Jordan Clarkson wilted under the Chicago Bulls defense late in Thursday’s game, and he nearly coughed away the lead, but Lakers Coach Byron Scott stuck with him.
“Sometimes,” Scott said, “you got to throw a guy in the fire and see what he’s made of.”
So the rookie point guard had the ball in his hands in the second overtime with the Lakers up by two. Clarkson probed the right side, jabbed hard and pulled back to hit a jumper. Gliding back on defense, he spun toward the crowd and flexed his arms at his sides — another test passed.
Scott has called him the most intriguing player on the Lakers’ roster after he inserted Clarkson into the starting lineup four games ago. In a lost season, it was time, Scott said, to see what Clarkson could do.
The Lakers have learned something new about Clarkson each game. There have been hiccups — he struggled against Houston guard Patrick Beverley and had five turnovers, and Clarkson was pressured into mistakes against the Bulls.
But he has held his own against some very talented point guards. He hung with San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Washington’s John Wall — the pair outscored him by just a combined nine points — and playing opposite Derrick Rose on Thursday, Clarkson scored 18 points with four rebounds, four assists, and two blocks and two steals. He held Rose to 17 points on seven-for-26 shooting.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good basketball player in this kid,” Scott said Friday at practice. “When he falls on his face he gets right back up.”
Clarkson was selected 46th overall in the June draft, and at the time, Kobe Bryant labeled it a steal. With Steve Nash out for the season, and the Lakers not satisfied with Jeremy Lin’s production, Clarkson has been a bright spot at point guard.
“Just being thrown into it, it’s a good learning experience for me,” Clarkson said.
When Nick Young’s ankle sprain Monday closely followed the news that Bryant was lost for the season because of a torn rotator cuff, the Lakers lost a significant amount of scoring.
In their absence, the beneficiary has been Wayne Ellington, who has thrived playing the role typically occupied by Young. Ellington has averaged 21 minutes per game this season but played 36 on Tuesday against the Wizards and 46 against the Bulls.
In those games, Ellington averaged 25.5 points, four rebounds and three assists on a combined 21-for-49 shooting.
The scoring spurt has surprised Scott. “But it also shows that he’s just playing extremely well,” Scott said. “He’s making shots, he’s creating shots for himself, he’s getting to the basket, he’s getting to the passing lane, he’s getting a lot of opportunities.”
Young took shots in practice Friday, but Scott said he is still unable to run or cut. His status for the Lakers’ game against the New York Knicks on Sunday is still uncertain.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Scott said.
“I keep saying it’s an opportunity,” Ellington said. “I’m just trying to take full advantage of it. Yeah, I’m hungry. I’m hungry, and I have a lot to prove.”
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was chosen by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Friday to replace Bryant on the Western Conference All-Star game roster. Bryant will sit out his second straight All-Star game because of injuries.