Via AllinOne Sports
In the current NBA free agency environment where Mike Conley is now the highest paid player in NBA history, the Lakers got a steal when they were able to resign Jordan Clarkson to a 4 year/$50 million contract. Not only did the Lakers lock up one of their best young players who could be pivotal in leading the team back into contention, but they signed him at a rate to commensurate his market value when most players are earning contracts worth way more than their true value. With Clarkson’s tireless work ethic and a much better coaching staff now in place, the young guard will only get better. As a result, this could be one of the best signings the Lakers have made in a long time.
This season, Clarkson averaged 15.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on 43.3% shooting overall and 34.7% from behind the arc. For a former second round pick in only his second year in the league at age 23, this was a very solid stat line. The most promising area of his performance this year was his 3.3% improvement from a year earlier in his accuracy from deep. Clarkson has tremendous athleticism and a solid mid-range jump shot. The only offensive area where he had been subpar was from three and the work he has put in towards improving his stroke looks to be paying off. Now under the management of new head coach Luke Walton who will favor shooting threes much more than the old school Byron Scott, Clarkson’s improved accuracy from deep could see him become a very dangerous offensive player who can score in a myriad of ways. Plus, Scott’s offensive philosophy proved to be a hindrance for the offensive effectiveness of the Lakers’ young players. Scott centered the offense around isolation sets primarily for Kobe Bryant. This limited the chances of the Lakers’ young players, resulting in Clarkson’s efficiency declining in many areas from his rookie season. Scott and Bryant have now departed, however, and with Walton bringing a more fluid offensive approach to LA, it is very reasonable to expect Clarkson’s offensive performance to take a huge step forward.
Defensively, Clarkson has performed well below expectations thus far in his short career. His defensive efficiency was a meager 114 per 100 possessions in 2015-16 and 112 in 2014-15. Clarkson has not denied his ineptitude on the defensive end, vowing to improve his performance on the less-glamorous end of the court this offseason. Clarkson may have been the victim of being a part of one of the worst defenses in the NBA over the last two seasons, but he could have done much more towards maximizing his individual performances. Armed with a 6’8” wingspan on his 6’5” frame, Clarkson has the length to be a disruptive perimeter defender. Clarkson’s length combined with his excellent athletic ability gives him all the tools to be an effective defender. Clarkson has shown a propensity to make significant strides in the areas of the game that he highlights as areas that need improvements (note his three-point accuracy this season versus last) and that does not appear to be changing this offseason now that he is focusing on defense. Clarkson has put in a lot of work in the weight room to improve his strength in order to prevent being pushed around by bigger wing players. The Lakers’ official twitter and Instagram pages have released numerous photos of Clarkson’s noticeably larger physique, and being that it is still only June, the young guard could be adding upwards of 15-20 lbs. of muscle onto his frame. Clarkson has also commented on work in the film room where he has analyzed how to improve the mental aspects of his defending. With the physical side now in place and work being put in towards mastering the finer aspects of playing defense, Clarkson should enter the 2016-17 season as a much-improved defender.
Entering the free agent market for the first time as a budding young star, Clarkson knew he would be getting a significant raise from his 2 year/$1.35 million rookie contract. Subject to the complex Arenas provision that could have made it financially complex for the Lakers to match an offer sheet, Clarkson was facing the real possibility of an exit from LA. However, he clearly stated throughout the time leading up to free agency that his intention was to stay with the Lakers, and the contract he ended up signing proved it. Rather than signing an offer sheet from the Philadelphia 76ers that would have offered him about $7 million more according to Silver Screen and Roll, Clarkson took less money to return to the Lakers. Plus, his contract with LA is not back loaded as many believed it would be due to the Arenas provision, providing the Lakers with more financial flexibility over the last two years of his deal.
Clarkson’s contract has an average annual salary of $12.5 million where his largest cap hit will be in the final year of the contract at $13.8 million. Signing a 24-year-old player who has already proven to be a good player with significant upside to a contract fitting of his market value in a ridiculously expensive market is a great deal for the Lakers. For comparison, Courtney Lee is a 30-year-old shooting guard that is basically a “3 and D” role player and he signed nearly the identical contract to Clarkson. In addition, the notoriously injury-prone Eric Gordon signed a 4 year/$53 million deal despite completing a full season only once in his eight-year career and performing well below average the past two seasons. Clarkson is already a better player than both Gordon and Lee, and he has far more upside than either player as well. With Clarkson’s tenacious work ethic and a new coaching staff that will do him far more favors than Scott’s regime, a 4 year/$50 million contract could end up being the steal of 2016 NBA free agency.