In a make or miss league, could Jordan Clarkson be X-factor for the Jazz in the playoffs?
His unending supply of confidence, even when he’s not hitting his shots, is a crucial element of his game. This is why.
Jordan Clarkson can be a pretty polarizing basketball player.
If you were to scroll through social media during a game in which the Jazz guard is having an off night, it wouldn’t take long to find myriad posts complaining about the way that Clarkson plays, posts calling for Jazz coach Quin Snyder to take Clarkson out of the game, posts saying Snyder is a bad coach for the amount of time that Clarkson has the ball in his hands.
Scroll through social media on a night when Clarkson is hot, and the sixth man can do no wrong. He’s the bucket-getter the Jazz have always needed, no one has ever doubted him, and the Jazz have molded him into the perfect lightning bolt that’s able to heat up at any moment.
It’s hard to find a player that embodies the idea of “a make or miss league” more than Jordan Clarkson, and the Jazz love that about him.
“We know how he can get his shot,” Bojan Bogdanovic said of his teammate. “No matter if he is 0 for 10, he’ll keep shooting. And that’s what we want from him.”
The fact that Clarkson seems to have an unending supply of confidence, even when he’s not playing well, is an absolutely crucial element of his game, because it’s not just the Jazz who understand Clarkson’s ability to score in bunches. Other teams know what he’s capable of it as well.
“I keep my head down, keep grinding, keep taking the shots that are there, keep trying to make plays. When shots fall, it feels good, but I’m always confident. I’m always going to take those shots and keep it rolling.” — Jordan Clarkson
Clarkson’s fiery and unrelenting approach to scoring demands attention from the defense, and the more he attacks, the more attention the opposition has to pay him. Teams have double-teamed, blitzed, top-locked and chased Clarkson around the court in an effort to show him down, and when they have to put so much energy into neutralizing one of the Jazz’s reserve players, it starts to open up the floor for everyone else.
It’s not like teams are willing to stop guarding Clarkson if he misses his first three, five or seven shots. Clarkson is a threat even when he’s off, and that’s always going to be valuable.
“Guys like him, they can win you games, they can win you a series,” Mike Conley said. “With his ability to heat up so quickly, it can just change the flow of a game if things seem to not be going the right way or you’re having a tough time scoring a ball or an off night. He tends to find ways to get going and not everybody has a guy like that.”
Not everyone does. But, a team that wants to win a championship needs a player like Clarkson.
Last year’s Los Angeles Lakers bench players — Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker, Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso — each averaged more than six points apiece per game in the postseason, with Kuzma averaging 10.9.
The 2018-19 champion Toronto Raptors got a combined 17.4 points per game from Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet. Even when you think about the 2017-18 Warriors, they needed six different double-digit performances from Shaun Livingston to win that title.
Andre Iguodala scored 20 points for the Warriors off the bench in the final game of the 2017 NBA Finals. The LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers needed big performances from Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson at different points through their 2015-16 title run.
Throughout NBA history there are countless examples of teams needing a spark off the bench, relying on a reserve player to hit a timely bucket, having to change the tide of a game and a reserve player being the perfect answer.
Deep teams win championships. And while Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Georges Niang will play an important part in the Jazz’s playoff run, the Jazz need a player like Clarkson, who gives them an offensive threat that comes into the game ready to let the ball fly with all the confidence in the world.
“His aggressiveness and his craziness, I think, in the playoffs is going to be huge,” Rudy Gobert said. “During the playoffs, to have somebody that comes in and can impact the game in a big way. ... You know, the best teams, the teams that are winning, are usually the teams that have a really good bench.”
As the Jazz head into the postseason, Clarkson leads the league in bench scoring with 18.4 points per game. In the final seven games of the regular season, Clarkson stepped up even more, averaging 27.6 points per game off the bench and while shooting 50% from the field and 39.4% from 3-point range.
As the team hopes to have Donovan Mitchell back in the lineup for the first round of the playoffs, they know it might take him a game or two to get his scoring rhythm back after missing the final 16 games of the regular season, and someone will have to step up to make up for any lack of offensive production. That’s not a concern for the Jazz since they know what they can get from the other players on the team, and Clarkson is at the top of that list.
“I keep my head down, keep grinding, keep taking the shots that are there, keep trying to make plays,” Clarkson said. “When shots fall, it feels good, but I’m always confident. I’m always going to take those shots and keep it rolling.”
If the Jazz want to keep things rolling through the playoffs and make a legitimate title run, they’ll need every person on the team playing their very best. Clarkson will be a key component of that and above all else, they want him to be himself.