New guard Jordan Clarkson comes out shooting in his Utah Jazz debut

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson shoots as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trail Blazers, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.

The pregame question to Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was rather benign.

It centered around new Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and how an opponent goes about preparing on the fly for a new acquisition. Clarkson made his debut Thursday night against the Blazers after being acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this week in exchange for former No. 5 overall pick Dante Exum and two future second-round picks.

Stotts, surely knowing Clarkson’s name would pop up pregame, was armed with an interesting answer.

“Well, he had a pretty good game last time against us if anybody looked it up,” Stotts said. “He’s been a good scorer in this league and I know Utah, they needed some scoring off the bench, so I think he’ll be a pretty good addition for them.”

If it seems curious as to why Stotts would readily recall one game within an 82-game season, it is because the last time he saw Clarkson, the sixth-year veteran torched his team. On Nov. 23, while still with the Cavs, Clarkson had a game-high 28 points off the bench and hit all six of his 3-point attempts in a 110-104 win.

An effort like that is exactly why Clarkson was acquired. Bench scoring has been a glaring problem for a Jazz team expected to contend in the Western Conference, so it packaged the oft-injured Exum and two picks and got back one of the NBA’s top bench scorers. Clarkson’s debut on Thursday yielded nine points on 4-for-12 shooting, while playing to a minus-14 in 21 minutes. That qualifies as a mixed bag, but Jazz head coach Quin Snyder doesn’t seem all that concerned.

“You can tell he wants it, like there’s a hunger about him, and I think he plays with a level of confidence that we need," said Snyder, whose team came into Thursday second-to-last in the NBA in bench points per game at 26.9. “A couple times, he passed the ball and it was a swing-swing, so someone else got the shot. I think he’s unselfish, and he’s also got the ability to create for himself and other guys."

Clarkson, for what it’s worth, did not have the benefit of morning shootaround on Thursday. After the trade went down Monday, he spent Christmas with family in Los Angeles, then caught an early-morning flight Thursday morning to Salt Lake City.

“I felt real comfortable,” Clarkson said. "Coach told me to just come in and play my game, and we’ll adjust to it. I flew in this morning and we got to talk, do some film, and I’m just happy for the opportunity to come out here and compete. It was a good game, I got a warm welcome from the fans, and the energy was great here.

Snyder said pregame he would likely throw Clarkson right into the fire, and he held to that. With the Jazz playing downhill throughout the first quarter, Clarkson checked in as the eighth man to a standing ovation at the 4:05 mark.

Looking comfortable and engaged, Clarkson knocked down his first shot, a 10-foot pullup in the lane, which bounced off the back of the rim and in. A floater in the lane at the 1:18 mark capped a productive first quarter for Clarkson, offering more optimism that he can be the answer to the bench-scoring woes. The Jazz tallied just 20 bench points Thursday, but it was a night where Donovan Mitchell and the starters were able to carry the load just fine.

Mixed in with some strong offense from Clarkson was an ill-advised 3-point attempt early in the shot clock, too much dribbling a couple of times, and a wild driving layup attempt. Even if and when Clarkson settles down and gets acclimated, this is the type of stuff the Jazz signed on for. You take the good with the bad because when Clarkson is on, he can change the tenor of a game in a hurry with his scoring.

“I just came here, really with an open mind,” Clarkson said. “I know these guys are really good, it’s a talented group of guys. Like I said, I come here with an open mind, trying to help any way I can, and just lay it all on the line when I’m out there."

Through 29 games entering Thursday, all off the bench, Clarkson was averaging 14.6 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting from the floor and 37.1 percent from 3-point range. Those numbers, produced in just 23.0 minutes per game, are on par or better than what he has produced in his career.

“It’s a process. It’s going to take a long time for him to get comfortable in some respects, but we also don’t want to overthink it as well,” Snyder said pregame. “Some of it, it’s a spectrum. On one end, it’s just basketball and everybody’s done it their whole lives and guys just feel it.

“His teammates will embrace him. If there’s an out-of-bounds play and he doesn’t know where to go, they’ll tell him. To put too much in his head is counterproductive."

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