Whenever Jordan Clarkson dribbles the ball up the court, you can feel the crowd at Vivint Arena hold its breath. The entire crowd knows that greatness is coming, and they wait in anticipation for Clarkson to unveil it.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't — but it's always special. Regardless of the outcome, very few players in the NBA can capture an entire arena, but Clarkson is one of them.
Playing for his pure love of the game and the joy it brings him and the fans, Clarkson was again phenomenal as Utah's sixth man this past season. He finished fourth in sixth man of the year voting — one year after winning the award — by averaging 16.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 27.1 minutes per game.
After a slow start to the season in which Clarkson struggled to find his shot from beyond the arc, he rounded into form at the perfect time and when it mattered most.
As Utah made its push for the postseason, Clarkson became instrumental in that journey. He upped his scoring to 17.2 points per game in March and April, including averaging 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists in April.
He continued that improved play in the postseason, becoming one of Utah's most dangerous offensive weapons as Dallas had no answer for the sharp-shooting guard. He averaged 17.5 points on 55.8% shooting from the field and 33.6% shooting from three-point territory.
While Clarkson has always been known as a dynamic scoring guard, whether off the bench or in the starting lineup, he took on a different role for the Jazz midway through the season.
When backup point guard Joe Ingles, Clarkson's running mate for the past few seasons, went down with a season-ending ACL injury, the Jazz were left with a massive void in the second unit — who would serve as playmaker? Clarkson took on that role, constantly getting into the paint to kick out to open teammates, or make the pass before the pass that kept the offense in rhythm.
Although there was a noticeable improvement in his overall game, a few nights stood out for him throughout the year — notably three that proved memorable.
In just the fifth game of the season, Clarkson and the Jazz traveled to Houston to face the Rockets. While the game itself wasn't memorable — a 31-point win for Utah — it was very special as Clarkson shared the court with Rockets rookie Jalen Green, the first time in NBA history two players of Filipino descent played together.
In the third to last game of the year, Clarkson finished with his first career double-double for the Jazz when he finished with 18 points and 10 assists, further proof of how far his game has evolved as a playmaker.
But the highlight of the season was both a career and record-setting night.
Appropriately nicknamed the "Flamethrower," Clarkson was beyond sensational on March 12 against Sacramento.
He finished with a career-high 45 points, setting a Utah record for most points off the bench and the third-most ever in NBA history. He shot 15-of-21 from the field, 7-for-13 from three-point territory, and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
"He's a guy that's in the gym. … He puts the time in, he knows his game, and tonight he had opportunities," head coach Quin Snyder said postgame. "Today, in a lot of respects for JC, was a culmination of just grinding through. … He's not gonna be on the all-defensive first team, and I think he'd admit that, but he cares."
When told of his record-breaking night postgame, Clarkson had trouble putting into words what it all meant to him, especially in a place where he found a home.
"I had no idea until afterward. … But I think that might be the coolest thing about it all," he said. "You know, this is my home. Salt Lake City has accepted me and I'm proud to be here. The Jazz, this is my family, and they let me be me. … So knowing I did that for them, it means a lot."