Los Angeles Lakers fans thought a good draft night was over after Julius Randle was nabbed at No. 7 but they were wrong. Management went ahead and purchased the draft rights to the Washington Wizards’ No. 46 pick and selected Jordan Clarkson—once called a "Ninja Blender" for his ability to slice and dice:
Welcome to L.A., rookie! The Lakers backcourt just got deeper and stealthier.
Last November, Missouri’s Clarkson dumped 31 points on the Southern Illinois Salukis. After the game, Matt Muenzberg of Mizzou's The Maneater quoted opposing coach Barry Hinson as saying, “He was a Ninja Blender, he was in the lane so much tonight. It was unbelievable. He just kicked our ass. Every time we came out on him, he just went around us.”
The 6’5” point guard has blow-by speed and a phantom presence—able to get around defenders virtually untouched.
Clarkson was regarded as a late first-round pick, but on the night of the draft, he started dropping. At the same time, the Lakers were trying to buy another bite at the apple to pair with their earlier lottery selection.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak expressed his enthusiasm for the new ball-handling guard later that night:
He's got great size. Good athlete. Really good size. Good defender. Excels probably at attacking the rim. Maybe not as good of a shooter, probably, as he will be when he works on it. He left school a year early. He transferred. So, I'm sure he was thinking that maybe he would get drafted higher and maybe he has a chip on his shoulder—an expression you've heard today—to come out and prove something. But we liked his size and we liked his skill at that position.
McMenamin also relayed Clarkson’s description of what it was like to drop on draft night:
My agent was telling me early on that I may go in the late first round but be prepared for anything to happen. So I was, and I just took it in stride. Now all I can do is use it as motivation to really push me in this next level.
A Texas native and Filipino-American, Clarkson was a standout at Karen Wagner High School where he was named San Antonio High School Player of the Year as a senior. He then enrolled at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, playing both guard positions for two seasons and leading the Golden Hurricane in scoring his sophomore season at 16.5 points per game. He subsequently transferred to the University of Missouri but had to redshirt for a season due to NCAA rules.
As a junior for the Tigers, Clarkson primarily played the point, averaging 17.5 points as a starter along with 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game. And although he averaged 50 percent of his two-point attempts, his record from behind the arc was a less-than-satisfying 28 percent.
This is where Clarkson needs to improve and is probably why his stock plunged on draft night. The league is increasingly obsessed with long-range shooting as the era of analytics grows ever stronger—three-pointers simply add up faster than two-pointers, or so the theory goes.
It’s hard to imagine how Clarkson would have fared under former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni—as devoted a practitioner of spreading the floor as there ever was. That was then, however, and this is now.
A guy named Kobe Bryant will be back in action in the fall after nearly a season off with injuries and will be looking to score big by posting up, drawing fouls and jab-stepping his way to oodles of mid-range buckets. Adding solid emphasis to the inside game will be Randle, who does his offensive damage either at the rim or not far from it.
And then there’s Clarkson whose ability to drive through the lane will only be enhanced by the NBA’s current rules de-emphasizing defensive physicality.
That doesn’t mean he will be able to rely wholly on his size and athleticism. The lanky guard's outside jumper needs work—particularly in regards to a low release point that will be an invitation for savvy veterans to crowd.
Apparently, he’s already working on it:
According to Dave Matter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Clarkson got together with shooting coach Drew Hanlen shortly after his junior year at Missouri ended, in preparation for draft workouts. Hanlen’s task was to fix his pupil’s ungainly jump shot:
We lifted his elbow higher. We lifted his release point. We changed the balance on his jump shot so he’s jumping straight vertical instead of tucking his knees up. We also lifted his balance hand, his non-shooting hand, just to go in an upward motion.
The result was a higher release, more arc and a softer, more accurate shot. The work will continue as Clarkson develops during his rookie season and beyond. Nobody is expecting the second-rounder to be an immediate starter, but the idea of a 6’5” point guard with a 6’8” wingspan and breakaway speed is, to say the least, intriguing.
Clarkson will put his ninja blending skills on display in a Lakers uniform for the upcoming summer league in Las Vegas, with the first practice taking place Monday, July 7 and their first game July 11 against the Toronto Raptors.