As Jordan Clarkson makes his way around the country showcasing his skills in workouts for NBA teams, two words will be on the former Missouri point guard’s mind:
Those words can mean different things to different people, from paratroopers to pitchers. For a basketball player, the release point in a jump shot is all important, the difference between being streaky or, in coaching parlance, a no-leave guy. If Clarkson can convince an NBA general manager that he’s a no-leave guy, his chances of elevating his draft stock—he’s currently projected as a mid-second round pick—are excellent, because he’s got a portfolio of skills/physical attributes that make him suitable for the next level.
Start with the obvious, length. Clarkson is 6-foot-5 in shoes and has a 6-8 wingspan, excellent for a point guard. Then there’s his athleticism. The website DraftExpress.com compiled what it calls Athletic Testing Composite Rankings for every player in last week’s Chicago combine, and Clarkson was No. 8.
Missouri’s opponents didn’t need the combine to know that Clarkson has blow-by ability and is a pain to keep out of the lane.
“Jordan Clarkson should send a lot of his scholarship money to the new rules committee because I don’t know how anyone in the country is going to guard him,” Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said, referring to the NCAA’s emphasis on eliminating the use of shoves, hands and arm bars by defenders. “He’s really good and he’s going to make a lot of money because of the new rules.”
Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson called Clarkson a “ninja blender,” because “he was in the lane so much tonight it was unbelievable. Every time he came out on us, he just went around us.”
Those who know Clarkson best think that skill will translate to the NBA.
“When he gets in the NBA and the floor opens up, and they have three or four shooters around him and an inside presence, he’s almost … I don’t know if he’s going to be able to be stopped one on one with basketball in his hands,” Missouri assistant Tim Fuller said.
“He can get into the paint on anyone,” said noted shot doctor and trainer Drew Hanlen.
Whether those comments are conjecture or an accurate prediction of Clarkson’s NBA future could well depend on those two words—release point. If he can force defenders to guard him on the perimeter, he’ll be a load to contain.
Clarkson is working on it.
“I’ve watched a lot of film from this season,” Clarkson said. “A lot of it had to do with mechanics, the release point being the same. On film, I could see where it was changing, and it was lower than it’s been in a while. I’m going to correct that, and I’m going to be a more consistent shooter.”
In his only season at Missouri, Clarkson shot .281 from the 3-point line. But two years before at Tulsa, he shot .371, a solid percentage. The Missouri coaching staff noticed a potential issue during Clarkson’s redshirt year, and it surfaced this season when he shot 13.8 percent from 3 in a 10-game stretch at the end of the season.
“We told him his release point was pretty much off his right eye,” Fuller said. “Most guys’ release point is a foot or so above their head. Having a low release point didn’t stop him from getting his shot off in college. But at the next level, he’s going against guys his same size. Every other point guard is going to get to that release point. Now is the perfect time to work on that.”
Clarkson is putting in the time. Sessions with Hanlen, who helped his friend Brad Beal go from shooting 33 percent from 3 last season to 42 percent in 2013-14, helped.
“I’ve got some catch phrases I use,” Hanlen said. “Elbow above eyebrow. Higher elbow, higher arc. Scientifically, if you increase arc, you have a better approach angle and you have more of a margin for error.”
Fuller believes part of Clarkson’s shooting woes at Missouri were based on the fact he was the primary focus of every opposing team’s scouting report—stop Clarkson, beat Missouri. “He also had to take a lot of rushed shots late in the shot clock,” Fuller said.
Clarkson isn’t afraid to put in the time. And he doesn’t lack for confidence.
“I’m going to work to make my shot consistent,” he said. “And I’m going to make shots in workouts.”
Clarkson proved that in Chicago. And now he’ll get a chance to give NBA general managers a more up-close-and-personal demonstration of how far he’s come. That should be enough, say Fuller and Hanlen, to improve his draft standing.
“Jordan’s a guy that’s gonna work hard,” Hanlen said. “I think he should be a late first round guy that starts out as a backup point guard and eventually plays his way into a starting role, once he feels more comfortable running the team and being a vocal leader.”
“Several NBA folks communicated with me during the combine and said Jordan was performing well, interviewing well, that the kid was as good as advertised,” Fuller said. “And I told them all, this kid is an even better person than he is a player. Draft him, and you’re going to get one of the most coachable guys in college basketball.”