The “dog days” of the NBA offseason are here. With the upcoming season a couple of months away, now is the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the league’s top overall talent, young players, and the movers and shakers of the offseason. So in a nutshell…everything!
Best In Show pits two players, head to head, in a competition to see who is the better all-around contributor. We begin with two emerging sophomores: Zach LaVine (high-flying slam dunk champ w/ a solid isolation game) v. Jordan Clarkson (crafty in-between guard who is rapidly developing on both ends).
In a matchup of two lead guards with tremendous potential, let’s see who comes out on top!
Zach LaVine (MIN) | PG/SG, 6’5, 183 lbs | Current D.O.G. Status: UnderDOG | #DOGCounterpart: German Shepherd (very athletic, active)
-Career: 10.1 points/game, 3.6 assists/game, 2.8 rebounds
-2nd-Team All-Rookie (2015)
Jordan Clarkson (LAL) | PG/SG, 6’5, 185 lbs | Current D.O.G. Status: UnderDOG | #DOGCounterpart: White Shepherd (self-confident, intelligent)
-Career: 11.9 points/game, 3.5 assists/game, 3.2 rebounds/game
-Rookie of the Month (March 2015)
-1st-Team All-Rookie (2015)
Putting The Ball in the Basket:
Both LaVine (5th) and Clarkson (2nd) were amongst the top rookie scorers last season. After being thrusted into heavy minutes following various trades, injuries and internal dysfunction, they were thrown into the fire and produced some nice performances.
LaVine’s main form of scoring came via the long ball, converting 3s at a 34% clip. With his ball-handling ability and incredible athleticism, he is easily able to get his shot off both via isolation and coming off pin downs.
In transition, he is a terror because he can finish over the top of opponents with ease. If the play does not end in a dunk or lay-up, however, LaVine struggles to convert around the rim. This improvement will come as he adds more weight to his slender frame.
Clarkson, on the other hand, displayed an advanced game from the free-throw line down as a rook. Instead of barreling into a clogged lane, he uses his size to lift up for midrange jumpers and floaters. He can seemingly drive into the area below the FT line at will and it pays dividends even if he does not get all the way to the basket each time.
At 6’5, his floater is an unstoppable weapon to have since he can release it at a high point. He is still working on his overall range (shot 32% from 3 in 2014-15) but he is not too far off from LaVine.
Clarkson’s heightened ability to pick his spots, over LaVine’s more explosive scoring, gives him the advantage in this category.
Command of the Game:
LaVine, as a special as he is, is an inconsistent floor presence. But for someone who had to learn the point guard position on the fly, he held his own. Naturally, the dynamic dunk champ prefers looking for his own shot but is more than capable to find teammates for easy buckets when the defense breaks down.
He developed nice chemistry with top rookie Andrew Wiggins on the break. The “Bounce Bros” slammed home alley-oops frequently when the Wolves got loose and ran. Most importantly, LaVine is confident with the ball in his hands and controlling the PG position, albeit with a few bumps on the road.
Last season, Clarkson was very effective operating out of the pick and roll. Not only did he attack defenses who tried to trap him up top, he shot the 3 ball at a decent enough percentage (32%) to keep teams honest. With his court vision and great height for the position, he is able to make swing passes to the opposite end of the floor or get in the lane and knock down short jumpers.
At this stage, he is more confident as a decision-maker (avg. just 1.6 TOs/night) than LaVine both on the break and in half-court sets.
Normally, this category would be “shutdown ability” but let’s face it…neither LaVine nor Clarkson stood out on that end of the floor in Year 1.
Looking ahead, LaVine projects as an outstanding offensive player who will use his gifts and energy to devastate on offense instead of locking in on D. Since both players are not as speedy as their counterpart on most nights, they could struggle to contain the P&R unless shifted to the 2-guard position.
LaVine has moves well enough laterally to stay in front of guys but can he actually turn into a bulldog who harasses ball-handlers night in and night out? Though unlikely, it remains to be seen.
Clarkson, who had difficulty containing opposing guards in his own right, seems to have a better understanding of team defense, meaning he is prone to less gambling and making mistakes that disrupt the defensive flow. We view Clarkson as a “spot stopper” in the future, which is basically someone who can make a few key steals or blocks that change the course of a game.
Elite NBA Skill:
LaVine’s elite athleticism v. Clarkson’s savvy in-between attack
LaVine’s tremendous athletic ability is pitted against Clarkson’s savvy scoring instincts in our next category. The simple way to determine who has better, long-term NBA skills is to look at where they stack up in relation to the rest of the NBA.
LaVine already has athleticism that is unmatched by any PG not named Russell Westbrook or John Wall (Derrick Rose is working his way back into the conversation).
Clarkson’s uncommon game is pretty nice but there’s a chance it falls by the wayside after Kobe Bryant returns and the emergence of D’Angelo Russell. Since Clarkson might not be as effective with the ball out of his hands, LaVine gets the W.
Top D.O.G. Potential:
LaVine showed glimpses of star potential once Ricky Rubio went down during the year. In his 37-point explosion v. the Warriors towards the end of the season, he flaunted the entire package: threes off the dribble & spot-ups, nasty transition finishes, and speedy drives to the cup.
When people say he has the upside to be a Russell Westbrook-esque talent, with a more consistent shot, outings like those reinforce that belief.
LaVine is more than just a showstopper. Throwing down vicious flushes may be his calling card for now but he truly exhibits a Top DOG mentality when he plays. Shoring up his deficiencies (shot selection, attention to detail) will be the first step to separate him from the J.R. Smiths and Gerald Greens of the world though.
If LaVine keeps polishing every aspect of his floor game, a Westbrook-like evolution could occur.
Clarkson, the 46th pick of the draft last year, greatly outperformed expectations by harnessing his extremely high level of confidence. He already features the “clutch gene” and never backs down from opponents. But does he have takeover potential similar to LaVine?
His understanding of the game is at an advanced level and he might end up being a more complete all-around weapon but if we’re betting which of the two will play in multiple All-Star games, LaVine is the favorite.
And The Winner Is…
Heading into the 2015-16 campaign, Clarkson holds a slight edge (3-2) over Zach LaVine going head to head. They both have loads of potential to develop into future stars, so this matchup will definitely be revisited soon. Until then, a couple of burning questions will be addressed:
-Will Zach LaVine flourish playing off ball (w/ Rubio back in the fold), alongside Wiggins and #1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns?
-Can Jordan Clarkson separate himself in a (now) crowded backcourt rotation featuring Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams & #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell?
The answers to those key questions will likely determine who comes out on top down the line. For now, Clarkson’s edge in scoring, command for the game, and defensive potential earns him the dubious honor of…Best In Show.
*BONUS* Here are highlights of LaVine and Clarkson’s battle during the Las Vegas Summer League last month!