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2021 Utah Jazz Player Profile: Jordan Clarkson

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The reigning 6th man of the year is primed to remain the best bench scorer in the league

2021 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Last year Jordan Clarkson became just the fourth player in NBA history to start one or fewer games and average 18+ points in a season. Within that criteria, Clarkson’s 18.4 points per game is second only to Lou Williams even 20.0 PPG from 2018-19.

Unsurprising, that elite level of bench scoring led to Clarkson winning Sixth Man of the Year for 2020-21. Clarkson also got a four-year contract extension, staying in Utah to be a key cog in the Jazz’s push for an NBA title.

2020-21 Stats:

  • 18.4 points
  • 4.0 rebounds
  • 2.5 assists
  • 0.9 steals
  • 0.1 blocks
  • 42.5 FG%
  • 34.7% 3P%
  • 89.6 FT%

Strengths:

Clarkson is a pure scorer and he’s dang good at it. When the Jazz just need a bucket however they can get it, Clarkson is the man they often go to. He creates chances out of nowhere and then makes those shots.

To put his offensive impact in perspective, FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR puts Clarkson (+3.3 O-RAPTOR) above Devin Booker (+3.2). Now that’s not a universal claim of offensive metrics but B-Ball Index’s LEBRON has Clarkson’s offensive impact as the second best among “Secondary Ball-Handlers” behind Brandon Ingram so Clarkson is clearly among the better in the league on offense.

A big part of Clarkson’s value in his time with the Utah Jazz is an ability to hit the “inefficient” shots, namely the short mid-range which will be defined here as 3-10 feet. Based on league-wide shooting percentages, this is the second-worst place to take a shot (behind the long midrange, or 16 feet to the 3-point line) since all NBA players combined to get .856 points per shot in 2020-21. Clarkson was sixth in the NBA last year in shot attempts from 3-10 feet, but he scored .994 points per shot attempt. His 49.7 field goal percentage in the short mid-range was 10th in the NBA among those who attempted at least 200 such field goal attempts.

There are flaws in Clarkson’s game, which we’ll get to in a moment, but simply having pure scoring off the bench provided huge value for the Jazz last year. Case in point, Utah was 19-5 (65-win team) in games where Clarkson scored at least 20 and were 33-15 otherwise (56-win team).

Weaknesses:

When you look underneath the gaudy scoring numbers and 6MOY talk, you’ll see a few less desirable aspects of Clarkson’s game.

Firstly, he’s a negative defender and has been all his career. Defensive metrics like Box Plus-Minus, RAPTOR and LEBRON all have Clarkson as a negative on that side of the ball. Cleaning the Glass’ on/off data paints Clarkson as a disaster on defense with the Jazz allowing 6.3 more points per 100 possessions with him on the court, a number in the 8th percentile.

Secondly, Clarkson’s 3-point shooting is not nearly effective enough for the volume he takes them at. Clarkson was the worst 3-point shooter in Utah’s regular rotation last year (with the obvious exception of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors). This is not only true for raw 3-point percentage, but also catch-and-shoot percentages. And yet he was one of the league leaders in attempts from beyond the arc.

Had Clarkson shot one more 3-pointer, he would rank last in 3-point percentage among what would be five players with 600 attempts, and the gap would not have been small.

NBA 3-Point Attempt Leaderboard 2020-21

Name 3P Att 3P %
Name 3P Att 3P %
Steph Curry 801 42.1
Duncan Robinson 613 40.8
Buddy Hield 721 39.1
Damian Lillard 704 39.1
Jordan Clarkson 599 34.7

As it stands, the only less-efficient high-volume 3-point shooter than Clarkson was Minnesota Timberwolves rookie guard Anthony Edwards (32.9 percent on 520 attempts). Clarkson ranks second-to-last in 3-point percentage among players with at least 500 attempts and at least 400 attempts. Lower the bar to 300, and he’s 62nd of 73.

What to expect from Clarkson this season:

On paper there’s nothing in the way of Clarkson repeating as Sixth Man of the Year. The Jazz made no major changes at his position group and Clarkson is still within his prime (he turned 29 this past June). Should Clarkson manage it, he would become the fourth player to go back-to-back and sixth to win multiple 6MOY trophies.

Whether Clarkson will once again reach 18 points per game is hard to say. If he increases his percentages Clarkson could reach 20 PPG. It’s also possible Bojan Bogdanovic has a resurgent year and cuts into Clarkson’s volume. And depending on how good Jared Butler is, Clarkson could have some of his part of the pie given to the rookie.

Perhaps there could be some worry about Clarkson getting fat and happy so to speak with his $52 million contract extension. But he got that extension before the start of last season and proceeded to put together a career year. So unless he feels he’s reached the pinnacle of his career with a sixth man trophy, this probably won’t be an issue. Clarkson will very likely be the gold standard for sixth men in 2021-22 just as he was 2020-21.