Clarkson scored a season-high 25 points on 12-of-18 shooting and added six assists. He kept the Lakers in the game until the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies put their defense and talent to work and pulled out a 97-90 win. Afterward, Randolph was blown away.
“That young fellow, he’s going to be good,” he said. “I didn’t even know who he was. I’d never heard of him until tonight. He’s a second-round pick? Who’s evaluating this talent?”
That’s a question that could also be asked of the Lakers, who don’t immediately come to mind when you think of NBA teams that draft well.
In this millennium, here are the first-round picks by the Lakers prior to last year: Mark Madsen, Chris Jefferies, Brian Cook, Sasha Vujacic, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Javaris Crittenton, Toney Douglas. In other words, as many All-Stars as accused murderers.
Here are LA’s second-round picks over the same period: Luke Walton, Marcus Douthit, Ronny Turiaf, Von Wafer, Cheikh Samb, Sun Yue, Marc Gasol, Joe Crawford, Patrick Beverley, Chinemelu Elonu, Devin Ebanks, Derrick Caracter, Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Chukwudiebiere Maduabum, Ater Majok, Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly. Not as bad as the first-round selections, but many more eyecharts than actual NBA players.
To be fair, the Lakers have won five NBA titles and played for the championship twice more in that time, so they normally were not picking very high in the draft. The only lottery pick was Bynum, who also was the lone All-Star. The only other pick higher than 20 was Crittenton, the accused murderer.
When you’re contending for championships on an annual basis, there is a sense of urgency that precludes the idea of drafting a player and giving him time to develop. First-round picks usually are used as trade chips to acquire stars and established veterans. From 2008-13, the Lakers made only one first-round pick – Douglas, who immediately was sold to the Knicks.
But regardless of philosophy, GM Mitch Kupchak’s draft track record has been somewhat lacking. Until last year, when – coming off their first trip to the lottery since 2005 – Kupchak used the seventh pick on Kentucky forward Julius Randle, then sent cash to Washington Wizards for Clarkson, the 46th pick from Missouri.
Randle broke his leg in his NBA debut, then had surgery on his foot. Just this week, he was cleared for non-contact drills but has always been considered a big part of the team’s future.
Clarkson is making himself part of that future as well. Like most second-round picks, he began the season receiving little playing time as coach Byron Scott had Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price share the point in the aftermath of Steve Nash declaring himself unable to play. But Lin’s questionable defense cost him his starting spot, and when Price’s nagging elbow injury finally required season-ending surgery, Clarkson stepped in.
The 6-5 Clarkson has been playing solid individual basketball since late January. In his last 21 games, he is averaging 14.0
points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.15, which is actually better than that of Russell Westbrook (2.0), LeBron James (1.74) and James Harden (1.76).
Over the same stretch, Clarkson is shooting 44.5 percent from the field – not great, but not awful, either. He needs to improve his 3-point shooting (29.7 percent) and his ability to get to the line (2.4 FTAs per game).
Clarkson’s emergence has coincided with spending time with Nash, the two-time MVP who has been passing on his wisdom through both film study and workouts. They have worked on Clarkson’s shooting, but Nash also has helped Clarkson slow down and see plays unfold better.
Clarkson is under contract for the 2015-16 season at the veteran’s minimum of $845,000. It becomes fully guaranteed if he makes the Opening Night roster. But before that, there is the remainder of this season and a trip to the Summer League.
“I’m excited with the way he’s played so far,” Scott said. “He’s come a long way in a short period of time. Obviously, like we’ve talked about, the summer is going to be big for him to continue to develop.”
On to the rankings.
1. ANDREW WIGGINS, F, MINNESOTA: The award is still his to lose, but the gap is narrowing a bit. Wiggins averaged 13.0 points in three games this week, but more concerning were his four total free throws. He also is just 2-of-12 from 3-point range since the All-Star break. Although there are less shots to go around now that the Timberwolves are healthier, it’s possible that he’s getting tired. LAST WEEK: 1
2. NERLENS NOEL, F-C, PHILADELPHIA: Forget rookies. Noel is ninth overall in steals (1.8), sixth in blocks (1.9) and ninth in rim protection (opponents shooting .450), according to NBA.com. He has at least four steals in his last four games, becoming the first rookie since Penny Hardaway (1994) and the first center since Hakeem Olajuwon (1998) to do that. He is finishing very strong. LAST WEEK: 2
3. NIKOLA MIROTIC, F, CHICAGO: He continues to provide badly needed offense for the banged-up Bulls, averaging 15.8 points and 6.0 free throws in four games this week. His shooting could be better – 19-of-49 overall, 4-of-16 from the arc – but Mirotic also is helping on the backboards with consecutive 12-rebound games vs. Memphis and Philadelphia. And Taj Gibson isn’t due back for a while. LAST WEEK: 3
4. ELFRID PAYTON, G, ORLANDO: He had his best offensive week of the season, averaging 14.3 points in four games while shooting 45 percent (23-of-51) from the field and even making his free throws (11-of-15). Payton didn’t forget the other facets of his game, either, handing out 12 assists vs. Sacramento and collecting 10 rebounds vs. Boston. His six double-doubles ties Mirotic for second. LAST WEEK: 5
5. MARCUS SMART, G, BOSTON: His best game of the week did not end well. Smart went for 16 points (4-of-9 threes), five rebounds and five steals Sunday but was tossed for a flagrant-2 offensive foul against fellow rook Elfrid Payton, elbowing him in the head on a drive to the bucket. He has been a huge part of Boston’s late-season push for a postseason berth and leads all rooks with 1.8 win shares. LAST WEEK: 4
6. JORDAN CLARKSON, G, LA LAKERS: In four games this week, he averaged 15.3 points and 5.0 assists and pushed his streak of double-digit scoring games to nine. Clarkson also registered a season-high eight assists in a win over Detroit that snapped a five-game slide. With the disappearance of K.J. McDaniels, he may end up having the best season of any 2014 second-round pick. LAST WEEK: 6
7. LANGSTON GALLOWAY, G, NEW YORK: He hasn’t scored in double figures in two straight games since Febraury 25-27 but hasn’t totally disappeared, either, still averaging double digits. And Galloway’s shooting – which dropped below 36 percent in February – is back up to nearly 46 percent in six March games. His recent inconsistency can be partly attributed to the return of Andrea Bargnani. LAST WEEK: 7
8. RODNEY HOOD, G, UTAH: He got his first start of 2015 on Thursday vs. Houston and made the most of it with a season-high 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Hood is averaging 10.2 points while making 16-of-35 threes, and that stretch includes a donut vs. Milwaukee. It’s a shame he has been hurt, because he can play. The Jazz are building something, and Hood is going to be a big part of it. LAST WEEK: NR
9. ADRIEAN PAYNE, F, MINNESOTA: He continues to provide some positives as the starting power forward, either with his scoring or rebounding. In four games this week, Payne averaged 9.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals, highlighted by 16 points, 15 boards and two steals in Monday’s loss to the Clippers. It was his second double-double in 11 games since being acquired from Atlanta. LAST WEEK: 8
10. DANTE EXUM, G, UTAH: Welcome back, kid. Exum was part of an all-rookie starting backcourt Thursday and contributed 10 points and five rebounds. That capped a week in which the Australian teenager averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists in four games while shooting 9-of-19 from 3-point range. He has made a 3-pointer in six straight games and is shooting a solid 43.5 percent from the arc this season. LAST WEEK: NR
DROPOUTS: Mitch McGary, F, Oklahoma City (9); Jusuf Nurkic, C, Denver (10).
FIVE TO WATCH: Tarik Black, C, LA Lakers; Markel Brown, G, Brooklyn; Tyler Ennis, G, Milwaukee; Tyler Johnson, G, Miami; T.J. Warren, F, Phoenix.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Mondays, and his Rookie Rankings on Fridays. Follow him on Twitter.