There has not been much to cheer for in the Lakers 0-4 start, but one player who has proven to be a bright spot is Jordan Clarkson. After a strong second half to his rookie campaign, Clarkson has shown that the hard work during the off-season and strong play from the summer and preseason were not a mirage.
Clarkson is leading the Lakers in minutes played (31 minutes a night), scoring (18.3 points per game), and is second on the team among rotation players (behind Nick Young!) in PER (20.6). Not bad for a guy taken 46th in the draft a summer ago.
While some of Clarkson’s early season success could easily be small sample sized theater — I do not expect him to make 46.7% of his three pointers on almost 4 attempts per game all year — his continued growth in certain parts of his game is clear and, in my opinion, very real.
Nowhere is this more true than his work in the pick and roll. Consider the following stats, per NBA.com/stats through Synergy (10 possession minimum):
- Clarkson has made 14 of his 23 shots (60.9%) out of the P&R
- Clarkson is currently scoring at a 1.22 points per play clip as a shooter when operating as the ball handler in a P&R
- This scoring clip puts him in the 96th percentile of all players, ranking him 4th in the league
Dating back to the second half of last year, Clarkson flashed an acumen for how to navigate this action. Tape study, some tutoring from Steve Nash, and all that extra work Clarkson puts in with the coaches and during the offseason laid the foundation for what we are seeing now. A couple of examples:
On this play Clarkson shows off all his tricks. After walking the ball up, Clarkson calls for the high pick and comes off it tight in order to really free himself from his man. After coming off the pick, Clarkson snakes his dribble towards the foul line and forces the hedging big man to pick him up. After forcing the switch, Clarkson uses his great change of pace dribble (and another Nugget as a blocker) to get to a spot on the floor where he can hit a nice floater.
Here is another example of a high P&R, but this one comes in semi transition after Clarkson pushes the ball up court. What I like about this play is how Clarkson sets up his man with a nice inside-out dribble to get a good pick on his man. He again uses a nice snake dribble, but pushes it even wider to force the switch and draw the hedge out further laterally. After getting the big to slide, he then uses a nice burst dribble and a long stride to get all the way to the rim for a layup. The cherry on the sundae is how he extends with his arm to get the shot off clean without the defender being able to block it.
Clarkson has also been doing his usual damage hitting his pull up jumper out of the P&R, an important shot to be able to make since it sets up the type of driving plays displayed above.
What these plays show me, though, is a continued refinement of Clarkson’s game. The snaking, hesitation dribbles, setting up of his man to get a good screen — these are all tools to help him get to spots on the floor where he can then use the rest of his physical gifts to get buckets.
And while it’s early in the season, clearly it’s working. Hopefully he can sustain close to this level of production as the year advances.