SALT LAKE CITY — Michael had Scotty. Pippen had Jordan. But that’s not why the Chicago Bulls of the nineties were some of the greatest teams ever. You may remember that the rest of those Phil Jackson-led rosters were filled-in with guys who knew their roles and did them well — very well.
The more I watch this Utah Jazz squad, the more I can’t help but feel a bit the same way.
Depth wins, and that’s because over an 82-game slog (72 this year), stuff happens. Injuries, fatigue, even birds striking airplanes, scaring the living life out of helpless passengers in the process.
Donovan Mitchell’s clearly a bonafide star. Rudy likewise. But who’s their Rodman? Or to hit closer to home, who’s Utah’s Jeff Hornacek? I would argue he comes off the bench each and every night.
Nearly 17 months ago, Jazz brass pulled the trigger on a once-in-a-decade trade. One that at the time seemed like a worthy gamble to me, but in hindsight was a deal that changed the whole trajectory of the franchise.
Under Don and Rudy’s leadership, the Jazz have risen. But following early playoff exits the last few years, the team needed that extra piece. Jordan Clarkson is that piece, and they were forced to give up only a washed-out Dante Exum and a couple of second-round picks to get him.
Speaking of second-round picks, Clarkson was one himself coming out of college. He wasn’t supposed to be a great NBA player, and yet right from the start he has been.
After spending a few years each with the Lakers and Cavaliers, Clarkson has since hit another level here in Utah, averaging a career best 18 points per game in 2020-21.
Take Monday at Golden State for example, where Clarkson finished a single point shy of a career high, scoring 41. Bench players don’t really do that, and yet on any given night, Clarkson has proven capable. He’s a guy who can create his own shot, bury a big three in the clutchest of moments, and ignite a crowd with a circus move, all before you realize what’s happening.
But perhaps the veteran’s biggest asset is attitude.
Clarkson would and should start for any NBA team, and yet here in Salt Lake City, he’s embraced the undervalued role of sixth man. It doesn’t matter who’s hurt, who’s resting, or which team they’re playing — you can pretty much bank on Clarkson coming off Quin Snyder’s bench each and every night. He may play the most minutes by game’s end, but he won’t start; and he’s completely fine with that strategy.
In fact, fact since the 2017-18 season, Jordan has only started a total of five games, and therein lies the mystique. Opposing coaches don’t know precisely when he’ll get the call. But when he does, the Jazz suddenly have a legitimate third threat on the floor.
Now, with a full season under his belt in Utah, Clarkson has proven he has Jazz DNA; and with a healthy Donovan Mitchell hopefully only another week or so away from putting on the Jazz note again, let the post season roll.
A chance to prove that three’s not a crowd.