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Deseret News - Jordan Clarkson continues to change his game


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Sarah Todd

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Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) passes around Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) as the teams play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

There’s a tweet that gets shared every time Jordan Clarkson has a high-scoring game, and even sometimes when he doesn’t.

“It’s Jordan Clarkson time.” — Jordan Clarkson

"it's jordan clarkson time" - jordan clarkson

— Robby Kalland (@RKalland) April 23, 2018

The joke is, when Clarkson decides that it’s time to go off, whether or not it’s a good decision, he will do so.

He’ll throw up heat check 3-pointers after just one make, he’ll cross-over, step-back, pump-fake, and then get up a circus shot all in one possession, because, well, he’s Jordan Clarkson. It’s his world and we’re just living in it.

That kind of description of Clarkson worked for a while, and make no mistake, sometimes it’s still Jordan Clarkson time. But, Clarkson’s game has evolved well past that of just a bucket-getter. It changed when he went from Los Angeles to Cleveland and again when he was traded to the Utah Jazz.

Clarkson changed his game for former Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award and now Clarkson has once again adapted to a new situation and has changed his game for this new iteration of the Jazz.

“I think I’m evolving into what I was supposed to be,” Clarkson told the Deseret News. “I’m starting to separate myself from that Sixth Man guy and become a trusted starter and someone that can make plays, can score points in a bunch. If the game needs to be held at a certain point or the lead needs to be expanded, I think all those times this year, I’ve answered.”

Playing more minutes than he has at any other point in his NBA career, Clarkson is maintaining his efficiency from every area of the court but has also become one of the Jazz’s main facilitators, averaging more than four assists per game and is grabbing a career-high tying four rebounds per game.

So where was this player earlier in his career? Why is it that at 30 years old, Clarkson is only now becoming the player he is supposed to be?

Well, to be perfectly honest, part of it is just timing.

Being a dynamic scorer off the dribble who could get a bucket no matter the moment was one of the main reasons Clarkson was drafted into the NBA. Being able to maintain consistency and efficiency was a small concern but one that Clarkson could overcome by shooting and making a lot of shots.

That’s who the Los Angeles Lakers thought they were getting and that’s who they wanted Clarkson to be. So that’s who he was. Then once he had that reputation and it seemed to keep him on the floor, there wasn’t really a reason to change it.

“Coaches from before gave me the opportunity to do that. Just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, go out and just get a bucket,” Clarkson said. “That’s what I’d always been — the gunner.”

Things started to change a little bit in Cleveland when the coaching staff approached him about cleaning up his shot selection. They made it really clear — Clarkson’s mid-range game was not nearly as efficient as his 3-point game. So Clarkson started working toward taking more 3-pointers and shots at the basket.

Then, when he got to Utah and Snyder saw how much success Clarkson was having with a cleaner shot profile, he gave Clarkson the ultimate green light — so long as he shot the ball at the basket or from beyond the arc.

Each time Clarkson has been approached about changing his game, he’s been more than agreeable. He’s never pushed back, not once. Every coach that he’s had has said the same thing about him, that he’s easy to coach and that he does whatever is asked of him.

So, when Will Hardy took over as the Jazz head coach this season, and the Jazz needed someone to be more vocal and to distribute and create for the rest of the team, Clarkson didn’t think twice about it.

“Jordan has a really high basketball IQ, really high,” Hardy said. “He’s been a scorer for the majority of his career, and I think that’s partly been based on rosters that he’s been a part of. That’s a real strength of his and it was something that he could bring to the table, but it was very clear to me and to our staff, spending time with Jordan early in the season and in training camp talking with him, that he has a very, very high understanding for the game on both ends.”

When playing with the Philippine national team both in 2018 and then in an FIBA tournament last summer, Clarkson said that he started to get a feel for being the primary ball handler and Hardy wanted him to bring the same approach this season with the Jazz.

“The ball was in my hands 95% of the time,” he said of his last run with the Philippine national team. “A lot of those guys are looking at me to make plays. That’s not saying against them or anything, but you know, the offense is running around me and I think all that really made me grow as a player.”

Clarkson doesn’t see anything wrong with the reputation that sometimes precedes him. He’s one of the best there is at changing the rhythm of a game with a timely bucket when it’s really needed, and he has that skill because of how he was used early in his career.

“That was what I was given on my plate,” he said. “I was told to take whatever was there and I did. They told me to shoot the ball.”

And if that’s the reputation that continues, it just means that defenses still have to respect him every time he touches the ball.

For some of Clarkson’s current and past teammates, they’ve been blown away by how quickly and willingly he’s changed his game. When Donovan Mitchell returned to Utah with the Cavaliers, he said he felt proud of how successful Clarkson has been and in such an important role for this Jazz team.

Mike Conley has said that Clarkson has adapted his game above and beyond what anyone thought was possible and that he’s always trying to do more and be better.

“Having the right people around you sometimes helps with that,” Conley said. “I pass a lot and I tell him that you don’t have to pass every time, just these particular times are when I think you should. And he just says, ‘OK,’ and he respects it and goes and tries to do it. The other 90% of the time, I’m telling him to shoot it and just be himself and he loves that. He’s done a great job of taking ownership of his role.”

And there are times when Hardy, like Clarkson’s coaches before him, will tell Clarkson that the Jazz just need him to get a bucket, and he knows exactly how to do that. Then there are other times when Hardy knows that it’s best to take a step back and just let Clarkson cook.

“He’s a great example of my general philosophy,” Hardy said. “You’re trying to help as much as you can, but you also have to understand that these are the best players in the world and they all got here their own way, so to speak. So I don’t want to strip anybody of their identity. You have to kind of let them be them in certain moments.”

And in those moments, it’s Jordan Clarkson time.

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