a sick joke. After all, this is Lakers vs. Knicks. Kobe! Carmelo!! Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson returning the Knicks to prominence!!! Yeah, not so much (at least not yet).
With Kobe injured, Carmelo battling a nagging knee issues, and Derek/Phil stewarding one of the worst Knicks’ teams in history, this game got dumped from ABC and is now just a regular game between two bad teams broadcast on local TV as a prelude to today’s Super Bowl. So, I’ll say it again: thank goodness for Jordan Clarkson.
The rookie guard starts his 5th consecutive game for the Lakers and is showing signs of being a real player in this league. In the four contests leading up to this one, the rook has squared off against Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, and John Wall and held his own in each match up. There are still major strides to make and his learning curve is steep, but those things were to be expected when he was drafted out of Missouri. What he has, however, are things no other point guard on the team currently does: a combination of youth, athleticism, and a quality that makes you want to zero in on him when he’s on the floor. And while Lin is the better player, it is Clarkson who is capturing the imagination of Lakers’ fans as a potential building block for the future.
So, for the time being and with Julius Randle hurt, Clarkson becomes the young player worth turning in for. With Kobe Byrant out as well and the team shifting into rebuild mode more and more with every passing game, keeping tabs on Clarkson’s development is actually one of the more tangible things to do while watching the games. How is he managing the offense? Is he able to navigate the 2nd level of a defense? How is his court vision progressing? Can he start to make his jumper with more consistency as defenders play off him? Is he learning from his mistakes? These are questions we seek the answers to and the game experience is what will provide the answers.
As an aside, while I have been hard on Byron Scott for a lot of reasons and still disagree with some of the decisions he’s making (Ryan Kelly playing a lot of SF and Tarik Black — if healthy enough to play — getting DNP-CD’s are two examples), I think he deserves some credit lately. When Nick Young was playing with poor effort, he benched him in the game against the Rockets. He has inserted Clarkson into the starting lineup, removed Price from the rotation, and found a workable rotation for his big men (though, again, at some point I would want to see Kelly slotted appropriately and Black return to getting minutes). His players are, for the most part, playing hard in the face of long losing streaks and being outmatched from a talent standpoint almost every game.
He has his flaws as a coach and a full analysis on how he’s done this season will involve several things I’d call missteps, but his recent responses to injuries via lineup changes and rotations adjustments have been solid and are more indicative of the process you’d want from a team rebuilding. I’d like to see a bigger push in that direction, but those things may be coming soon without his doing should the Lakers dive into the trade season.
In any event, there is a game today. And I’ve been able to get through almost this entire preview without discussing a single item regarding the actual Lakers/Knicks game. Which, considering the quality of the teams, is exactly what I’m thinking this match up deserves.
Where you can watch: Early 11am start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.