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The evolution of Jordan Clarkson’s passing game

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Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) dribbles the ball against Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Washington.

Nick Wass, Associated Press

After the Utah Jazz lost to the Golden State Warriors, Jordan Clarkson said that Jazz head coach Quin Snyder got after him a bit about some of his decision-making.

“I mean he didn’t really like get, get on me,” Clarkson said. “But we had a conversation about it, you know what I mean?”

That’s how it is between Clarkson and Snyder. They’re close, so even when Snyder is critical of something that Clarkson is doing, it’s a conversation, a dialogue.

This time, the conversation was about making the right play. For Clarkson, the right play is very often to shoot the ball, and Clarkson’s light is as green as any. But part of Clarkson’s development with the Jazz has been to become more of a distributor, to increase his awareness of the options available.

So Snyder went through some film with both Clarkson and Donovan Mitchell together. There were plays that Snyder chose and there were ones that Clarkson pointed to as well. One in particular stuck in Clarkson’s mind. He knew he’d taken a bad shot.

“It was a play where Royce (O’Neale) was kind of running down the middle and I shot a transition 3 when I should have passed to him,” Clarkson said. “Probably could have changed the game and changed the flow and energy.”

It happened with 4:30 on the clock in the second quarter. Running up the floor on a break, Clarkson had three other Jazz players ahead of him, all way more open than he was. Mitchell was in the corner to his left, ready to receive the pass, Bojan Bogdanovic was in the right corner aggressively gesturing toward O’Neale, who was trailing the play at the top of the arc and wide open.

Instead, Clarkson took a contested shot, missed and Jordan Poole took off on the other end and scored and easy bucket with no resistance. Instead of cutting the Warriors lead to just two points, the Warriors gained a seven-point lead, which they then turned into a 13-point lead at halftime.

“It was just about just making plays, what it does for the team and all that,” Clarkson said. “I just, you know, took it to heart.”

In the next game, a win over the Boston Celtics, Clarkson made some really great reads and great passes. He gave up a contested look for Mike Conley to take a wide-open 3-pointer. Conley missed, but it was the right play. Clarkson lobbed it up to Rudy Gobert, drove and kicked out to Georges Niang, and then there was this beautiful no-look pass to Gobert for an and-1 play.

Snyder doesn’t want to ever discourage Clarkson from being who he is as a scorer. But with that encouragement to shoot and shoot often, and with the success that Clarkson is having, comes defenders who want to take those opportunities away. Instead of looking at that as a negative, he’s encouraging Clarkson to embrace the increased defensive attention as an opportunity to hit someone else that’s open.

“For a guy that’s a scorer and is shooting the ball, he’s also an unselfish player and he wants to win and he’s a great teammate,” Snyder said. “I don’t worry about talking to him about those things, that somehow it’s going to confuse him, or send him a mixed message. He knows how I feel about him, and he wants to get better and he wants to win.”

And Clarkson has gotten better.

In the short time that he was with the Jazz after he was traded to Utah last season, he averaged 1.6 assists and 12.9 field goal attempts per game. This season with the Jazz he’s taking even more shots, but also averaging 2.2 assists per game.

Even more though, Clarkson is averaging 3.9 potential assists per game. He’s hitting guys who are open, he’s making the right reads. As a player whose main role on the team is as a scorer, and who is taking and making more shots than he has at any other point in his career, averaging a potential 3.9 assists per game is excellent.

“It’s just another growth part of my game that I’m trying to keep improving on,” Clarkson said.

Part of his improvement in that area has of course come by familiarizing himself with the Jazz roster — knowing where guys like to get the ball, understanding the timing of when to lob or pass to Gobert in the pick and roll.

The other part is just the confidence in making those plays. And we all know that if there’s one thing Jordan Clarkson does not lack, it’s confidence.

So don’t be surprised if Clarkson is dropping snazzy dimes, or making crisp passes out to the corners. It’s all part of the greater plan to develop Clarkson into a dynamic player who is more than just a scorer.