Believe it or not, the Los Angeles Lakers actually had a couple of bright spots in 2014-15. In yet another season that left the mighty Lakers with a wounded band of soldiers and 60 losses on the ledger, the year will end with hope for the future. Some of that tremendous promise comes in the form of two rookies from Missouri, Jordan Clarkson & Jabari Brown.
Clarkson and Brown, former backcourt mates at Mizzou, have both shown they are capable of being strong rotation players in the future. Jordan is the more accomplished and well-known player of the two, despite the fact he was selected with the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. We loved him as a sleeper heading into the draft but no one expected this kind of impact in his first season.
Granted, LA has been banged up all year but Clarkson has had some eye-opening performances against some top flight point guards, including Russell Westbrook (30 points, 7 assists), Rajon Rondo (26 points, 6 assists) & Mike Conley (25 points, 6 assists). Even though the Lakers dropped all three games, he showed he has the motor and skill set to hold his own at the toughest position in the NBA.
By now, it’s evident that Clarkson is potentially an All-Rookie First Team performer. The Rookie of the Month for March has upped his game even higher in April, despite averaging over 35 minutes/game. On the surface, one might attribute Clarkson’s production to the Lakers’ lack of personnel due to injuries.
While that may be the case, it is very impressive for any rookie, let alone a second round pick, to start night in and night out at point guard and be extremely effective.
In April, he’s averaging over 19 points, 4 rebounds and almost 7 assists per contest. Although his defense leaves a lot to be desired, he has both the quiet confidence & aggression to offset his matchup’s production.
The way Clarkson and Brown get their points is impressive. Clarkson’s repertoire is pretty polished considering he is already an above average three-point shooter with an “in between” game. If he does not get all the way to the basket, his floater is a an effective weapon to go to. He has a good understanding of when to shoot and when to pass, though prone to overdribbling at times. Adjusting to NBA defense (ask Damian Lillard) and valuing possessions (ask John Wall!) is not always easy for first-year point guards, so these two areas can be fixed with time and effort.
Clarkson is a better driver and facilitator in P&R sets right now, so he is able to generate countless opportunities for guys like Brown, Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson.
Brown, on the other hand, is a slightly better outside shooter who is more comfortable creating offense off the dribble. Playing with his college teammate, the chemistry is already cemented for the two of them…and it definitely shows. Since they are both big guards at 6’5, it is easy for them to find each other for cuts in lane or penetrate and dish back out for long-range shots. Brown’s hunger and competitive fire is just the type of energy the Lakers need going forward.
His presence gives them versatile combo guard (can play point in a small pinch) who can make an impact as a scorer and set up man.
With the status of players like Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, and Johnson up in the air, the Lakers could be losing some offensive firepower next season. The good news is that none of those guys are absolute game-changers, so Clarkson and Brown should have the chance to pick up where they left off come October. Let’s be realistic, with the return of Kobe Bryant, Nick “Swaggy P” Young & Julius Randle, an impending top-5 draft pick and the possible signing of guards like Rondo or Goran Dragic, the roles of the two Mizzou rooks will be lessened. But for two young players on reasonable deals, they still figure to be big pieces of the puzzle.
Similar to how Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls developed Jimmy Butler in the midst of an injury plagued 2013-2014 campaign, Byron Scott’s development of Clarkson and Brown could pay huge dividends as soon as next season. For young players, confidence, repetition and support from teammates and the coaching staff are all keys to success.
Soaking up knowledge from someone like Kobe and staying hungry will be second nature for the two unheralded players (Clarkson: second-rounder, Brown: undrafted; D-League standout).
In a few seasons, the experience gained from young talents like Clarkson, Brown, and Randle could make the Lakers a force to be reckoned with once again.