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Jordan Clarkson Looking Like Steal of 2014 NBA Draft

The Jordan Clarkson experience is real, it’s spectacular and his inaugural season should conclude with a clear-cut spot on the 2015 All-Rookie NBA Team.

This Los Angeles Lakers season was supposed to be about the ascent of Julius Randle as the future franchise face, but after a broken leg robbed Randle of his rookie season after just 13.5 minutes of action, that dream became a nightmare. The Lakers’ future had been carted off the floor, leg in an aircast, season over and Lakers fans were again left searching for answers—a familiar theme over the last two seasons.

Clarkson wasn’t expected to arrive this fast. The 46th overall pick of the 2014 draft class, the Washington Wizards decided to sell their second-round pick to GM Mitch Kupchak and Co., and it couldn’t have worked out better for Los Angeles than it has so far. After riding the bench and seeing sporadic minutes to begin the season, Byron Scott—in one of his better decisions during an underwhelming first season at the helm—decided it was time not just to put Clarkson in the rotation, but to make him the starting point guard.

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News had the reaction from both Clarkson and Scott after that first performance: 11 points, three rebounds, four assists on 5-of-9 shooting in 29.5 minutes of action (a career-high at that point) had both feeling optimistic about what was ahead. “I want to be great and be one of the best guys in the league. Hopefully that happens. I’m trying to be solid right now,” Clarkson said.

And then Scott: “I’m very happy with the way Jordan played. It looked like he was very poised. The moment wasn’t too big for him.”

It was just the start of Clarkson beginning to build his confidence and composure, two critical components for any young player in the NBA, but especially important for a rookie looking to make a real impression about his future for a rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers team. The lights are bright every night regardless of the record, and Clarkson had now stepped into the shadow that was supposed to be Steve Nash’s spot.

Take a look at Clarkson’s numbers since 2015 began. The most impressive part about his development has been just that—he’s showing tangible signs of improvement while he takes on an increased role and the scouting report against him grows larger:

 

GP

FG%

FT%

PTS

REBS

ASTS

STL

TO

MINS

Jan

9

41.3%

87%

9.8

2.3

2.0

0.7

1.6

23:45

Feb

10

47.7%

84.6%

13.8

3.6

4.0

1.1

1.5

27:29

March

16

45.2%

84.6%

15.8

4.8

5.2

0.8

2.5

32:27

April

1

77.8%

75%

18.0

7.0

10.0

0.0

1.0

31:10

 

Since the All-Star break concluded, Clarkson has averaged 15.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists on 49.1 percent shooting. Those are some impressive statistics, especially since Clarkson still isn’t proficient from distance (30.8 percent since ASB, 31.2 percent overall) and relies on his driving ability to create a lot of his offense. That’s a good problem to have for now, and that’s something that’s fixable going forward.

In Russell Westbrook’s rookie season, Westbrook averaged 15.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 39.8 percent shooting, including just 27.1 percent from behind the three-point line. Westbrook did it over 82 games and started from Day 1 as a 19-year-old who had just been picked No. 4 overall, so his path and Clarkson’s are not the same—but there are similarities, both in terms of the numbers and the style of play. If Clarkson develops into even half of the player Westbrook has become, it’ll be one of the greatest second-round picks in the Lakers’ lengthy history.

The Lakers are a team with holes at every position on the roster—shooting guard included—and it’s essential this club develops young, cost-controllable assets on the roster if it has any chance of pushing forward in their rebuild in the near future, because not everything is going to be solved in free agency. Those thinking the Lakers will simply go into the summer and dangle wads of cash should have trepidation about that plan: Remember, that’s what it looked like in 2014 as well, and after striking out on Carmelo, LeBron and several prominent others, the Lakers divvied up the dollars between Jordan Hill, Nick Young, Carlos Boozer and a makeshift cast of characters that’ll fail to win 30 games over the course of 82.

Here’s the reality most Lakers fans don’t want to admit: This team can’t build around Kobe Bryant anymore, and it really should have stopped doing so several years ago.

When you have an all-world franchise superstar who will go down as one of the best to ever do it, there’s no blueprint that can be followed, but Kobe and the Lakers are now synonymous in name only, and Los Angeles desperately needs to accelerate shaping its image in a new form that portends a brighter future.

The Lakers will again have a ton of cap space this offseason to attract free agents, and there’s no doubt some will clamor for the club to pursue a top-flight point guard like Rajon Rondo or Goran Dragic. But considering this team has had no starting small forward since Ron Artest, a gaping hole at the center position where Robert Sacre’s hologram sometimes attempts to defend the paint and what happened the last time this team spent big at point guard (Nash), Clarkson should continue in his current role.

Shattering expectations in the process, Clarkson has illustrated that he has a clear future in the league, and the Lakers would be wise to realize their 2014 draft steal should have a home on the roster for several seasons to come.

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