Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson strives to be a complete player


Jordan Clarkson drew a foul as his off-balance layup sank through the basket, and he danced toward the first row of courtside seats just beyond the baseline near the Lakers bench.

Clarkson came into the game averaging 11 points per game in the preseason, but on Tuesday night he scored 18, making six of eight shots and all five of his free-throw attempts.

It’s been a challenging preseason for Clarkson, a player who’s been challenged by team executive Magic Johnson to win the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award as he works to better understand how to play within the Lakers’ system.

“It’s been good,” Clarkson said. “For me, something I gotta get comfortable with. It’s definitely a little different. I’m trying to play in the system. Trying to figure out where my shots come from. That’s what you see tonight. Starting to get the rhythm of the offense, see how things are flowing.”

Clarkson tied with rookie Kyle Kuzma as the Lakers’ leading scorer in a 105-99 loss to the Utah Jazz. The Lakers are 1-3 and will complete their preseason schedule on Friday against the Clippers. The Lakers open the regular season against the Clippers on Oct. 19.

The Lakers played without starting point guard Lonzo Ball, who missed his third game of the preseason with a sprained left ankle. Ball suffered the injury on Oct. 2 against the Denver Nuggets. He did not practice on Monday or participate in shootaround on Tuesday morning.

At Staples Center on Tuesday night, Ball went through some on-court ball handling and shooting drills with Lakers assistant Miles Simon. Ball had already been ruled out for the game, but the Lakers planned to see how his ankle felt after going through the workout to determine how to proceed.

“Let’s get him to practice, see how it feels tomorrow after doing whatever he did [Tuesday] and we will keep taking it day to day,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.

Reserve point guard Alex Caruso, on a two-way contract, played a team-high 31 minutes 49 seconds and contributed 10 assists and six rebounds.

Clarkson played nearly 20 minutes on Tuesday. He added three rebounds, two steals and two turnovers.

He’s a player whose effort has pleased Walton, even as he works to find his niche offensively.

“He’s one of those players I think that’s just a natural scorer and he can get hot at any time,” Walton said.

“We’re asking him to play within the system and to make the extra passes. He’s trying his best, but because of that he’s had some times he’s looked a little sloppy out there. His attitude has been great. His effort coming in every day at practice has been great, it’s just new.”

What Walton has liked in Clarkson is the change he sees defensively. He’s seen Clarkson’s instincts improve in that area and he believes the strength Clarkson has added has helped.

Clarkson agreed.

“Just trying to keep dudes out the lane, being able to chest them when they’re driving and making them still take tough shots,” Clarkson said in describing his defensive strategy. “Even helping on the post. Getting switched off on [big players], sometimes try to keep them out of the paint.”

There’s another element defensively that Walton finds encouraging in Clarkson, who is the longest-tenured Laker on the roster.

“He seems to care more about the defensive end too this year,” Walton said. “Which is nice.”

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli





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