Jordan Clarkson is a gym rat. Earlier this season, he actually showed up to the Lakers’ practice facility to get a workout in only to discover there was a D-Fenders game going on. Dude just lives in the gym. We got another glimpse of that this week when he took some time after an off-season session to talk about his continued efforts to improve his game and his future with the Lakers. From TWC Sportsnet:
First off, while he is a restricted free agent, Clarkson is talking almost as if it’s a given he will be back with the Lakers next year. We have gone over the details of his free agency more than once and how the Lakers really would need to outright not want him back for him to escape, but to hear Clarkson say how much he wants to be back is good to hear. Hopefully that not only translates to clean and easy negotiations, but the type of timing on a contract which can most help the Lakers maximize their cap space.
Second, as the studio crew discussed, Clarkson looks incredibly fit and has clearly added some muscle to his frame. His upper body looks more sculpted and he looks strong. How that translates to the court remains to be seen, but Clarkson already had a nice blend of speed and power to keep defenders off balance and added strength and size should only help — especially if his quickness is not sacrificed. Going up against SG’s more consistently, Clarkson can use the extra weight as well, if only to better fight through screens off the ball and to battle his man both in the post and when defending off the dribble.
Beyond the weight work, Clarkson also says he’s working hard on improving his 3-point shot. Clarkson already made huge strides from behind the arc this past season, raising his percentage from 31.4% his rookie season to 34.7% last year. Becoming a league average shooter from distance is huge for him, but if he’s really going to be deemed a “threat” from distance, pushing his accuracy into the upper 30’s is a must. Who knows if he can get there, but it starts by putting the work in and history says he will be more than willing to do that.
That said, I wish Clarkson (and the studio crew as well) would have mentioned, even if only briefly, the need for Clarkson to continue to improve his playmaking and passing this summer. While the steep decline in Clarkson’s assist rate can be attributed to him not playing as much point guard, it was also reflective of him putting a greater emphasis on creating his own shot rather than looking to create for others. When you consider his usage stayed the same from his rookie season while his assist rate fell as much as it did, it’s simple math that he was shooting much more frequently last year.
While Luke Walton undoubtedly wants Clarkson attacking, there still needs to be a balance between going after his own and looking to involve his teammates. Not to mention, if the Lakers really are going to run some of the same actions the Warriors run, there will be an emphasis on making quick reads and moving the ball on quickly via the pass in order to keep the flow of the offense going. Clarkson, as much as any returning Laker, will need to find a way to strike that right balance.
All that being said, it’s really good to see Clarkson back in the gym and clearly working hard. If he can come back with an improved physique (which looks like a given) and a more consistently accurate outside shot, it will only help the rest of his game flourish. Then, if he can make similar strides defensively…watch out.