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.
Asked Quin Snyder about whether he knew about Jordan Clarkson’s willingness to create for others and defend before the trade.
The Jazz head coach expanded upon JC’s knack for “rescue possessions” as well, a term I used in a question that he liked. pic.twitter.com/2X3OqHRVoX
— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies) March 2, 2020
“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.”
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