As the Lakers move forward in their rebuild by adding players in the draft and free agency, there is one question that has not been fully answered about the core they have in place. That question is whether or not the backcourt duo of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson can play together long term.
Both Russell and Clarkson are known as combo guards, able and willing to pass the ball but often using that as a secondary option to getting their own shots. In their short NBA careers, they have been more comfortable with the ball in their own hands rather than spotting up around the perimeter, although both have the ability to do that as well.
With questions about the fit of the two young guards, many have wondered if Clarkson would be better suited playing off the bench as the lead ball-handler and scoring option. Clarkson, it appears, is willing to experiment with that scenario.
In a sit-down interview with Michael Pina of Bleacher Report, Clarkson maintained that he is willing to give up his starting position if the team found it necessary. (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll)
“We’re both 6’5″, long and able to put the ball on the ground. Score as well as pass. So we kind of want to make our own lane,” he said. “When it comes to defense, there’s a lot of team stuff that has to go on. Steph [Curry] is not the greatest defender in the world. But if we find the right pieces to put together with us, I think it will help us a lot. At the same time, I feel like we can grow in that area, for sure.”
If it’s the eventual solution to a problem that may never even bubble up in Walton’s egalitarian offense, Clarkson has no problem coming off the bench so long as his minutes don’t dwindle.
This is a good sign for Clarkson. That he has the right attitude to help the team despite potentially losing the stature that comes with being a starter, puts a great spotlight on the young guard. Additionally, Clarkson’s selfless attitude allows the Lakers the option of adding another wing in free agency, even if they draft Duke’s Brandon Ingram in the coming draft.
That all said, I am still a believer in trotting out a Russell-Clarkson starting backcourt for the long-term future of the team. The duo started to gain chemistry together as the season went along with each improving in their off-ball movement and cutting ability. Additionally, Clarkson’s improved shooting, although still inconsistent, should see him as a great spot-up shooter to pair with Russell’s passing ability.
Per NBAwowy, the Lakers scored 0.998 points per 100 possessions when Clarkson and Russell shared the court. That is not a very high number. But when compared to the Lakers’ season-long number of 0.986, second worst in the league, it is a marked improvement.
If Russell and Clarkson are to play alongside each other for a long time, they will need to continue to develop that on-court chemistry and their individual skills will need to be fine tuned to work well with the other’s strengths. However, if their development takes them to a position where they are both better when the other one is sitting, it is good to see that Clarkson is willing to give up his starting spot for the betterment of the team.