Though this is the summer of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, the player currently making the biggest impression to fans in Las Vegas is Jordan Clarkson. Though he is a self identified “work in progress”, the progress he has made from a year ago this time is clear. We don’t need to go down his list of accomplishments now, but when Byron Scott mentioned during an in game interview on Saturday that Clarkson has made major strides as a player and that his work ethic is “tremendous” it is easy to see those statements quantified via his on court play. Simply put, Clarkson looks like he has outgrown this environment.
Heading into the regular season, then, things seem to be on track for Clarkson. A first team all-rookie performer last season, Clarkson is showing the exact type of progress you want to see in a player his age. His jumper is improving. His handle is tighter. His strength is improved and his athleticism is being better applied to produce actual results. It has led to statements like this being thrown around on twitter:
Lakers really got two lottery picks in 2014, so the blow of possibly losing the 2016 pick won't be as heavy.
— Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) July 11, 2015
That’s high praise, but it really is true. Clarkson looks to be on a trajectory that far outpaces his draft status. He will be looked to as a key contributor and folks are already clamoring for him to be a starter next to Russell in the backcourt with Kobe sliding up to small forward in the process. Yeah, I know Kobe is diminished as a player, but tell me the last time any player on the roster came in and showed enough promise to inspire thoughts of displacing Kobe to a new position on the team. I’ll wait.
The road is ahead is about to get bumpier, though. If forecasting what his role will be this season, Clarkson will not just be asked to be the starting shooting guard, but also the team’s back up point guard. Wearing both hats doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface, but we shouldn’t act like it’s no deal at all, either. Clarkson did prove capable of being a full time point guard last season. He started every game he appeared in to close the season at that spot and the numbers produced and the level of play provided earned him his all-rookie team status.
This year, though, he will have to not only wear that pure point guard hat, but a shooting guard hat as well. As summer league is showing, he will work less as a primary initiator and more as an off ball worker where plays are designed to get him in positions where he can be a shot creator for himself and his teammates. Already we’re seeing him come off more pin downs and run the baseline to work off picks where he can curl into his jumper or catch the ball at the mid wing to isolate. These actions aren’t completely foreign to him and he’s clearly doing well mixing in these types of actions with his normal workload of high pick and rolls and single high isolations he thrived at last season.
What bears most watching, though, isn’t the actions he’s incorporated into but, rather, the mindset he must carry when switching between the different hats he will be asked to wear. As a pure shooting guard, Clarkson clearly has the scoring instincts and skill set to thrive in the NBA. And, as a point guard, he has the size and athleticism to be a playmaker for himself and teammates in a the mold of other top performing lead guards in the league. The potential issue, though, will come from mixing these roles together and incorporating aspects of both roles he’ll be asked to play into a still evolving player.
This isn’t a small task. Remember, Clarkson was just learning to play point guard last season. He was thrown into the fire and through hard work, tons of tape study, sessions with Steve Nash, and lots of hands on direction from Byron Scott able to adapt admirably. This season, he will be asked to not only continue his growth in this role, but to also incorporate the mindset of an off-guard back into his game so he can thrive next to another lead guard. The potential for these roles to butt up against each other is real.
Now, I do think Clarkson will be fine. In the ever evolving NBA where “combo” guards are becoming more of a norm and “dual PG” lineups are en vogue, Clarkson will never stray too far away from the development path he was put on last season. Ultimately, whether it’s as a PG or an SG, I believe he’ll be asked to be an attack player who plays unselfishly. Considering his continued growth as a player, I do not think this will be a stretch for him and, based on his work ethic and his reportedly strong taking to coaching, I believe he’ll be just fine.
But, it is worth noting that after coming into the league as a second rounder, Clarkson will now be asked to not just adjust to playing a new position for the 2nd time in two seasons, but will asked to still play the one from last season too. That’s a lot of adjusting for a player as young as him. And while he’s blown us all away with his ability to succeed at whatever has been thrown his way thus far, it wouldn’t surprise to see more growing pains this season. After all, as Clarkson said himself, he is nowhere near a finished product. The Lakers are banking on it.