Clarkson Thriving as Second-Unit Point Guard

Luke Walton takes a direct approach if he feels that Jordan Clarkson is over-dribbling the ball.

“We keep it pretty simple,” Walton said at Tuesday’s practice. “We tell him to quit doing it if he does it.”

Clarkson has heeded Walton’s instructions to the benefit of the Lakers’ second unit.

As the team’s backup point guard, Clarkson is third among all bench players in scoring with 15.5 points per game.

On a collective level, the Lakers’ bench is providing the NBA’s fourth-most points among reserves (41.8) on the second-best field goal percentage (50.8).

Much of that has to do with the way Clarkson has matured as a ball handler.

“We don’t want him dribbling 15 times,” Walton said “He’s going to be a big part of our offense and a big part of our scoring threat, but we want him making quick decisions.

“We run a lot of stuff for him, so we trust him to make passes when he gets double-teamed or blitzed.”

Clarkson has cut down on the ball-pounding, averaging 4.13 dribbles per touch — a healthy decrease from 5.21 as a rookie (the last time he primarily played point guard).

While Walton likely wants that number to submerge even more, Clarkson has done a good job of using his slashing ability to create offense for himself and others.

He has shot 51.2 percent from the field — second-best among the league’s point guards — and has six games of 4-5 assists despite averaging about 21 minutes played.

“Coach kept it really simple for me this year on what I needed to do,” Clarkson said. “I’m just executing.”

That execution was on showcase in Monday’s win over Phoenix, as Clarkson poured in a season-high 25 points.

He struck the Suns from all three scoring levels, shooting 5-of-6 at the rim, 3-of-6 from mid-range and 3-of-7 on 3-pointers.

The display was an ideal microcosm for Clarkson’s season thus far.

Arguably the Lakers’ top scoring threat, Clarkson has been at his best when using his trademark slashing ability, as he has shot a fiery 63.8 percent on layups this year (30-of-47).

Clarkson has been particularly dangerous in high pick-and-rolls. Below, Andrew Bogut completely takes Clarkson’s defender out of the play with a huge screen.

With time running out in the quarter, Clarkson attacks downhill and challenges Phoenix’s notable shot-blocker, Alex Len. JC then shows his craftiness with a beautiful left-handed, up-and-under finish.

While analytics have deemed mid-range shots as the least valuable attempts in basketball, it is still a useful weapon if a player hits a high enough clip.

Clarkson has done just that, making a team-best 47.6 percent from mid-range this year (20-of-42). He has been particularly effective with his pull-up jumper, because defenses are worried about his ability to slash in for a layup.

Below, Clarkson takes advantage of Phoenix’s defensive disarray, as he is (for some reason) guarded by 7-foot-1 Dragan Bender. Clarkson pump-fakes Bender and utilizes a screen from Julius Randle to free himself.

Center Tyson Chandler has to worry about protecting the rim from a JC drive, so Clarkson pulls up for a quality look at the free throw line.

While Clarkson has been money from mid-range, his 3-point shooting has also been tops on the team.

His 40.0 percent clip from deep (18-of-45) has been crucial for a Lakers squad hitting the league’s lowest collective percentage on 3’s.

Below is a pretty simple spot-up, as Devin Booker gets caught watching the ball. Clarkson sinks the trey and then shows off more of his skill set.

He gets back on defense and comes up with an opportune steal. After pushing the pace and collapsing the defense with his drive, he finds Kyle Kuzma alone in the corner.

Kuzma misses the 3-pointer, but it’s still as quality a shot as the Lakers can hope for, and it all stems from Clarkson’s improved awareness as a distributor.

Of course, Clarkson will still occasionally fall back into spurts of over-dribbling and me-first ball handling.

Walton wants to weed out those tendencies, and the coaches always highlight them in film sessions — including if the play turns out a success.

“Even on possessions if he scores it, if he dribbles 15 times first it still deflates the way that we’re trying to play,” Walton said. “And he knows that. I just think he’s very confident in his ability.

“It’s not like the possessions he does that he’s trying to be defiant. He’s played a certain way for a while and, like anything else, it’s a habit we’re trying to break.”

Clarkson is receptive to the molding of his game, as his priority is having an overall positive effect on his team.

“I’m just trying to hoop, help us win games — that’s it,” Clarkson said. “I’m not really looking at anything else. When I’m on the court I’m just trying to impact the game.”