by Brandon Quinones
Last season the Utah Jazz pulled off one of the most overlooked, yet impactful trades, in recent years when they acquired Jordan Clarkson from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Dante Exum and two future second round picks. Clarkson has been a major offensive force off the bench ever since joining the Jazz last season and he has excelled in his role as a sixth man. After rewarding him with a four-year deal worth $52 million in the offseason, Clarkson has proven that the Jazz made a smart investment in not only acquiring him but bringing him back on a reasonable contract as he leads this year’s Sixth Man of the Year race.
Before coming over to Utah last season, Clarkson was the sixth man for Cleveland in the two and a half seasons he spent there. In some regards last season in Cleveland prepared him for his role in Utah. He was forced into the sixth man role during his time with the Cavs due to the arrival of Darius Garland. Garland’s arrival meant that Clarkson would be relegated to bench minutes because the Cavs had a young backcourt duo in Garland and Collin Sexton that they hope can lead them back into contention as the backcourt of their future. In some ways, this was a taste of what Clarkson would experience after coming over to Utah considering that the Jazz had a dynamic backcourt duo in their own right in Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. Clarkson would be the first guy coming off the bench to provide that spark in his time with the Jazz. In 29 games with the Cavs before being traded to Utah, he was averaging 14.6 points-per-game (ppg) on 44.2/37.1/88.4 shooting splits in 23.0 minutes per game (mpg). Upon arrival in Utah last season, he played in 42 games where his points per game jumped up to 15.6 ppg and also increased his field goal percentage from 44.2% to 46.2% despite taking on a larger role as his minutes increased from 23 mpg to 24.7 mpg. His role not only increased because the Jazz were more competitive and needed his offensive boost off the bench, but because Mike Conley missed a large number of games last year, which only increased the need for what Clarkson was able to provide. Last season, Clarkson was able to ignite the Jazz off the bench in their playoff series against the Nuggets where he increased his scoring to 16.7 ppg on 46.4% shooting and 34.7% from three which is what Utah was expecting when they acquired the flamethrower last season. However, many did not expect to see what Clarkson has been able to accomplish this season.
This season, Jordan Clarkson has turned in a career year, which is evident not only in the averaging career high statistics in multiple categories, but also in the fact that his impact is being felt on the court as the Jazz currently sit atop the standings in the Western Conference. While there are definitely many contributing factors to the Jazz’s success as a team, one cannot deny the fact that Clarkson has definitely contributed to that effort. To start, Clarkson is averaging a career high in points with 17.9 ppg while also setting career highs so far in three-point percentage with 37% and free-throw percentage, shooting an astounding 96.7% from the charity stripe, albeit on only 1.7 free throw attempts per game. One cannot deny that Clarkson has begun to put it all together offensively as he has figured out ways to not only increase his scoring, but doing so while displaying great efficiency as he works with the largest volume of shot attempts he has gotten to date. To further magnify how great he has been this season in terms of scoring, his effective field goal percentage, or eFG, sits at 55.5%, whereas the league average for that stat is currently 53.8%.
Clarkson’s offensive repertoire is his biggest calling card to date, which is great considering Utah often looks to him when in need of offense. Not only is Clarkson exceeding all expectations statistically, but he passes the eye test as well. The Jazz have been among the NBA’s best this year, especially considering that they have lots of offensive weapons. Utah often relies on Clarkson when the offense becomes stagnant or when the opposition decides to make it their focus to stop a guy like Donovan Mitchell. This is evident when watching the Jazz play live since Clarkson often has the ball in his hands and plays with the freedom to put up a shot when he likes the look, a sign that his confidence has also increased along with his level of play. When taking a deeper look into the numbers, one can see that Clarkson is having a positive impact on the team when looking at the team’s plus/minus when he is on and off the court. When Clarkson is on the court, the Jazz are +8.0 compared to -1.8 when he is off it. While plus/minus does not always show a player’s greatest impact due to the impact of the rest of the team around him, there is no denying that the Jazz are a better team when he is on the floor. The Jazz boast one of the best starting fives in all of basketball and with a dynamic scorer such as Clarkson coming off the bench, this team does not let up against any opponent when their bench unit comes in.
This is a move that the Jazz will look back on as a major success for the franchise, especially when considering what they had to give up in exchange for Clarkson. While Dante Exum was a former 5th overall pick by the Jazz and highly touted prospect coming out of Australia, he has struggled to stay healthy over 6 seasons in the league and struggled to be effective when he has been healthy. Exum has thus far only managed to play in 30 games since getting traded to Cleveland and, while he did show some promise last season in limited bursts of action, he has yet to make a major impact on the Cavs. It will be interesting to see how the rest of this deal plays out for the Cavs considering the 2022 and 2023 second round picks the Jazz sent their way, but as it stands the trade seems like a massive steal for the Jazz.
Overall, Clarkson has been what seems like a perfect fit for this Utah roster seeing how he is able to be such a major offensive spark off the bench and keep things running when some of their starters get some rest. Considering that it did not take much to get him and that they signed him to a reasonable deal, the addition of Clarkson for the Jazz may be the piece that gets them over the top this year. What looked like a solid addition last year, has turned into a superb addition seeing how the Jazz as a whole have all improved upon the chemistry and momentum that Jordan Clarkson brings to the team.
Featured image by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images