Time to shine for Jazz sixth man Jordan Clarkson

Published April 4, 2021, 12:00 PMRenee Ticzon

Jordan Clarkson's transformation into a more dynamic role player with the Jazz made him an overwhelming favorite for this season's Sixth Man of the Year award.

Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson is the top candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
The Utah Jazz are having quite a season. They are the top seed in the Western Conference, ranking No. 2 in offense and No. 4 in defense, which makes them the only team that’s part of the top five in both categories. They lead the league in 3-point attempts and 3-point shots made, while placing second in 3-point percentage.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have been essential to propelling the Jazz to where they are right now, but their role players have been keeping them at the top. One of the vital keys to their success is the league’s Sixth man of the Year top contender and leading off-the-bench scorer, Jordan Clarkson.

In his 11th season in the NBA, the 28-year-old Clarkson is producing 17.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He’s been a high-volume shooter ever since, having a career average of close to 13 field goal attempts. He’s currently shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from deep, both career-best numbers.

Clarkson’s shot selection has improved by a mile. He dropped his mid-range jumper from his game to focus on higher efficiency shots. This includes floaters, postups, and of course, his 3-point shots.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder puts Clarkson in situations where he gets better shots. He gives Clarkson the green light to shoot, something that has helped the Filipino-American guard improve his individual career.

However, it’s not just Clarkson’s shooting that improved since he transferred to Utah. Snyder masterminded a plan to develop him into a dynamic player instead of just a regular scorer.

Following their loss to the Golden State Warriors on March 16 (PHT), Snyder went through game films with Clarkson and fellow guard Mitchell, so Clarkson could better understand the way the Jazz play and his role in it.

Snyder emphasized some clips where Clarkson’s decision to take the shot, something he often does, was not the best option. The conversation shifted to what the right play is for every situation. For a shooter, it’s usually freeing yourself up to make the shot, but for a coach and playmaker, it’s finding the right guy.

That’s what Snyder emphasized. Instead of focusing on getting himself free from a defender, he wanted Clarkson to increase his awareness and ability to read the possession.

Luckily for Snyder, Clarkson was coachable so he agreed to his suggestion. In their next game against the Boston Celtics, Clarkson gave his team 20 points, three rebounds, and three assists in the 30 minutes he played. Fans could see a noticeable change in Clarkson who was passing the ball around a lot more, which helped secure a win.

“For a guy that’s a scorer and is shooting the ball, he’s also an unselfish player and he wants to win and he’s a great teammate,” Snyder said. “I don’t worry about talking to him about those things, that somehow it’s going to confuse him, or send him a mixed message. He knows how I feel about him, and he wants to get better and he wants to win.”

This isn’t to say that Clarkson needed to change everything up. Scoring was still his main role. Snyder just wanted him to unlock the ability to orchestrate plays and create opportunities for others. Part of his improvement focused on getting familiar and building chemistry with his teammates.

“It’s just another growth part of my game that I’m trying to keep improving on,” Clarkson said.

When Mitchell was not available for their recent game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Clarkson stepped up and took turns with Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley in carrying the offensive load for the Jazz.

“Our team takes pride in that balance and in making the right play,” Snyder said after the win. “We’re unselfish, and if everybody’s spaced and we make quick decisions and are willing to move the ball, we’ve got a number of guys who can really impact the game on the offensive end.”

His willingness to adjust his game transformed Clarkson – once labelled a trigger-happy shooter – into a more dynamic and effective role player.

Miami Heat legend and NBA analyst Dwyane Wade was so impressed with Clarkson’s career season that he said he wanted to be Clarkson if he ever returned to the NBA.

“If I can come back and be an NBA player, I want to be Jordan Clarkson because I love your role, man,” Wade told Clarkson. “I love the way that you come in and get right to it. You take it seriously. But I also love your style, your fashion off the court, man, so I’m a big fan. I just want to say keep what you’re doing, man, and keep going.”

And it only gets better.

While the Sixth Man of the Year award has promising candidates like Montrezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks, Jordan Clarkson continues to make a solid case for himself as frontrunner for the individual trophy.