Every game marks another chapter for Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson where he learns a lesson or two about how he measures up against either a top prospect or a veteran elite point guard.
But when Clarkson squared up against Rajon Rondo in the Lakers’ 120-106 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at Staples Center, the implications proved far deeper. Both provided a snapshot on what things might look like for the Lakers’ starting point guard next season.
Clarkson’s team-leading 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting and six assists showed promise, while his four turnovers still showed he remains a work in progress. Rondo’s 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting and 11 assists confirmed he can overcome his shooting inaccuracies with timely passes. If the Lakers land Rondo in the free agent market, Clarkson said he support the idea even at the expense of a starting role.
“He gets everybody involved,” Clarkson said about possibly playing with Rondo. “He moves the ball. He’s not going to put up a bunch of shots and stuff like that. But he gets everybody involved. He’s a good guard.”
The Lakers also consider Clarkson a good guard. Lakers coach Byron Scott confirmed last week they will retain him for next season 2015-16 that will pay him $845,059 on a non-guaranteed contract. But uncertainty looms on if the Lakers will upgrade their point guard position. They could land Rondo or Miami’s Goran Dragic in the free agency market. Or the Lakers could select a point guard in the NBA draft, perhaps Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell.
Either way, Scott said he has stressed to Clarkson about developing into an off-ball guard, both to maximize his scoring abilities and to accommodate Kobe Bryant’s return next season from a season-ending injury to his right shoulder.
“Just for his growth,” Scott said of Clarkson. “He has to be able to do that.”
Ever since the Lakers selected him with the 46th pick of the 2014 NBA draft, Clarkson has shown he can do a lot of things. Through 33 starts, Clarkson has averaged 15.6 points on 45.7 percent shooting, five assists and 4.2 rebounds. Scott has gushed how Clarkson has learned how to temper his tempo. Coach and player accounts rave about Clarkson’s hungry attitude during practice, film study and games. All of which caught a certain point guard’s attention.
“He played really well tonight,” Rondo said of Clarkson. “Shot the ball well, played under control.”
But Scott still reported telling Clarkson to become more vocal with his teammates and organize the offense better. Clarkson also faulted himself for his four turnovers and partly allowing Rondo to excel at the skills listed on his resume.
“My position is tough, so I feel like I got to bring my A-game every night,” Clarkson said. “If I don’t, you get exposed.”
But as Clarkson further develops his game in Summer League as an off-ball guard, Rondo’s presence could prevent Clarkson from becoming exposed. Of course, further adjustments could arise. Rondo’s shooting accuracy has never been consistent. Even if Rondo and Kobe Bryant view fondly of each other, their dominant personalities could lead to some testy moments. But with Scott coaching Chris Paul with the former New Orleans Hornets (2004-09), the Lakers coach said he had allowed his former star guard to call his own plays “nine times out of 10.”
“Rondo is one of those guys that a lot of people play off to make him shoot,” Scott said. “But there’s no doubt, he’s one of the best as far as getting people the ball and setting guys up and running the offense.”
That would include Clarkson, whose offseason focus will entail bulking up and defending against shooting guards to anticipate a possibly changed role, with or without Rondo.
“I’ll continue to learn,” Clarkson said. “I just want to be able to be versatile at everything so that’s a good thing for me.”