Jordan Clarkson Regression

In the playoffs for the first time in his very young career, Jordan Clarkson, who was a Lakers second round pick (the Lakers purchased the pick for cash from the Washington Wizards in 2014), looks eerily like a second round pick in the playoffs. He appears lost, confused and a little bit in awe of the stage. His numbers reflect his deer in the headlights gaze, though Ty Lue still has him in the rotation. But that has to do with desperation more than achievement. Lue just doesn’t have enough bodies.

Jordan Clarkson was appealing to the Cavs because of his age (25), athleticism, ability to blow by and get to the rim, and offense. His defense was always missing but the Cavs thought they could tutor him on the fly and like Steph Curry, his offense would mask his defensive struggles. In the beginning of the trade, he seemed to be everything LeBron needed.

Eight out of his first ten Cavs games were double figure scoring outputs. The next ten were even better. He had a 23 point game (Phoenix) and a 21 point game (Clippers). That Clarkson excelled against non-playoff teams was very Laker-like but just the same it seemed like throwing a bunch of hate Clarkson’s way to be skeptical.  His 23 points against the Pelicans late in the season seemed to validate the trade. The Pels were playoffs bound and had talent. In that game, Clarkson made all his threes and shot 69%, playing 29 minutes.

But if ever there was a what goes up must come down example, it has been the Jordan Clarkson playoffs. Clarkson has played in 19 playoff games and has scored in double figures twice. 12 points in a Cleveland win, Game 4 at Indiana. 10 points in a Cleveland loss, Game 1 at Boston. The other games have been pretty forgettable. It’s easy to blame Clarkson whose playoff stats are awful.  His offensive rating is 77. 70% of his shots are bricks and don’t go in. His three ball is 23% accuracy.  I didn’t know you could have a PER of 3.3. But that’s what Clarkson has. He isn’t good and hasn’t been the last two months.

Set aside if Clarkson can perform when everything is on the line. Structurally, he doesn’t fit the Cavs offense. The Cavaliers are a team of perimeter shooters surrounding LeBron James, giving him multiple options. All are proficient in perimeter shot making. That’s not Clarkson’s game.

His strength is putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. He is a 33% three point shooter, nothing special. He is below 40% in catch and shoot and pull up actions. He needs the ball in his hands but on the Cavs he is asked to play a different kind of game, one that he can’t really play.

Clarkson is playing it the LeBron James way but he will never be the kind of spot up shooter the Cavs desperately need for him to be. It’s not what he does well.

And so he has this failure which is easy to chalk up to first time in the playoffs nerves. In a stat heavy culture, he is getting dragged up and down and all around. But, Clarkson was always a quickie solution, a way to stop the bleeding. A scoring guard was necessary and he fit, particularly with how athletic he was. But he can’t produce in the playoffs and when that happens the rep goes south and it sticks with you.

Luckily (for him) the Cavs aren’t filled with a bunch of shooters that are getting the job done so he isn’t stuck on the bench, buried. They are all in the same boat. Not skilled and not talented enough.

Clarkson has two more years left on a very friendly deal, $12 and $13 million respectively.  Depending on what LeBron James does this offseason, he can be moved. But before that, the Cavs need something from him if they are going to resurrect this series and have a chance.

Jordan Clarkson has to show up in games 3 and 4.