Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson works away to improve his play
The daily clusters of media members ran from Kobe Bryant to Julius Randle to D’Angelo Russell to Metta World Peace to Nick Young.
It was understandable. Each player had his own storyline for this season, be it redemption from injury, the hope of youth or rehabilitation of a career.
Practically ignored during the Lakers’ nine-day Hawaii stay was Jordan Clarkson.
He can’t offer the allure of high draft position (46th overall, 2014). He doesn’t fill 140-character spaces with amusing one-liners. He’s trapped in the interstitial of being neither today’s new promise nor tomorrow’s honored retirement.
Even Roy Hibbert gets more attention, fitting into the on-court image rehab concept.
It’s unusual to see a player taken for granted after only three successful months on the job. Clarkson was handed the Lakers’ point guard position last January and followed through with averages of 15.8 points and five assists in 38 games as a starter.
He was a rookie then and only 23 now, apparently old enough to understand the humor in his lack of headlines.
“I can be quiet and not in the way and then make noise on the court. That’s what my plan is,” he told The Times after one of the Lakers’ practices ended. He smiled when the various constellations of interviews were pointed out to him, microphones and TV cameras in front of seemingly everybody but him.
“I don’t care about none of that stuff, man,” he said. “I come here and work hard and try to win games. I don’t get into everything else.”
Clarkson made the NBA All-Rookie team last season by showing good bursts of speed and an outside touch. Lakers Coach Byron Scott compared his quickness to Russell Westbrook and nobody laughed.
Clarkson has only improved, showing better skill at changing gears. In an exhibition game against Utah, he lulled center Rudy Gobert to sleep by casually driving down the right side and then sped up at the perfect moment for an immaculately timed teardrop shot. This will happen a lot this season.
But the part of his game that led to phone calls from Scott over the summer was his defense. Scott wanted more of it. More steals, better pressure on the ball, increased awareness when off it.
Scott recently called his defense “a lot better than last year both on the ball and off the ball. I think a lot of that’s just a product of playing and gaining some experience not only last year but in the summer league as well.”
Another change for Clarkson will be handling the ball less on offense. Bryant was injured when Clarkson went on his three-month spree last season. He’s obviously back. And the Lakers went out and drafted another point guard with the second overall pick, already inserting Russell into the backcourt next to Clarkson for what the Lakers hope will be a smooth, versatile duo.
It’s fine with Clarkson, who has become fast friends with the media-popular Russell.
“I’m always going to be the same me,” he said. “I’m the blue-collar guy.”
It might be the main position battle left for the Lakers: Which two centers will be kept to back up HIbbert?
Tarik Black showed some spring in his game last season but is undersized for the position at 6 feet 9. Robert Sacre is a fun presence in the locker room but his offense lags his defense. Undrafted free agent Robert Upshaw has blocked a lot of shots in practice and, like Sacre, needs work on offense.
Only two of the three will stay.
Lakers fans are intrigued by the raw talent of Upshaw even though he didn’t play in either exhibition. The next one is Thursday against Toronto in Ontario, Calif.
“He’s just go to wait his turn,” Scott said. “I’ve got so many bodies and I don’t want to give guys a two- or three-minute look. I don’t think that does them any good. I want to see them play extended minutes and that could be anywhere from eight to 15.”
Scott wants improved post play and a better mid-range jumper from Black, along with something else.
“The biggest thing I told him last year is that he’s just too nice,” Scott said. “He’s got to get some type of mean streak in him. If he does, then he could be a monster.”
Sacre has the most experience and only fully guaranteed contract of the group, though the Lakers would eat his $981,000 salary if the other two centers were more impressive this month, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Reserve forward Brandon Bass will get further medical tests on his left knee after an X-ray was inconclusive Wednesday. He probably will get an MRI exam and CT scan after falling hard under the basket in the Lakers’ 117-114 overtime loss Tuesday.
Russell, who also took a hard spill Tuesday, showed signs of improvement from a bruised glute but did not practice Wednesday. His status for Thursday’s exhibition was unclear.
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