by Daniel Olsen
While the Utah Jazz ultimately lost 119-116 to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, the relentless scoring of Jordan Clarkson helped them erase a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. He may be what the Jazz need to advance past the first round of the NBA Playoffs in the wild Western Conference.
Here are just a few reasons why:
1. The backcourt is not healthy
Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley Jr. have been missing in action for the last couple weeks. Since suffering a lower ankle sprain against the Indiana Pacers in April, Mitchell has missed 13 games. Mitchell is now reported to miss the rest of the regular season.
Conley is also listed as day-to-day with a hamstring injury. The Jazz will need both of these players healthy to safely come out of the first round. These players are what has made the Jazz offense invincible this year.
However, if the Jazz will be fine for a while if they can depend on Clarkson the way they did on Monday night when he scored 41 points. They will certainly need someone to pick up the slack. An average of over 40 points of offense is currently missing in the backcourt.
2. Clarkson can create his own shot
One reason the Mitchell/Conley tandem is so great is both players can go one-on-one and make plays late in the shot clock. Most of the other Jazz players do better as catch-and-shoot guys. That is fine when the offense catches the defense off guard.
However, teams will start to adjust to that and cause turnovers if there aren’t any isolation guys that can penetrated and kick the ball out to open shooters. The switching Rockets’ defense was a nightmare for the Jazz in the playoffs a few years ago in those situations.
Clarkson is the second best isolation player on the team next to Donovan Mitchell. 11.4 percent of each player’s game comes in these situations. Mitchell averages three isolation points-per-game while Clarkson is at 1.6.
While both are still far cries from becoming the best isolation players in the NBA, that speaks more in favor of the Jazz offense since the ball movement is what keeps the offense going. With a loaded backcourt, these players will have more pop in their step to make magic happen in the playoffs.
3. Killer instinct
Clarkson has that Mamba mentality. He is capable of passing the basketball but he is primarily a shooter. He had 24 points in the fourth quarter in the loss to the Warriors. Some of those shots may have been ill-advised. The last shot that hit the top of the backcourt was perhaps the worst of them. Golden State knew exactly where the ball was going.
Perhaps the Jazz could have drawn up a play to give the ball to an open Bojan Bogdanovic. While not a talented shot creator, he is perhaps the most clutch shooter. He hit two buzzer-beaters last year and his tall frame helps him hit contested shots.
Despite Clarkson’s shoot-first mentality being both a blessing and a curse, the green light the Jazz give him is a blessing in the playoffs. The intensity will only amplify. If they need someone to take the last shot, why not Clarkson?
Passing to Clarkson can be a black hole which is frustrating at times. However, Snyder trusts him. As long as he is avoiding mid-range shots, he should have the freedom to shoot as many threes and inside shots as possible.
If the Jazz want to win a championship, let alone a first round series, they will need Jordan Clarkson to be at his best. The leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate needs to be healthy, thrive in isolation and maintain that competitive fire.
Featured image courtesy Jeff Chiu, AP Photo