Sarah Todd covers the NBA and Utah Jazz for the Deseret News.
SALT LAKE CITY — Jordan Clarkson has played three games for the Utah Jazz, and he has wasted absolutely no time making himself a valuable piece of the rotation.
“I’m trying to learn every day,” he said after the Jazz’s 104-81 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night. “When we come in for practice I’m very attentive and everyone is talking to me. I’m just trying to pick everything up as quick as possible.”
Clarkson scored 20 points off the bench Monday, second only in scoring to Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 23 points. It was the second consecutive game in which Clarkson has followed Mitchell as the team’s leading scorers after he finished with 19 points Saturday against the Clippers.
Upon acquiring Clarkson from the Cavaliers last week in a trade that sent Dante Exum to Cleveland, the overwhelming opinion from the Jazz players was elation at the prospect of having a guy that can easily get a bucket and inject some life into a bench that through Dec. 25 ranked 29th in the NBA in scoring, averaging just 26.9 points per game
“He’s been everything we thought he was going to be these past three games,” Mitchell said after Monday’s game, “and he’s learning all this on the fly and still playing well, and that’s tough to do.”
Through these three games, though, it has become clear that it is not just Clarkson’s ability to score in a variety of ways that has impressed the Jazz players and coaching staff.
Clarkson has surprised defensively in his short time with the team, making reads and rotating with a quickness that leads to the question of if he’s this good right out of the gate, how much better can he be once he has a more intimate understanding of the system?
“He’s continuing to talk and find ways to get into the paint, get rebounds, shift, and be able to go from guarding Derrick Rose to chasing the shooters,” Mitchell said. “That’s really going to help a lot of us, his intensity defensively.”
The other way that Clarkson has impacted life for the Jazz is the jolt of energy he brings when he’s on the floor.
The Jazz looked like there was a drowsy haze hanging over them through the first half on Monday night, shooting just 18.2 percent from beyond the arc and allowing the Pistons to take a 40-39 lead into the intermission.
Things quickly started to turn the other way as Utah went on a run to start the second half, taking a 13-point lead, but then the lead started to wither away. The Pistons had cut the lead to seven points when Clarkson checked in at the 4:02 mark of the third quarter.
Twelve seconds later, Clarkson hit a 3 and the Jazz never seemed to revert back to the funk they were in earlier in the game.
“That’s one of the things we know he’s capable of doing and I think he picked his spots, too,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said of Clarkson shifting the game back into the Jazz’s hands. “That’s something that he brings.”
After the buzzer sounded, Clarkson was giving an on-court TV interview when Joe Ingles came crashing in, giving Clarkson the water bath that has become customary during walk-off interviews. It was an exclamation point on Clarkson’s performance and a symbolic representation of what the rest of the team has been thinking and what Mitchell said moments later in the locker room.
“He’s making the most of it and we’re all glad to have him.”