When Mitch Kupchak selected Julius Randle with the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, a legion of Lakers fans worldwide collectively drew a sigh of relief. The team were finally able to bear the fruit of their struggles from perhaps the most turbulent season in the franchise’s history and, at last, close the book on a forgettable period for the organisation. However, the front office weren’t quite content to finish their night with just one acquisition. Just a few hours after their first round pick was made, the Lakers swiftly introduced another man into the equation, Jordan Clarkson. With the festivities of the Summer League underway, it’s quickly becoming clear why such a move was made. Once again, Mitch Kupchak may have swiped a prize right from under the noses of the rest of the league.
The truth is that Clarkson was never expected to fall this low. Days prior to the draft, DraftExpress had him landing as the 31st overall pick, whilst nbadraft.net had tipped him to be chosen even higher, to the Houston Rockets at number 25. However once you analyse his game, there’s no wonder why the Lakers moved furiously in order to draw his talents on draft night. Jordan Clarkson is an electric prospect in every sense of the word.
Registering at 6’-5” in the pre-draft combine, and with an impressive wingspan of 6’-8”, Clarkson’s physical stats already act as a draw. Although not the largest guard in the class, his speed (for his size) is highly admirable as is how he moves freely around the court with ease. Whilst far from being an explosive athlete, his confident movements allow him to create for himself, both off of the dribble and when attacking the rim. His strong hands, body control and tenacious on the ball activity allow him to drive lanes and attack the paint with great efficiency, although such prolific scoring is needed as his all-round offensive game is lacking some serious polish. After only making 28.1 3p% from downtown in his last college season at Missouri, it’s become immediately clear that Clarkson isn’t a born scorer from beyond the arc. Whilst it’s not broken, his shooting stroke often translates to flat shots and plenty of failed attempts from range. His catch and shoot offence is also seriously lacking consistency with some worryingly low numbers from game to game when faced against stronger, more aggressive defensive guards. Although his stroke and offensive diversity would certainly improve after exposure to the likes of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, such raw mechanics means that his immediate contribution in the NBA could be held to a minimum.
Compared to fellow young blood, Kendall Marshall, Jordan Clarkson isn’t an inspired distributor. His vision, on the whole, is absolutely woeful with a very poor assist: turnover ratio of 1.27. Although he did average 3.4 apg last season, DraftExpress’ expression of his “tunnel vision” on offence really hits the mark. He often has to succumb to taking bad shots due to this poor vision and subsequently, his shooting percentages take a hit. Such a blow is a great shame because Clarkson really is a fine scorer. Shooting 83.1 FT% from the line and 50.0 2P% within the D, the rookie displays both excellent consistency on offence and wonderful potential. His shine from the line indicates that a very strong midrange game is hidden within his repertoire and, if nurtured correctly, such numbers could even be enhanced to greater degrees of productivity. As previously mentioned, his body control and versatility allow him to create his own shots, giving him a great deal of flexibility on offence and these traits are plainly clear when moving in transition. If he added muscle and strength to his already powerful frame, he could become a seriously dangerous force from coast to coast and despite lacking hyper-athleticism, his first step is strong enough for him to cause havoc for even some of the stronger paint presences in the NBA.
Defensively, Clarkson remains a work in progress. Averaging 3.8 rebounds a game in ’13-‘14, his size and presence allowed him to grab the occasional board in college despite little effort. However, a lapse attitude towards guarding your man will not be acceptable at the highest level of professional basketball; his mindset towards defence needs to change. Physically, he has all of the tools to be a defensive nuisance for smaller, more vulnerable point guards. His combination of size, speed and strength (should he focus on improving the core of his body) will make him a mountain of an obstacle for weaker guards, yet that strength isn’t yet in his arsenal and his occasional drifts in concentration could severely anchor his progress on the opposite end of the court. Even on offence, his game does still have glaring flaws. His sceptical work off of the ball has left many critics wondering whether or not he could become a team player at the level of the NBA, whilst his occasional inability to contain his own speed and penetration could lead to him becoming a generic, one-dimensional scorer. Without a high level of explosiveness, he can no longer rely on outmuscling weaker college guards; could he even replicate his levels of efficiency when attacking the rim?
All in all, Jordan Clarkson exhibits a fine amount of offensive polish, yet leaves a great deal of question marks surrounding his name. His physical stats, strong inside scoring game and defensive potential present us with a prospect that may certainly have a future as a sixth man or as a strong rotation option in the backcourt, however his outside woes, poor vision and rigid mechanics look sure to halt his immediate growth. With that being said, Mitch Kupchak was certainly right in rolling the dice on Clarkson. With hard work, determination and exposure to NBA level training, the future looks bright for a young man with a great work ethic who has defied all odds already and will seek to continue to do so.