After the lottery picks were selected in 2014, Jordan Clarkson expected to hear his name in the first round. It didn’t happen. That he still holds a grudge against the guards drafted ahead of him says everything you need to know about Clarkson. Markel Brown. Nick Johnson. Spencer Dinwiddie. Joe Harris. C.J. Wilcox. P. J. Hairston. Shabazz Napier. Rodney Hood. Jordan Adams. Gary Harris. Tyler Ennis. James Young. Eight shooting guards who were drafted ahead of Clarkson aren’t even in the league anymore and the ones that are have played fewer cumulative minutes than Clarkson.
Jordan Clarkson has scored more points than everyone in the 2014 draft except number one pick Andrew Wiggins and number 41 pick Nikola Jokic. He has scored more points than Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, and Julius Randle.
Clarkson’s Sixth Man of the Year award is validation for what Clarkson knew in 2014. He had first-round talent.
Clarkson’s draft tumble was grounded in basketball science. Scouts thought Jordan Clarkson wasn’t a point guard. (He’s not.) He didn’t have the necessary court vision, nor a passer’s ethic. But Clarkson could score then and now. He’s a career 44% scorer. He has a career-high PER of 17.1 this season and is shooting nearly 50% from midrange.
In his Sixth Man of the Year season, Clarkson only attempted 15 dunks. But he took 917 jumpers and made nearly 40% of them. He made 73 layups. Against the Western Conference, he had an offensive rating of 113 and averaged 19.9 points and 4.3 rebounds. You get Sixth Man of the Year when you average 25.3 points vs. Golden State, and 21.7 points vs. Dallas, and 22.3 points vs the Lakers, and 22.0 points vs. Memphis, and 25.5 points vs. Milwaukee, and 25.0 points vs. Philadelphia, and 22.0 points vs. Portland, and 28.0 points vs. Sacramento, and 21.3 points vs. San Antonio.
Sixth Man of the year is a regular-season award. Clarkson has limited playoff experience and it hasn’t been pretty. 36.9% fg, 27.2% three-pointers, 8.2 ppg in 27 games. This run of Utah’s will define Clarkson.
Anyone who has followed Clarkson’s career isn’t shocked at his continued excellence. His seamless transition back to the Western Conference and the playoffs is evidence that talent finds a way to make an impact.
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One thing Clarkson has always had on his side was luck.
In the 2014 draft, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak purchased the 45th pick from the Washington Wizards so they could draft Jordan Clarkson. Byron Scott was the coach then and was not afraid to be bold. He benched Jeremy Lin and started Clarkson in January (2015). Clarkson’s first start was in his hometown of San Antonio. Four games later, he played 43 minutes. What was obvious was Clarkson’s hops, his scoring love, and his maturity. He was able to be calm in chaotic moments. Nurtured by Scott meant he was also nurtured by Laker legends.
A famous Kobe-Clarkson story made the rounds during his second year as a Laker. It goes something like this. Scott was in love with Clarkson’s work ethic, drive, and determination. He played with a chip on his shoulder because he was a second-round pick and still pissed about it. Scott wanted Kobe, who was injured and away from the team, to meet Clarkson. He wanted Kobe to see how special the kid was.
Kobe didn’t suffer fools so he was up to his usual tricks. The meeting time was 8 am but Bryant arrived at 6 am to see if Clarkson had the kind of work ethic Byron Scott raved about. He did. When Bryant entered the El Segundo training facility, there was Jordan in a sweat, working out, two hours early. Bryant was sold. If you have a work ethic, and you have talent, good things are going to happen.
When Clarkson was traded from the Lakers in 2017 many were disappointed though they understood the Lakers had to clear cap room. Clarkson didn’t pull a Josh Hart and badmouth the team that drafted him. He was going to Cleveland, playing with LeBron James for a few months. He changed jerseys and played, though he wasn’t particularly effective in the playoffs, 21% from three. When LeBron left Cleveland, Clarkson continued to just play. It’s not in him to hang his head and woe is me it. Score is what he does. Shooting the ball when it comes his way is what he knows. Play hard is his mantra. To his credit, he never let it become public his feelings about playing for a dreadful team after being celebrated in the Lakers bubble. If nothing else, Jordan Clarkson was professional.
And then the call came. Utah needed a scorer. All of a sudden everything changed for Jordan Clarkson. From irrelevancy to helping the Jazz contend. The Jazz need everything Jordan Clarkson can do with the ball. He’s not a great defender but he’s been better in Utah on that end of the floor. More importantly, the Jazz needed Clarkson more than Clarkson needed the Jazz.
He’s one of those players where things just work out in his favor. A second-round pick but drafted by the Lakers. Traded to the Cavs but in the NBA Finals. Suffering through a Cleveland malaise but traded to Utah. Clarkson was born on a sunny day.
He’s back in the west. He’s the Jazz version of Lou Williams. The Jazz has a legitimate shot at the WCF because Jordan Clarkson is making buckets in Salt Lake.
On draft night even Jordan Clarkson couldn’t have imagined this kind of a story. A beloved Laker. Then traded. Played in the NBA Finals. And now helping the Jazz nail down a return to the Finals after a 23-year drought.
Don’t let his good fortune fool you. Jordan Clarkson is good at what he does, despite the ease in which doors just open for him. For the Utah Jazz, the Jordan Clarkson marriage is a perfect one.