Jordan Clarkson Shows He's a Steal for the Lakers in Summer League

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18: Jordan Clarkson #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during the game against the Denver Nuggets at the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 18, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images)
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As the Los Angeles Lakers’ leading scorer through all five of their Las Vegas Summer League games, Jordan Clarkson showed why he was a genuine steal in this year’s NBA draft.

Selected as the Lakers' No. 46 pick, the 6'5" combo guard averaged 15.8 points per game in Las Vegas, more than Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and even his own teammate Julius Randle—the No. 7 pick.

In fact, nine of the top 10 picks played in summer league action—the exception being Joel Embiid who is recovering from foot surgery—and Clarkson outscored them all.

The second-rounder went to Sin City with something to prove. Per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Clarkson said, “I have a chip on my shoulder from the draft. I feel like I was one of the better point guards in the draft, maybe the best."

Clarkson may have just leapfrogged a notch. Per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers waived point guard Kendall Marshall in order to maximize cap space for the contracts of Nick Young and Jordan Hill. The Milwaukee Bucks quickly claimed Marshall off waivers.

While Marshall demonstrated great passing skills and floor vision last season, his shooting was inconsistent at times, due in part to a low-release set shot opposing players could get up and defend on.

Clarkson faced the same problem in college with an awkward low-release jumper. After declaring for the draft, he decided to do something about it, enlisting the help of skills coach Drew Hanlen, who runs the Pure Sweat Basketball clinic in St. Louis.

Per Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hanlen began with the funky shot mechanics before moving on to other skills.

"We lifted his elbow higher," Hanlen said. "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."

A Texas native and a Filipino-American, Clarkson played two seasons at the University of Tulsa before transferring to Missouri. He combines length, agility and blow-by speed and is able to get around defenders virtually untouched. In other words, he’s able to slice through the competition like the ultimate kitchen blender.

With Marshall off the roster, the point guard depth chart currently consists of Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin and Clarkson. Given Nash’s chronic injuries, it’s not a stretch to imagine Clarkson could be in line for meaningful minutes this season.

In Vegas, the rangy prospect began games as the off-ball guard but also spent portions of each game as a lead guard. Along with his 15.8 points per game, he also averaged five rebounds. It’s at the point position, however, that he probably has his best chance to carve out a role in the NBA, creating mismatches with both size and athleticism.  

Per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, Mark Madsen, who coached the summer squad in tandem with Larry Lewis, feels Clarkson proved a point this summer:

If you ask my opinion, I think Jordan Clarkson had a tremendous summer league. I loved Jordan Clarkson’s energy. I loved his enthusiasm for the game and I love Clarkson’s ability to learn. He learned every set. He learned multiple options out of each set, for other positions, because now what Clarkson can do is tell people where to go on the court, and that’s the sign of a point guard who’s growing into the position.

The Lakers will enter the season as a team in transition. The roster is largely stocked with players on one-year deals, and Kobe Bryant—still the team’s reigning superstar—will head into a two-year extension that will likely be a goodbye song for a legendary career.

Clarkson could be part of the team’s future. He’s young, aggressive and talented, and he has something to prove to opposing teams who let him slide in the draft.

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But this summer, one of the draft’s best-kept secrets served notice that he is not to be ignored.