Another day passed by for Jordan Clarkson where he completed a routine that defined his rookie season with the Lakers.
Clarkson worked out in the gym eager to improve his game on Monday morning only for Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to deliver some pleasant news.
The NBA named Clarkson to its All-Rookie First team, joining Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic, Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel and Orland’s Elfrid Payton as determined by select NBA writers and broadcasters. Clarkson also became 11th Lakers player in the franchise’s 67-year-old history to earn a spot on the NBA’s all-rookie first team, a list that also includes Lakers coach Byron Scott, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Elgin Baylor, Eddie Jones, Vlade Divac, Norm Nixon, Jim Price, Dick Garrett and Bill Hewitt.
That left Clarkson appreciative of the journey he traveled, morphing from the 46th pick into the Lakers’ starting point guard. It also left him determined not for him to rest on his latest milestone.
“It was a good feeling and it’s a good accomplishment. But at the same time, I have to put it behind me,” Clarkson said in a phone interview with Los Angeles News Group. “I still have a lot to prove. I have to keep working. I have a lot of things I got to get better at. I have to keep grinding. This is just the beginning.”
Clarkson always carried that mentality, eager to prove that an NBA team should have selected him higher than when the Lakers paid the Washington Wizards $1.8 million to secure his rights with the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. That mindset partly explains how Clarkson ascended his role amid evolving circumstances.
After sitting in 23 of the first 43 games, Clarkson became the Lakers’ starting point guard amid a season-ending right shoulder injury to Kobe Bryant and inconsistent play from Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price. Clarkson then averaged 15.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting, five assists and 4.2 rebounds in 32.1 minutes through 38 games as a starter. He also finished second among rookies in points per game (11.9), third in assists per game (3.6) and free throw percentage (.829), fourth in field goal percentage (.448), and 13th in rebounds per game (3.2).
“It was just staying in the gym and continuing to work and continuing to stay ready,” Clarkson said. “When I did have the opportunity to play, I would be able to help the team in anyway I could. For me, it was just staying strong and continuing to keep pushing and never being satisfied with where I was. I’ll continue to keep working.”
Hence, Clarkson’s reaction to his milestone.
He took a few weeks off both to recharge and visit his alma mater at Wagner High in San Antonio and at the University of Missouri. But the 22-year-old Clarkson soon returned to Los Angeles and began reporting to work at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo 12 days ago, a routine he soon shared on his Instagram page.
“It just feels weird not touching the ball,” Clarkson said. “It’s hard for me to wake up and not want to go to the gym.”
Now that he has returned to the gym, Clarkson has a list of things he wants to accomplish before playing on the Lakers’ Summer League team in July.
Clarkson has spent most of his workouts improving his ball-handling, his three-point shooting and how to make reads off pick-and-rolls. He plans to ramp up his weight-lifting sessions in the next month so he can add muscle to his 6-5, 185-pound frame. Clarkson plans to continue his informal workouts with recently retired Lakers guard Steve Nash once he returns from an unspecified trip. Clarkson will also host an inaugural summer camp in Bourne, Texas on June 11-12 for grade school and high school basketball players where he will both offer some tips and share stories about his journey.
“I have to come back and put another year together,” Clarkson said. “I know I have a lot of time in the second half of the season after All-Star break. I have to be able to come back and put a full season together, get wins and compete. There’s a little bit of everything. I still have to prove a lot.”
The other issues Kupchak and Scott raised in Clarkson’s exit meeting involves improving his playmaking, off-ball defending and leadership presence. Clarkson took one significant step in paying close attention to other NBA elite point guards in the playoffs, including Golden State’s Stephen Curry, the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Atlanta’s Jeff Teague.
“It’s just watching, trying to see what they do, how intense they play and how they are with their guys,” Clarkson said. “They all take it to another notch in trying to help their team win. In terms of leadership and talking and the intensity they’re playing with on the court, a lot of times they take it upon themselves to do what is needed for their team to win.”
Clarkson showed more assertiveness as the season progressed to adopt his mindset. But he remains aware that his development has just started and that the Lakers are in need of drastic help after finishing with a 21-41 record, the NBA’s fourth-worst record and worst in franchise history.
So Clarkson reiterated his openness that the Lakers upgrade at point guard this offseason either through the NBA Draft (China’s Emmanuel Mudiay, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russel) or through free agency (Goran Dragic, Rajon Rondo).
“I just hope we get that top pick for sure. So we can get better next year,” Clarkson said about the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday in New York City. “It’s definitely going to help our team a lot. We definitely need to add pieces and get better as a team. It’s going to be interesting to see. We’re trying to win games. So adding talent will help that.”
Clarkson also sounds aware an improved version of himself will also aid the Lakers’ rebuilding process. That explains why Clarkson soon returned to his workout after Kupchak delivered him the news about his latest reward. Clarkson’s quest to overcome another hurdle in pursuit of another accomplishment continues.