Welcome to a new series at FB&G where we will take one player on the Lakers’ roster and discuss one specific skill they possess. Sometimes it will be something very subtle, others it will be more straight forward. We’ll try to shed some light on how this skill can help the team in the coming season. First up in our series (or, second up, if you count Roy Hibbert’s boxing out) is Jordan Clarkson and his mid-range jumpshot. Enjoy.
The NBA is an ever changing game. Go watch tape of the 1980’s or early 1990’s and compare it to the version of the game you see today. The game of my youth only bares a slight resemblance to the version played today.
Efficiency is the buzzword of the 2010’s, with teams striving for offensive possessions to end with a shot at the rim, a three point attempt, or a free throw. These are the shots that optimize offensive output so they are the shots sought after.
But every shot cannot come from those places. The NBA halfcourt is 2,350 square feet and the offenses which can threaten defenses from the most amount of that space are going to find themselves the most difficult to defend. And while more and more teams cut out the mid-range shot from their arsenal, the players who can thrive in this area can not only exploit defenses by making the shots opponents are most willing to cede, but they can open up opportunities for their teammates.
Jordan Clarkson is one such player. Here is a simplified shot chart for Clarkson from the games after the all-star break (when he became a key part of the rotation):
As you can see, Clarkson thrived from the mid-range, hitting over 46% of his shots from this zone. His ability to create separation in isolation as well as navigate defenses coming out of the pick and roll as a ball handler gave him the room he needed to get this shot off — and hit it — consistently.
While some who worship at the altar of efficiency might scoff at Clarkson’s willingness to make the mid-range a vital part of his arsenal, he and the Lakers benefit from his skill at knocking down these shots.
Clarkson’s main strength as a player is his quickness and athleticism, allowing him to get to spots on the floor he can thrive from. This mostly creates a defensive strategy where teams lay off him to try and take away his driving lanes and angles. Clarkson, though, uses that space to his advantage by either using a hard dribble to get to defenders back off him into the paint or by creating screening angles that achieve the same purpose. Once that space is created, Clarkson rises up and shoots this shot.
When this shot falls, though, defenses have to start to play him differently and, in that process, opening up different parts of his offensive attack. If defenders feel the need to play him more closely or react more quickly to a potential pull up, Clarkson can turn on the jets to get a step on his man and drive deeper into the paint. If once there, he has the strength, leaping ability, and body control to either finish over or through contact. Further, once he’s able to penetrate to the rim, defenses collapse which creates the types of passing angles that lead to open shots (either kickouts to spot up players or dump-offs to big men) that his teammates can knock down.
We often discuss offensive spacing as a product of three point shooting, but that is only one aspect of how it is created. The idea of offensive “gravity” — where players, simply by being on the floor or by performing an action draw the attention of the defense — has been gaining traction over the years and this is a concept which applies to any part of the court. Big men diving to the rim as roll men in the P&R, post up threats, and high volume/high accuracy three point shooters all tilt the defense in their direction.
The same can be true for accurate mid-range shooters who serve as focal points of their team’s respective attacks. We have seen this historically with players like Dirk and, more recently, LaMarcus Aldridge. The same is true for guards like Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. I’m not saying Clarkson is the next great mid-range shooter, but should he continue to hit this shot at the clip he did in the 2nd half of last year, teams will start to adjust to him.
None of this is a given, of course, and Clarkson would still do well to improve other aspects of his game — including his three point shooting as well as his ability to be a threat off the ball as a spot-up option or a worker off picks. But, for now, his ability to finish at the rim and from the mid-range look to be a staple of his attack. And, with those skills, especially the latter, the Lakers are sure to benefit.