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NBA Daily: Jordan Clarkson Throwing Himself Into The Jazz Way

Spencer Davies dives into Jordan Clarkson’s fit with the Utah Jazz since the December trade through the eyes of head coach Quin Snyder.

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Preconceived notions can shape a player’s reputation.

A good chunk of the time in the NBA, these presumptions are just buzzwords to initiate a debate in the realm of media. Every now and then, they can be true, but in a less hyperbolic way than typically presented.

Perhaps a model for it, Jordan Clarkson has had those attached to his name over the years. Glance across the social feeds of local writers, national personalities and basketball fans alike during his six seasons in the league. You’d probably see labels such as “ball stopper” or “doesn’t play defense.”

When the Utah Jazz acquired Clarkson from the Cleveland Cavaliers this past December, head coach Quin Snyder knew to expect a powerful punch, but didn’t want to put the 27-year-old in a box regarding his skill set.

“You try not to make assumptions about players, at least that’s been something that’s important to me until you really get to know ’em,” Snyder said before the Jazz took the floor in Clarkson’s return to Cleveland.

Those limited types of outlooks are a perfect illustration of how player evaluations are conducted on the outside looking in. Instead of focusing on what a player can do, people go out of their way to discuss what that player can’t do. In-house, on the other hand, Snyder quickly found out that Clarkson can light up the points column — and much more than that.

“It’s hard not to notice his ability to score,” Snyder said. “If you see a highlight or whatever, they usually don’t show highlights of guys pressuring the ball and shifting on defense, but I think I would say that those things are important to him.

“I think his efficiency offensively has been really good. There’s always gonna be possessions where, when you can create a shot, that you do that….But you see a passion when he plays, and you see that even more when it’s up close and you get a chance to look in his eyes and you see how he comes in the game, how he comes out of the game and just how he competes. I didn’t have any preconceptions about that, but it’s been fun to see him play that way.”

Clarkson’s transition to Utah’s defensive system hasn’t quite been seamless. Playtype number statistics on NBA.com support that with evidence of his struggles guarding one-on-one and ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll. However, among the top five 3-man lineups he’s played with from a minutes standpoint, all of them have a positive net rating.

The important factor? The want and the work ethic are there.

“I think the main thing is kinda purposeful effort, and when someone’s giving that…there’s always breakdowns, but I think understanding what you’re trying to do, and that’s important because it’s a collective effort,” Snyder said. “So I think that the focus, until things become habitual — when you move from a different organization and different scheme or style of play, there’s always an adjustment, but the guys that embrace that are usually the guys that learn it the quickest and that’s what he’s done.”

While that is taking time and getting used to, Clarkson’s offensive prowess jelled with the Jazz in an instant. Any team would welcome the natural feel he has for the game, but especially one that desperately needed a bench boost. Increased averages and percentages across the board tell an easy story of his contributions. Synergy goes a little deeper.

A blur in transition, a sound conductor as a ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations and a flat-out hooper in isolation, Clarkson scores over one point per possession and ranks in the 80th percentile or higher in all three categories among his peers in the Association. He’s able to spot up if you ask him to and can cash in on catch-shoot opportunities.

The pull-up game has always been a strong suit for Clarkson. That hasn’t changed at all since his move to Salt Lake City — a 50 percent clip on about four attempts per game. Since his arrival, he’s also behind only Donovan Mitchell with an average of five drives a night and has a nearly top-10 points percentage (71.7) in the league on those plays.

Basketball Insiders mentioned the term “rescue possessions” in reference to Clarkson’s knack for making something out of nothing, perhaps the most dangerous tool in his arsenal. Snyder smirked in response.

“I haven’t heard that word. That’s a good word for it. You can rescue the coach,” Snyder said. “When you draw up a bad play and it’s inefficient, a player makes a shot and everybody thinks you did something good. Those are big, big plays — particularly, at certain points in the game. A lot of times the ball will come back to a guy and they’ll kinda get stuck with it with three or four seconds on the shot clock and it’s just…it’s hard. Because the defense knows the shot clock as well. You play pick-and-roll and they switch it.

“So I think the ability to first, rise up and shoot it, he gets good elevation on his shot when he can get it off. And then, also the ability to put it on the floor and create.”

Did you catch this play in the fourth quarter in Cleveland? That’s a prime example of what a rescue possession is. Other than paying attention to each game, it’s not easy to track down those types of numbers coming off ineffective sets. What you can do is make an inference off using touch time and dribble statistics.

When Clarkson has touched the ball from 2-to-6 seconds on a possession, he has been Utah’s most successful scorer by percentage since the trade. On opportunities with 3-to-6 dribbles, his effective field goal percentage is 58.6. If you put the two observations together, it basically works in conjunction.

Clarkson’s drive to win games is just as high as his desire to beat his man when he’s on the floor. The Jazz brought him to town because of that competitiveness — and the decision has paid off handsomely as the team prepares for postseason play.

“He’s thrown himself into what we’re doing,” Snyder said. “I think everybody respects that and we’re happy that he’s with us.”

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.

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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years

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According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).

Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.

On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.

The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.

However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.

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