With the 2018 NBA playoffs nearly around the corner, the Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to find themselves after adjusting on the fly through a myriad of injuries and plenty of roster adjustments. With all the injuries, the Cavs’ starting unit has been in flux since their roster changing trades. Many bench players, like Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr., have been promoted to the starting unit to combat the injury bug.
But, one thing that has remained consistent since mid-February with Jordan Clarkson always serving as the team’s sixth man. On top of Clarkson, the Cavs also acquired George Hill from the Sacramento Kings and has been the starting point guard since. Even though Hill has been the main man at point, Clarkson has been outplaying him their entire time with the Cavs, with averages of 13.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists while George has been averaging 10.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists.
One of Clarkson’s best games for the Wine and Golders was his team debut against the Boston Celtics:
Even though Hill has been lackluster while Clarkson has been stellar at times, there are a few reasons to keep him as the sixth-man. The most obvious one is the Cavs’ need for a proper spark off the bench after they traded Dwyane Wade to the Miami Heat. Clarkson also does not play the traditional point, unlike Hill, and is instead looking to score on most possessions instead of making plays. Clarkson’s knack for scoring makes him an ideal pairing alongside LeBron James, and even Hill and still earns a lion’s share of minutes down the stretch.
Beyond this season though, the question remains if Clarkson will continue to come off the bench as he is on the team’s books through the 2019-20 season (barring any trade). It would make sense, especially with Hill heading past his prime and likely to be traded with his expiring contract, to pair him alongside Rodney Hood (if the Cavs retain him) as the team’s backcourt of the future. But, with Clarkson’s penchant for scoring and the fact that LeBron James (the team’s primary playmaker) could leave following this season puts the Cavs in an awkward position.
The thing is, with March Madness already underway, there are quite a few options for the Cavs in the upcoming NBA Draft. The most logical route would be to target a big man like Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, Duke’s Marvin Bagley, or Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson. But, as of March 16, the Cavs sit fifth overall in the NBA Draft and there is a good chance the above-mentioned players will be gone. In that case, the Cavs would also take a long look at Alabama’s Collin Sexton or Oklahoma’s Trae Young. In the event that the Cavs ended up drafting either Sexton or Young, it would really hurt Clarkson’s chances of being the team’s starting point.
With Sexton, the Cavs would get a player that has a nose for defense and playmaking and compares best to Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe. As mentioned before, Clarkson looks to score first instead of creating plays and also is a sieve on defense, who looks like former Cavs headache Isaiah Thomas instead of Bledsoe. Sexton has been a big baller this collegiate season, and with a deep run into the NCAA tournament would make him an easy option for the Cavs.
The other point guard the Cavs could look at is Oklahoma Sooner’s superstar Trae Young. He is arguably the best player in college basketball this season, and that is best showcased by his three-point shooting ability.
Young has also showcased throughout the season that he is a ready and willing playmaker, with a season average of 8.7 per game (which eclipses Clarkson’s averages). With unlimited range and a keen passing sense, Young has obviously drawn comparisons to Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry.
If the Cavs drafted either Sexton or Young, Clarkson would more than likely remain as the team’s sixth man as both college stars are much more logical options for the Cavs as their starting point. He would still get plenty of looks off the bench and with the starting unit, but the fact that he looks to score first instead of pass really prevents him from being the team’s starting point.
With the upcoming draft, it is a blessing to have a top 10 pick which the Cavs will for sure have when the season concludes. But, while there is a chance they could take a chance with Sexton or Young, the team will likely draft a big man which is a much more dire need. With Clarkson’s before-mentioned issues, the team could also look at free agency as well. This summer’s free agency’s top point guards are Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas, who are both out of the Cavs’ reach both price-wise (Paul) and logic-wise (Thomas).
After that, the list is pretty grim and the Cavs will more than likely retain George Hill instead of trading his expiring contract. If the team does that, it would probably help pave a path for Clarkson to be the team’s starting point but even then it still may not happen. Even though Hill is not the scorer he used to be, the defense and playmaking he provides to the Cavs simply outclass Clarkson. The thing that is working in JC’s favor is the fact that Hill is only getting older and the youth and athleticism Clarkson provides is pretty tantalizing.
So, if Jordan Clarkson wants to be the Cavs’ starting point guard next season he better hope that the team does not draft a point guard and tries to grab one of the uber-talented bigs instead. While he is not the greatest playmaker, with career averages of 2.8 assists versus 1.8 turnovers, he could share ball handling duties with both Hood and Hill. The biggest question mark is if the Cavs are able to retain LeBron James beyond this season (which they probably will) and if they do, it would be the perfect situation for Clarkson to join the starting unit. If the Cavs were able to surround James with Clarkson, Hood, Kevin Love, and a growing 3-point shooter like Ayton or Jackson, the combination of spacing and athleticism would be unstoppable. This is the best-possible scenario for Clarkson heading into next season to be the team’s starting point.
When the Cavs were able to trade away the toxicity Isaiah Thomas brought to the locker room all while landing Clarkson and fan-favorite Nance Jr, they were big winners in the trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. Seriously, it took Thomas about a month to wear out his welcome with the Cavs and it looks like he is starting to do the same with the Lakers:
While it is pretty obvious what Nance brings to the table, Clarkson is an interesting case for the team now and in the future. Right now, he is perfect for the team as their sixth man, providing a scoring punch off of the bench. But the future puts everything in flux depending on what the team does with their draft pick. There is a chance they could draft a talented point guard like Collin Sexton or Trae Young, which would mean Clarkson would likely remain as the team’s sixth man. But if they elect to instead draft one of this year’s talented bigs, it paves a pretty clear path to have Clarkson start, especially if they retain King James. The youth movement the Cavs embarked on will be cemented after the upcoming NBA Draft, but Clarkson will be the head of it as he leads the team into the future.