Jordan Clarkson passes against the New York Knicks on Jan. 21, 2018.
(Harry How/Getty Images)

Playmaking: Clarkson, Caruso Lead Lakers to 127 Points in Win

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Sans Lonzo Ball, the Lakers had struggled to get their offense off the ground.

In their first eight games without their starting point guard (all losses), they averaged only 22.9 assists. However, the Lakers have seen a sharp uptick in their passing over the last two games — both of which ended in victory.

The common thread has been the playmaking duo of Jordan Clarkson and Alex Caruso.

The former is a combo guard whose passing had dipped over recent weeks. The latter is a two-way player who has played more games in the G League this year than the NBA.

But the combination of the two certainly clicked in Sunday’s win over New York, as the Lakers handed out 31 assists as a team.

Twenty-three of those dimes came in the 29 minutes when Clarkson and Caruso shared the floor — a timeframe that saw the Lakers outscore the Knicks by 26.

Caruso (eight assists) did most of his work early and in pick-and-rolls. But he was also trusted to carry out one of Luke Walton’s best-designed plays of the season.

Below, Caruso yo-yos the ball while the Lakers run what appears to be a double screen for Clarkson. Then, as Clarkson slips to the hoop, it seems to be a single screen for Kyle Kuzma.

But all along it was designed to get Larry Nance Jr. an open runway to the rim. Clarkson sets a sneaky back screen to freeze Nance’s defender, and Caruso puts the 40-foot lob right where it needs to be.

Shortly after, Walton runs another great play that Clarkson (29 points, 10 assists) runs to perfection.

Out of a timeout, Clarkson feigns like he’s setting a screen for Brandon Ingram before sprinting baseline.

His defender, Jarrett Jack, is left in the past, scrambling around a screen Brook Lopez, which forces center Willy Hernangomez to try to contain Clarkson.

That leaves Lopez wide open for the 3-pointer.

As mentioned before, Caruso did his best work in pick-and-rolls, and has found a particular knack for making pocket passes.

Walton likes the aggressiveness Caruso has played with over the last two games, and here he shows that by rejecting the screen from Julius Randle, drawing two defenders with him.

Caruso bounces in the pocket pass and Randle finishes through a tough contest by one of the league’s best rim protectors: Kristaps Porzingis.

While Clarkson and Caruso have been excellent in the Lakers’ back-to-back wins, the team certainly will benefit whenever Ball (who ranks among the NBA’s top 10 in assists) returns.

Here, Clarkson channels Lonzo’s style withe the fake-jumper assist.

He runs a pick-and-roll with Nance, and two Knicks defenders unnecessarily jump in to prevent the pass to Larry. Clarkson sees this and punishes Doug McDermott for leaving Corey Brewer wide open.

Clarkson and Caruso were certainly the heart of the Lakers’ attack, but others also chipped in with their own playmaking.

Randle had five assists and Ingram added three. It was especially encouraging to see Ingram aggressive late in a game when his own shot wasn’t falling (4-of-13).

On this big fourth-quarter basket, he knows Michael Beasley can’t contain his drive one-on-one and waits for Porzingis to challenge him at the rim.

Then, it’s a simple dump-off to Randle, putting the Lakers up by double-digits with five minutes left, essentially icing a win.

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