The Jordan Clarkson Odds

The Lakers drafted two players in 2014, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Randle was the sure thing and Clarkson was the question mark. Four years later, Clarkson was a non-factor in the NBA Finals and a teammate of LeBron James.  Randle, after a good year, signed a two year average salary ($17 million) to play for the Pelicans, once LeBron forced Randle into irrelevancy.

When Jordan Clarkson was the 46th pick in the NBA draft, he was pretty pissed about it which only helped him fight through the enormous odds against him. It was always going to be an uphill struggle based on the history of being picked that low.

From 2010-2013, picks in the 46th slot were Erick Green, Darius Miller, Andrew Goudelock and Gani Lawai. Collectively, they have played a total of 204 games in the NBA. Lawai only played 1 game in his short lived career. Green, Miller and Goudelock were hit and miss players, good here and there, but overall very average. Darius Miller did start a handful of games (10) for the New Orleans Pelicans.

This wasn’t good company Clarkson was thrown into when the Lakers paid the Washington Wizards $2 million to buy their second round pick. But the Lakers had scouted Clarkson in Missouri. Clarkson was widely regarded as a player with first round athleticism but an ineffective scorer and a woeful playmaker who fell far short of the intangibles point guards need in this era of dribble penetration, catch and shoot nirvana, pick and roll excellence, and three point efficiency.

Because the scouts severely downgraded Clarkson, he dropped out of the first round and nearly out of the second round until the Lakers scooped him up as if they knew exactly what they were doing.

The Lakers last 20 draft picks before Jordan Clarkson were mostly miserable with the exception of Marc Gasol and Patrick Beverly, and they were traded.

Javaris Crittenton pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Jordan Farmar was paid to not be on the Clippers anymore, replaced by Austin Rivers (let that marinate). Cheikh Samb, Sun Yue, Joe Crawford, Chinemelu Elonu, Devin Ebanks, Derrick Caracter, Chukwudiebere Maduabum, Ater Majok were Jim Buss disasters.

Enter Jordan Clarkson in 2014 trying to disprove a negative. He was helped by fate when something surprising happened in the middle of his rookie season that upped the odds for him and the Lakers future.

Byron Scott was his coach. And Kobe Bryant needed surgery.

Scott has always taken his share of lumps and bruises but he’s always been a good mentor for young point guards. Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving swear by him. The moment Kobe went down, Scott went into developing Clarkson mode.

Clarkson was one of the fastest guards in the NBA and at times it worked against him. He played with speed not velocity ala John Wall in his rookie year. Clarkson had to learn to slow his game down. But his upside was his fearlessness and that huge chip on his shoulder. Clarkson admitted he watched the NBA draft, and his name being called 46th, about 100 times.

But, Clarkson was a better shooter than anyone gave him credit for and he improved month after month. When Kobe went down in January of 2015, and Clarkson became a starter, he was shooting 41%. By April, he was shooting 47% and was Rookie of the Month for March.

In year number two , Clarkson shot 43.3% and 34.7% from three. He led the Lakers in minutes (32.3) and was the second leading scorer behind Kobe Bryant at 15.5 points a game. His biggest weaknesses are his defense and his end of game mistakes, which isn’t unusual for a young player, one who wasn’t supposed to achieve in the first place.

Because the Lakers don’t have a history of finding diamonds in a sea of mud, most believe they got lucky with Clarkson and perhaps they did. But Clarkson had to take that luck and do something with it. He had to figure out a way to navigate Scott’s tyrannical nature, calm an obsessive fan base, placate a ruthless Bryant who Clarkson won over with his work ethic, and at the same time, figure out the NBA game.

Towards the end of his rookie year, Clarkson was asked about the prospect of the Lakers signing Rajon Rondo. It was one of those sabotage questions intended to reveal selfishness but Clarkson answered the way any mature player would answer, even as it was surprising to hear it from a rookie. “The more talent we have the better our team is.”

Several years back, during a summer league game, after D’Angelo Russell hit a game winner in a packed house there to witness Brandon Ingram vs. Ben Simmons, Russell sprinted away from the hugs of his summer league teammates and towards a fan in the stands who had run on the court: Jordan Clarkson in casual clothes ready to celebrate Russell’s magic. He’s always been a team player.

Trading for Isaiah Thomas in February, it looked like Clarkson was finally getting his break. He started off well enough but couldn’t sustain it. He doesn’t have the game that seeds a LeBron James garden. He’s not a three point shooter. He’s not catch and shoot. He’s a creator with the ball, a finisher, an iso player. The Cavs tried to take that away from him. Still, in a short sample size, he was better with the Cavs than the Lakers, a 40% three ball, 45% on field goals, but he scored less because he played six less minutes.  Where he fell off a cliff was his first time in the playoffs. The Cavaliers couldn’t trust him. 30% field goals, 23% from three. He wilted under the pressure and played 10 minutes less, not even giving them 5 points a game.

And so here Clarkson is again with another rebuilding team. To be real about it, this is what he does best. No pressure, so expect Clarkson in these two Cav years to be the Clarkson of old. A lot of iso to the rim and turn around j’s in the post. Dribble hand offs and screens. One handed layup finishes and dunks galore. He will have a green light.  But then again.

He may be traded in February for someone worse, as the Cavs try to stay relevant in November and December and tank for the lottery in March and April.