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Cleveland Cavaliers 2018-19 Player Preview: Jordan Clarkson

It’s difficult to find ways for Clarkson to thrive.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in the mid-season blowup of the 2017-18 roster, Jordan Clarkson immediately established himself as a key part of head coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation. Outside of the very first game for which he was technically on the team’s roster, he played every game down the stretch for the Cavaliers and featured in all but three playoff games in their run to the NBA Finals. While his minutes dwindled as the competition got fiercer in the later rounds, there’s no doubt that Lue counted on Clarkson to deliver a very specific set of skills. Well, just one skill, really. Jordan Clarkson gets his shots up. Whether they go in or not is a different story, but he’ll never stop shooting.

Through the 28 games he played with Cleveland in the regular season, his acquisition looked like it might just pay dividends for the Cavaliers, even when taking into account his bloated contract. He still wasn’t passing the ball at all, but at least he was hitting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc and was able to convert a majority of those mid-range jumpers he loves so much. He was delivering on expectations as a self-created scorer who could get to his spots when the rest of the offense broke down or when LeBron James sat. Clarkson’s usage skyrocketed to 29 percent when he was on the floor without James as the Cavaliers offense was severely lacking in playmaking talent without the best player in the world. True to form, Clarkson’s efficiency in these situations was well below average, but at that kind of volume, it was a workable situation for Cleveland until they could get James back in the game.

To say his game fell off a cliff in the playoffs is a gross understatement – Clarkson was quite clearly the worst player to see the floor in the 2018 playoffs. Not just on the Cavaliers, but among all 16 teams who participated. Any modicum of creation for others disappeared completely, as did his previous efficiency from just about everywhere on the floor. After hitting 40 percent of his three-pointers in the regular season for the Cavaliers, his production dropped all the way down to 24 percent and he was essentially unplayable for long multi-game stretches. His 35.8 true shooting percentage wasn’t just dead last among 100 players to notch at least 150 minutes in the 2018 playoffs — the difference between his mark and Rudy Gay’s, who finished with the second-worst scoring efficiency, was the same as the difference between Gay’s and John Wall’s, who finished 27 spots better than Gay on the same list.

Clarkson’s offensive performances can be inconsistent, as the Cavaliers saw firsthand last season. On the other end of the court, things are much more consistent. He doesn’t have good games and bad games defensively and doesn’t go through long spells where things fall apart, unless you count his entire career as one long spell. Clarkson’s defensive aptitude and effort are an insult to the words “aptitude” and “effort”, as those descriptors would indicate that he has at least some portion of either one in this area of his game. Other than the brief stretch at the beginning of the 2017-18 season when the Lakers were getting inexplicably lucky on the defensive end with regards to opponent three-point shooting, his teams have always been terrible defensively when he was on the floor, and while the entire blame cannot rest of Clarkson’s shoulders, he does nothing to help the cause. He spent the majority of his time with Cleveland defending opposing point guards, where he is ineffectual at best getting through screens and doesn’t have the strength or toughness to hold up on switches. His off-ball awareness isn’t great either, leading to backdoor cuts and open spot-up shooters for the opposing offense.

Since James won’t be on the team next season (you may have heard about that), Clarkson will be asked to take on an increased scoring load for the 2018-19 Cavaliers. So much about this year’s team will be different from last year, but as both players and coaches acclimate to the new world order in Cleveland, Clarkson will get his chance to show what he can do with the ball in his hands. With less pressure to perform, his ability to get to his spots and mostly be efficient should be a boon for the Cavaliers, who will need as much perimeter creation as they can get without James on the team this year. George Hill, the team’s incumbent starting point guard, has his own issues as a creative force and is likely better in a secondary role, which James provided last year, but at least some portion of that usage gap will be filled by Clarkson, as well as Rodney Hood and rookie Collin Sexton. Kevin Love will also see a significant bump in his usage, though how teams defend the Cavaliers when Love has the ball in the post and at the elbows will be impacted by Clarkson’s presence. Despite his hot shooting to close the regular season, there are very few teams who believe that’s representative of his actual skill set behind the three-point line and there will be plenty of help on Love coming from Clarkson’s defender this season.

Despite all the negativity surrounding Clarkson’s game, the trade to acquire him was still a positive for the Cavaliers, who were in a very specific situation in which they had to get rid of multiple pieces and remake a majority of their roster in the middle of last season. Whether general manager Koby Altman would do it all again knowing that James had his heart set on Los Angeles is a hypothetical that frankly just doesn’t matter at this stage, but now the Cavaliers have to move forward with what they have left and try to pick up the pieces of James’ second exit from the club. Clarkson will play a relatively large role in that over the next two years before his contract reaches its merciful end and if we’ve learned anything about him over his first four years in the league, it’s that Jordan Clarkson always believes it’s Jordan Clarkson Time.