No matter how hard he tried, Jordan Clarkson simply could not keep up with Kobe Bryant. His physical presence became too overbearing. Bryant’s footwork proved too crafty to anticipate. His elevation became high to reach.
So when Bryant’s fade-away jumper swished into the bottom of the net, it seems understandable that Clarkson nearly tripped over himself trying to stop the shot. “Don’t hurt yourself young fella,” Bryant chided to the Lakers’ rookie.
This image might well define Bryant’s week-long progress toward providing positive signs into his first week of training camp. It may have marked the formal introduction Clarkson provided to casual fans. But as embarrassing as it was for Clarkson both to fall and hear Bryant’s wrath, the Lakers are hardly embarrassed to have him.
Bryant called Clarkson “a steal of a pick” after the Lakers paid $1.4 million to the Washington Wizards to draft him with the 46th overall selection of this year’s draft. Three months after Clarkson led the Lakers’ Summer League team averaging 15.8 points and five rebounds, Bryant gushed about what Clarkson has shown with his playmaking, shooting and driving abilities through the first week of training camp.
“I like him. He’s a hard worker and a curious player,” Bryant said. “He tries to pick things apart and tries to learn and absorb as much as he can.”
Clarkson has absorbed plenty from Bryant.
It starts with the unenviable task of defending Bryant.
“If it works on him, it’s going to work on everybody else in the league,” Clarkson said. “Just trying different things and get him off his rhythm. As Kobe, makes tough shots. There’s a reason why he was Kobe. That’s one name.”
It ends with Clarkson hearing Bryant’s persistent trash talk.
“You use it as motivation,” Clarkson said. “I really am not a big talker, I soak it in and keep pressing on and use it as motivation. It pushes me and helps me get better.”
As if Clarkson needs any more fuel. He already joined the Lakers with plenty on his mind, eager to prove that various NBA teams made a mistake in allowing him to drop so low into the second round of the draft after leading Missouri last season averaging 17.5 points.
All of that has helped Clarkson experience some small victories, such as making a mid-range jump shot over Bryant and occasionally stopping him from scoring.
“If he can make him miss shots every now and then, then he’s done a hell of a job,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “I think just the experience of guarding somebody like Kobe right now is great because there’s not going to be anybody in the league tougher to guard than what he’s guarding in everyday practice. So when he comes up against some of these other guys, a lot of times you’re going to say it’s almost a piece of cake.”
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