(Photo via latimes.com)
The Los Angeles Lakers are 14 games into what is turning out to be their 3rd straight disastrous season. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise to most as the Lakers were projected towards the bottom of most NBA prognosticators’ power rankings for the upcoming season.
With most not expecting much from the Lakers this season the cries of developing the young talent at all costs were loud from even before the season got under way and especially during the first 14 games.
The development plan was implemented from the outset with having the 3 main young prospects, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and number #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell, all in the starting line-up opening day even though it could be argued that only Clarkson and Randle earned their spots with their play.
While there was still criticism directed at Coach Byron Scott about the insufficient amount of time the young kids were getting and at what point in the game they were getting those minutes, but by and large it can be said the 3 main prospects have been thrown out there to sink or swim.
The issue today is that 14 games into the season all 3 young players have received about the same amount of time on the floor, get about the same number of touches and have about the same size role on the team. The reason this can be seen as a problem is that not all 3 have been equally as effective during their time on the court and in the case with Jordan Clarkson, he has played at a level well above the other 2.
Despite getting almost 5 more minutes per game he sees the ball less than rookie D’Angelo Russell. Clarkson is only getting 2 more touches per game than Julius Randle even though he plays the power forward position which is more dependent on getting the ball from a guard.
The near equal distribution of opportunity in the offense among the 3 prospects has stifled Clarkson’s productivity this season. Where you can really see the separation in Clarkson’s effectiveness compared to his young counterparts is in their efficiency numbers from the field.
A big reason why Clarkson’s touches and role in the offense has been limited this season is the need to see what the Lakers have in D’Angelo Russell who they invested heavily by taking him with the number 2 overall pick and have handed him the starting point guard position which requires significant time with the ball in hand.
With Russell as the primary ball handler he’s received a higher share of pick and roll sets in which he has struggled to produce thus far this season. Clarkson however, has flourished.
Clarkson has significantly outperformed Russell in the top three most frequently run plays yet he continues to get less time with the ball in his hands.
This was not the case last season where Clarkson had full rein of the Lakers offense and lion’s share of the ball handling duties. In this role Clarkson excelled to the point of earning first team All-Rookie team honors, a great feat for a player taken 46th overall in the draft.
Jordan Clarkson’s 21 games of the 2014-15 Season
(from March 6, 2015 to April 13, 2015)
*stats via NBA.com/stats
The Lakers’ team objective for this season and that of Clarkson might not be aligned. With every Lakers’ loss their pursuit of winning the rest of the year becomes less important and more emphasis will be placed on developing the young talent, that means heavy doses of Russell as the primary point guard leaving Clarkson with whatever time is left with the ball.
Clarkson will be a restricted free agent this coming off-season and is looking to ball in order to set himself up for a massive pay day. The way the season is going, with the Lakers losing and having to give equal time to two other prospects whose development into All-Star level players is vitally important to the future success of the Lakers’ franchise Clarkson will not be an ideal situation to take the next step in his development. Instead, it appears he’ll have to continue to perform in the limited opportunity he’s provided with the ball in his hands, giving way to the prized rookie that he continues to outperform.
This could mean that while the Lakers invest time and opportunity in seeing what they have in Russell they miss out on what they might have in Clarkson because the rook’s development hinders Clarkson’s. Clarkson is already at the next step in his development which is a legit NBA scorer who can run a team adequately.
The question with Clarkson isn’t if he can play in this league, it’s where is his ceiling. Is Clarkson simply a role player that can come off the bench and provide a scoring punch on a good team or is he an NBA All-Star? In his current limited role we will not find that out and that is troubling considering Clarkson has earned that opportunity based on his play on the court over the last two seasons.