SALT LAKE CITY — Jordan Clarkson didn’t need much time to become acquainted with his new Jazz teammates.
He scored 19 points in his second game with the team after coming to Utah in a late-December trade. He then followed up that performance with a 20-point night in the third. Just like that, Utah’s second unit was no longer an offensive liability — and the results showed that. Utah won its first 10 games with Clarkson in the fold and 14 of his first 15.
“When I got here, we hit the ground running,” Clarkson said. “They welcomed me with open arms.”
Why wouldn’t they? He was the savior of the Jazz bench; the spark plug the team sorely needed after having one of the least effective second units in the NBA over the first two months of the season. Clarkson hardly needed to get a practice in with his new team before he helped revitalize the bench by averaging 15.6 points in 34 games with Utah.
That remarkable success begs the question: What can he do with a few more reps?
While the NBA’s long hiatus has mostly viewed as a negative — clubs lost momentum, players were confined to hoop-less homes, the Jazz somehow had a season-ending injury, etc. — for players like Clarkson, the long break, and now an in-season training camp, has allowed for some time to catch up on schemes and maybe even expand roles.
In June, as Jazz players were preparing to return to Salt Lake City to prepare to leave to Orlando, Clarkson got together with Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Rayjon Tucker and Miye Oni to get some runs in near Clarkson’s home in Los Angeles. Clarkson said those runs helped build on the chemistry they had already formed in his short few months with the Jazz.
“I worked out with Donovan during this quarantine time. I’ve been in the gym with everybody,” Clarkson said. “As it got closer for us to leave, this bond, this chemistry — we stayed in contact the whole time — it’s just continued to grow and keep the team building.”
That could be even more beneficial when things get going in Orlando since Clarkson will likely see his role expanding as the Jazz are without Bojan Bogdanovic and his 20-plus points a night.
“JC can do a lot of things,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He's different off the dribble than Bojan, but there's some things that we did for Bojan we can do for JC.”
The California runs gave Clarkson and the Jazz a chance to learn each other’s tendencies more and create a stronger connection on the court. The three-week camp in Orlando gives the Jazz the chance to install new things and get Clarkson and other players up to speed on sets and roles.
“For me, it’s just going in there and doing what coach asks me to do — if that’s coming off the bench, if that’s starting, whatever situation it is, I feel like I’m ready,” Clarkson said. “Coaches got a lot of trust in me — and trust in a lot of guys, and I know everybody’s going to step up. We’re going to impact the game and try to get some wins.”
The biggest improvement from young players comes when they get a chance to take a step back and really implement the information and feedback they’ve been given. That’s what so often leads to big jumps between first-year and second-year players. But that can also be the case for veteran players in new systems — like Clarkson or Mike Conley.
That means there’s some excitement for what those guys can bring once things start up again on July 30, along with what rookies like Jarrell Brantley, Tucker and Oni might show in Year 1.5 for them.
“They’re growing really fast. I know (the break) could be kind of a little burden in their rookie seasons, or the rookie process, but I think it’s a good thing to happen for them,” Clarkson said. “They’re in a position where they might end up getting minutes, they may get some time, especially with these eight games. You never know what’s going to happen. I see a lot of growth; they’ve still got to continue to grow. A lot of them are still playing fast — this is same process that I had to do when I was a rookie, just slowing down, seeing the game. But a lot of them are taking a lot of steps forward.”