There is no denying that the Cleveland Cavaliers have been home to varying degrees of dysfunction and drama over the past few seasons. The drive to capitalize on the prime of LeBron James’ career has created a pressure cooker where patience has gone out the window. But while there have been misses along the way, the organization has had a knack for finding ways to adjust and put together a good supporting cast around him.
During the team’s first year together, it was the moves to acquire J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov that helped make the Finals run possible. When the longevity of that cast ended up being shorter than expected (and made more glaring by the departure of Kyrie Irving), the team was once again forced to adjust. Like the acquisition of Smith in 2015, the “salary throw-in” of Jordan Clarkson has become one of the most positive surprises of the regular season.
A constant for the Cavs has been looking to find ways to get LeBron James rest throughout the course of the game. This season has probably been the most successful in that quest, as the team has managed to have a better net rating with James on the bench. But with those lineups being buoyed by older, less reliable players like Dwyane Wade, finding a more consistent piece needed to be a priority. Since coming over from the Lakers, Clarkson has been everything the Cavs wanted from their reserve guards.
Clarkson opened up about why he has been so successful during his time in Cleveland:
“I’m real comfortable,” Clarkson said of his role. “I just come in there, play free and try to change the game with energy, playmaking and scoring. That’s the way I try to impact the game. I’m comfortable doing it with the second unit, so it’s just been a good thing for me.”
“It’s always kind of been my thing,” Clarkson said of scoring in bunches. “That’s why I continue to shoot the shots, have confidence because I know once I see one go in, I got a good feeling the next one’s going in, the next one after that.”
In his 23 games with the Cavs, Clarkson is averaging 13.6 points per game on a career best 58.7 true shooting percentage. His three point shooting has also been excellent, as he is shooting 40.8 percent from deep.
While his efficiency has been better alongside James, his ability to boost the bench lineups without him has also been strong. The Cavaliers have a +2.3 net rating when Clarkson is on the floor without LeBron, which is an improvement on the +1.6 net rating the team had with LeBron off the court before the trade deadline.
Having a player that can create shots, or get to the rim, against a set defense is a necessity in today’s NBA. With or without LeBron, Clarkson has shown versatility and an ability to help the team on both ends of the floor. His speed and athleticism have been something that the team has lacked recently, and hopefully the strong play will continue as he becomes more comfortable in his role.