In last night’s 128-116 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jordan Clarkson had yet another poor shooting night. He ended the game with a measly five points, shooting 2-9 from the field and 1-6 from deep. It should be noted that one of those two makes might have been the highlight of the year for the Utah Jazz:
It’s no secret the former Sixth Man of the Year has had a brutal season; he’s currently shooting career lows from both the field (38.5%) and from downtown (30.5%). While there are a wide variety of issues that have contributed to Clarkson’s struggles, last night he showed an aspect of his game that helped him stay a positive on the court through the poor shooting. He ended the game with seven assists, a season high and the first time in almost a month where he had over five assists. As a player who attracts significant attention from opposing defenses through sheer volume, that’s promising.
While nearly none of the passes Clarkson made last night were particularly flashy or difficult, all of them were the right play. Take a look at this pass that resulted in a Joe Ingles corner three (apologies for the poor quality):
Minnesota thought that Clarkson would drive hard to the basket off the pick or take a quick pull up three so the entire defense shifted one step his way. This opened up space for the holy grail of Utah shots: a wide-open Ingles corner three. Making sound passes out of the high screen and roll will only make Clarkson’s life as a scorer easier.
Another fantastic play was this kick out pass for a Mitchell corner three:
I love this pass by Clarkson. When he’s in the paint, he looks up to the basket and almost pulls the trigger on a floater over three Minnesota defenders. But then, Clarkson recognizes Mitchell in the corner and opts to kick it out to him. It’s the smart play and one that he often overlooked.
Finally, I believe Clarkson’s best pass of the night was one that didn’t result in an assist. Take a look at this beautiful fake and skip to the corner:
This play was well read and made under composure. The look to Rudy Gobert was open for a brief moment, but the fake forced De’Angelo Russell to check Gobert’s role, leaving Royce O’Neale open in the corner. On nights where Gobert is dominating the paint, these kinds of passes will be available in bunches.
If Clarkson can continue to make more reads like this on offense, Utah’s versatility with him on the floor will skyrocket. Opposing defenses (rightfully) expect Clarkson to shoot every time he touches the ball. Staying out of tunnel vision checks opposing help defenders and makes Clarkson a more unpredictable player. I hope this turns into a more consistent trend moving forward.
But with that said, I want to make one final note: Jordan Clarkson’s primary form of impact (for better or for worse) will always be through putting the ball in the basket. If he’s not scoring the ball effectively, he’s by and large an ineffective player. I don’t believe that betting on Clarkson making an impact through his defense will ever be a great idea. So, if he’s not scoring the ball, what exactly is he doing? Currently, his inability to reach league averages in shooting efficiency thirty games in the season is terrifying. Even last night, a game where displayed his ability as a playmaker, he ended with a minus-2 in the box score. Simply put, while Utah’s success doesn’t totally rest on Clarkson’s play, he needs to turn his season around before the playoffs if a title run is in the plans.