Lakers' Jordan Clarkson moves ahead with a few steps back

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Before the All-Star break, Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott and shooting guard Jordan Clarkson sat down in Cleveland to discuss the sophomore's development over the final stretch of the season.

Scott asked Clarkson which areas of his game he felt he needed to improve on, and how Scott could help him make the necessary adjustments. Though Scott declined to elaborate on what he asked of Clarkson at Thursday's practice, whatever he said seems to have worked.

Since then, Clarkson has been on a tear, averaging 20.8 points on 50.9 percent shooting to go along with 5.3 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.3 steals in the four contests after the All-Star break.

According to both Scott and Clarkson, that's not a coincidence.

"He just wants me to be a great player," Clarkson said. "He asked me what I can do to change to become a great player, and what he could do to help. I gave him my answers: defensively, scoring the ball efficiently and rebounding. It was a good conversation."

So far, Clarkson is two for three.

He admits his performance defensively has been inconsistent, but that's a team-wide issue that's plagued the Lakers all season. He's part of the problem, but far from the biggest culprit.

Besides that, though, Clarkson has stayed true to his word, finding ways to rebound better -- highlighted by a nine-rebound effort against the Chicago Bulls last weekend -- and score more efficiently.

The biggest adjustment he's made, though, has come from himself and not Scott: Taking a couple of steps back and trading in long 2-pointers -- the least efficient shot in basketball -- for more 3-pointers.

Before the All-Star break, 18.1 percent of Clarkson's shots were considered long 2-pointers (roughly 16-24 feet, according to NBA.com/stats), and 21.9 percent were 3-pointers. After the All-Star break, however, Clarkson's numbers have doubled in opposite directions, with long 2s decreasing to only make up 9 percent of his shot attempts, and 3-pointers bumping up to comprise 49.1 percent of his field goals.

Clarkson is making 59.3 percent of his 3-point attempts since the All-Star break, which is Stephen Curry territory. It's unreasonable to expect him to keep up at this rate, but his newfound shot distribution certainly adds a valuable weapon to his arsenal.

"I just want to take more of them, to be honest," Clarkson said of his increased output from distance. "If you want to look at analytics, I've taken a lot of long 2s through the years. So I'm trying to trade them off for 3 instead of a long 2, which is even a lower percentage shot than what the 3 is."

To help further put things in perspective, Clarkson has made 16 3-pointers in his past four games, which is as many as he had made in the prior month (15 games total) dating back to Jan. 14. It's an incredibly small sample size, to be sure, but it's a trend that Clarkson is aware of and plans on maintaining.

Part of the reason Clarkson has been able to get so many clean looks has been the reinsertion of rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell in the starting lineup, as he's more of a traditional floor general than Lou Williams.

Russell has assisted Clarkson on 26.5 percent of his assisted baskets this season (only Kobe Bryant has assisted Clarkson more), and that figure has been even higher after the All-Star break, creeping up 50 percent. The two have a natural synergy that's difficult to quantify, though the numbers clearly back it up.

Russell's ability to attack in pick-and-rolls, draw defenders and find shooters is the perfect complement to Clarkson, and has made the tandem particularly effective together lately.

"Just playing with D'Angelo -- stuff is getting easier," Clarkson said. "That's it, really."

Besides looking to take more efficient shots and playing alongside a pure point guard who can actually set him up, Clarkson claims another reason he's shooting so much better recently is the fact that he's finally healthy. He dealt with two sprained ankles prior to the All-Star break and played through his injuries to help the Lakers as much as he could, which affected his numbers.

He's feeling much better now, and that, perhaps more than anything else, has helped him become a much-needed sharpshooter for the Lakers.

"During [January] I was handling two ankle injuries, so I was a little off-balance," Clarkson said. "I'm 100 percent now, and I think it's just one of those confidence things."