If there was one way to describe Jordan Clarkson’s career thus far, it would have to be that he has received a unique education in NBA basketball. Since being drafted by the Washington Wizards with the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Filipino-American has played for three more teams that have provided him with unique opportunities to grow his career and achieve success in the league.
The Wizards quickly traded Clarkson to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he emerged as a member of the 2014-2015 All-Rookie team and had the opportunity to learn from Kobe Bryant, whose relentless work ethic has become an inspiration for his own approach to the game. While he emerged as one of the bright spots on a rebuilding Laker squad, he was traded in February 2018 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he immediately advanced to the NBA Finals but got swept by the Golden State Warriors.
When LeBron James left the following summer, it looked like Clarkson was again going to be part of a rebuilding team, but a trade to the Utah Jazz in December 2019 brought him back to a playoff contender. His arrival also added another layer to the Jazz’s offense and nearly helped them advance to the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Utah’s front office was clearly pleased with his performance and signed him to a four-year, $52-million extension in the offseason.
Clarkson can score on all three levels and can get to any spot on the floor with ease. He has quietly evolved from a speedy guard who relied on pure athleticism in getting to the rim to a smooth operator whose finesse can help him score from impossible angles. There were moments when one would think that he would lose the ball or over dribble into a turnover, but he has always found a way to regather himself and capitalize on any scoring opportunity he could find.
In Jazz’s 111-97 win over Los Angeles, Clarkson finished with a team-high 22 points off the bench and was instrumental in securing the victory over the defending champions. He navigated the paint with ease and avenged not just their overtime loss two days ago, but it also served as a little payback to the team that traded him away.
Clarkson’s scoring average of 17.4 points through 54 games this season is a career-high despite him shooting a career-low .425 percent from the field. He’s also become a more potent offensive player as his .947 free throw percentage is almost 12 points higher than his career average of .828. His 2.2 assists per game may not jump out of the stat sheet, but he has become an effective playmaker in leading Utah’s second unit.
The heavy favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year has made significant strides each year and looks comfortable in his own skin, considering the extremes he experienced during his career. He has been fortunate to have played with both Bryant and James, but he has also gone through rebuilding phases and the many losses that come with it. The experience gained and his approach to the game both on and off the court thus make him a solid fit with the Jazz.
His work in the offseason is also well-documented and has paid dividends especially when you take into account his production and both the role and confidence given to him by Utah’s coaching staff. Defenses have been able to study him thanks to seven seasons of game tape, but he always seems to have a new countermove or figures out a way to get out of a sticky situation.
Clarkson has also helped the Jazz survive without Donovan Mitchell, who is currently sidelined due to a right ankle sprain. The Mizzou and Tulsa product has shouldered most of Mitchell’s offensive production in the meantime and he has shown in the past that he is capable of coming up with big performances.
Things have come full circle for Jordan Clarkson, who has perhaps experienced the extremes that NBA players face during the course of their careers. Naturally, the next step in the process would be winning a championship and he has had the equivalent of a basketball education in what it takes to win titles thanks to time spent with Bryant and James.
Now as one of the veterans in the stacked Utah Jazz squad, it’s his turn to help lead his squad in achieving its championship aspirations.