Small Picture Yes, Big Picture Maybe

Darius Soriano —  January 14, 2013

What do you make of Earl Clark?

He is a former lottery pick. When he came out of college, people compared his game to Lamar Odom’s. He has a 6’10” frame with length on top of that and enough quickness and athleticism to fit right into a league that is only getting quicker and more athletic.

Clark’s also a player who has rotted on the benches of three separate teams (including the Lakers’). Drafted by the Suns, Clark couldn’t find any court time under Alvin Gentry. After being traded to the Magic, Clark languished similarly under Stan Van Gundy. Before he came to the Lakers, Clark had appeared in a total of 138 games and played a shade over 1,400 minutes in his 3 years as a professional.

Clark could best be described as a player who had a bunch of talent but didn’t seem to “get it”. In talking with some Orlando Magic observers whom I greatly respect, I was told that his talent is unmistakable but that his game would only let me down over time.

In the four games since injuries to Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Jordan Hill greased the skids to a spot in Mike D’Antoni’s rotation, Clark has averaged 12.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while playing 30.5 minutes a night. He has tantalized with his length and athleticism, impressed with his ability to knock down open shots, and earned his keep by playing hard when he’s been afforded the opportunity.

He’s not been perfect by any means, but he has proven useful. When he’s on the court, he stands out. Part of that is because besides Dwight Howard and an aged Kobe Bryant, the Lakers don’t have an athlete like Clark on their roster. He glides up and down the court and into open spaces. When he jumps, he does so effortlessly. His first step is smooth and with his long stride he seems to get by his man fairly easily.

The disconnect between the player who was essentially a mid-round bust and the guy who has played for the Lakers the past several games is mostly about shot making. On the Lakers, Clark is hitting his jumper. Since becoming a rotation player, Clark has hit 11 of 19 (57.9%) from beyond 15 feet from the basket (including 2 of his 4 three pointers). The Clark that played for Phoenix and Orlando, couldn’t sniff those percentages.

In other words, some of what Clark is doing on offense simply isn’t sustainable. There is a regression coming and when it comes we’ll all be wondering what happened to that guy who was hitting all those shots against the Cavs and the Spurs. The good thing is that even when Clark regresses, it may not be as bad as the numbers from his previous seasons suggest it would be. Clark shows excellent balance on his jumper. He’s also shooting mostly wide open shots under a coach that will encourage him to continue to shoot.

Defenses will start to treat him differently when they get more tape on him and that will require adjustments. A lot of players go from being effective to struggling when they are forced to adjust. We’ll have to see what happens to Clark and how he deals with defenses paying more attention to him.

While hanging your hopes on Clark’s ability to continue to make jumpers probably isn’t a good idea, what is nice is the fact that what’s making Clark a surprise performer goes beyond his shooting. Clark, using those lottery talent skills and athletic frame, is making all sorts of plays that can be sustained if he simply continues to play hard and take advantage of the space afforded to him due to playing with more talented teammates.

For example, one thing that Clark has done really well is move off the ball into space and then use his quick first step to get into the creases of the defense to score:

On this play, Clark simply lurks near the top of the key as the defense shifts to the strong side to corral the ball handler. As the ball is penetrated to the rim, you see Clark time his cut perfectly to make himself available to either get an offensive rebound or receive a pass. The pass does come and Clark takes one step, elevates, and finishes in traffic.

Besides finishing, Clark can also continue to get into the paint in order to create for teammates:

Here, Clark simply takes an easy pass, sees that no one is in front of him, and attacks the paint. When the defense collapses, he makes the easy read to the open shooter in the corner. There’s no forced action here, simply good solid basketball.

But, even more than what he can provide on offense, Clark can really help the Lakers on defense and the glass. First, here’s a blocked shot he got against the Cavs simply be being long and athletic:

This play is nothing special, but besides Dwight and Gasol, the Lakers simply don’t have another player on their roster that actually blocks that shot. Jamison surely doesn’t. Neither does Ron. Sacre might be able to, but you notice who Clark is guarding on that play? Yep, that’s Shaun Livingston who played mostly SG and SF last night.

And here’s another sequence that shows what Clark is capable of (both good and bad):

This mostly has Clark working off the ball, attentively watching his man while peeking at the ball to see if he needs to help. When the shot goes up, Clark rushes to the ball and leaps over a Cav to grab the rebound. Clark proceeds to push the ball but commits a turnover when trying to hit an open teammate diving to the rim. However, in transitioning back to defense, Clark slows the ball handler, drops to the rim, and then blocks the shot of a Cavalier who was filling the lane.

How much Clark continues to help the Lakers in a big picture sense remains to be seen. As teams start to incorporate him into their gameplans to account for him, his effectiveness may decrease — especially on offense. Furthermore, since he’s not shown the ability to come anywhere near this level of production earlier in his career, it’s only natural to doubt he can continue to consistently produce at this level moving forward.

However, in the small picture, Clark has enough qualities that are currently lacking on this Laker team to continue to prove useful. His ability to operate in space offensively and cover ground on defense are especially good traits to possess on a team that has had issues in those specific areas this year. And if he can simply continue to play hard and make the simple play in front of him, that may be enough of a help considering the physical package he brings to the table.

Only time will tell how this plays out over time, but, for now, Clark is taking advantage of his chance.

Darius Soriano

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40 responses to Small Picture Yes, Big Picture Maybe

  1. Craig W.

    Your comments about other club’s attitude toward Clark are interesting. You mention that he didn’t seem to ‘get it’ and, to me, that means he wasn’t able to fit into the system they were trying to run and/or made ‘dumb’ decisions. This doesn’t necessarily relate to his shooting ability.

    As you mentioned, his shooting form seems quite fluid and natural and I take from that he is likely to be fairly consistent, if this continues. Added defensive pressure could reveal ‘bad handles’ or poor decision making, but I suspect his shooting will be ok.

    Fitting in often means the player buys in to the team. All reports out of practice would indicate Clark has been really trying all year long. This may very well be his realization that this is his last chance to make it in the NBA – unlike Ebanks attitude, apparently – and he has shed his ‘college privileged’ approach for a gritty role player approach.

    As to the ‘dumb decisions’…it does take time for players to understand the NBA game and he may just be coming into his own due to practice and finally getting playing time. Not everyone who plays in the NBA needs to be a mental genius and much of the time experience and familiarity helps players develop.

    Anyway, I choose to be optimistic until he proves otherwise. In the current Laker situation, I suspect that is the only logical approach.

  2. In my eyes, Clark is starting to look legit. I mean bottom line over the last three games he’s been productive. Yes it’s only a three game sample, but this team isn’t good enough to ignore, dismiss, or minimize a 24 year old 6 ’10 player averaging 15 & 10, shooting 57% from the field & 5 – 6 from the line in 33 mpg at a cost of only $1.2 million per.

    Playing with guys like Kobe, D-12, & Nash means you should get a few great open looks every game. Looks like he’s taking advantage of his opportunity. However teams now know he exists, let’s see what the next few games look like.

  3. If Earl Clarke can produce half of what he’s been giving us these past three games I’d be happy.

    Just got done watching the Cavs game, I’m surprised no one in the comments seem to have mentioned how absolutely miserable Dwight looked in that game. No joy what so ever.

    Something is definitely going on behind closed doors. I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaders of the team (Kobe,Nash,Howard) had a meeting to clear the air where Kobe and Nash asked Dwight to be more focused with less goofing around. I also wouldnt be surprised if Dwight told Kobe to pass the the ball more as Kobe was certainly willing to share the ball this game and especially if he could find Dwight.

    I think it looked like there was some serious tension going on with Howard and Nash/Kobe on the court, every high five felt a little bit forced. I actually hope a meeting like this took place because its the only way everyone will get on the same page and stop being so focused with themselves.

    In my mind this team will either 1) bond together from all the adversity and make a push for the playoffs or 2) absolutely implode with a lot of fingers being pointed back and forth and also Dwight signing elsewhere in the summer.

    Lots of speculation in this post but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of it is accurate

  4. From the other thread:

    -It’s laughable hearing guys talk about useful role players the Lakers didn’t re-sign (such as Barnes, Brown, etc) because they could get more money elsewhere

    Barnes signed for just a tick over the veterans’ minimum. And since Brown was their own FA, they could have kept him, too.

  5. I didn’t look at the last thread, so I’m not sure what the discussion was on letting FAs go, but in my mind, the sin is not so much letting players go (a lot of us had tired of Shannon Brown’s poor decision making and long 2’s by that point), but in not replacing lost players. To downgrade a position is bad enough; to let a player leave and just hope young talent or someone previously rotting on the bench will fill the void is pure foolishness.

    Clark’s a player I thought would be great, coming out of college, and I was dead wrong. In watching him (in limited minutes) in Phoenix, it seemed to me that despite his talent, he had a tendency to coast for long, long stretches. Clark’s working hard now because he’s fighting to get on the court at all. I hope it continues and he’s matured, but part of me also wonders if he’s the type of player who begins to coast once he has defined minutes and a long-term contract.

    But his athleticism is shocking, because it’s been so long (since Ariza) since we’ve seen such quickness used for filling spaces. (Shannon Brown was obviously athletic, but he didn’t use it to cut.) More than anything, it just really reinforces how starved we are for athleticism.

  6. 1/2decaf1/2regular January 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    From the last thread:

    i’m sure all executives and players peruse team blogs from time to time but to assume they get their ideas from only *this* blog is ridiculous… as if this is the only laker blog out there. lets not get too big headed please!

  7. From McMenamin:

    Mike D’Antoni on Kobe’s off-ball defense: “Umm, it’s good … You know. I think sometimes he just … You know … Umm … Yeah, it’s good.”

    Interesting read: http://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2013/1/11/3864814/kobe-bryant-is-ruining-kobe-bryants-historic-season

  8. Stay with what is working right now. Right now Clark is working in this lineup for this team. I would leave him as a starter even when Pau is ready to play again. Clark is no where near the caliber player Gasol is, but he “fits” better than Gasol. Clark will definitely have some bad games and poor shooting nights, but he doesn’t even have to be a great scorer. Rather just someone who can freaking run out there and make the hustle plays.

  9. Steve Blake’s injury, in simple terms:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9bYh5F3ndM

  10. Clark seems to me pretty fundamentally sound. Love watching him.

  11. The best thing about what Earl Clark brings, apart from his youth and athleticism which we direly need, apart from the aberration that we seem to imply, is that hunger to play, the desire to stay on the court… in short he’s fighting for his life. This is what the Lakers do not have. Players think they can demand things just because they are the 2nd highest paid player or so without showing for it. As much as you want MDA to adjust to Gasol, Gasol has to adjust to MDA too you know. All in all, the players and coaches need to find that desire. If its not there then you give the guy who wants it more the burn he needs.

  12. Snoopy is correct. As I said last preseason, the Lakers’ most bizarre personnel decision of 2012 was not letting Brown go, but rather trying to pass off Jason Kapono (now out of the NBA) as a backup 2.

    The decision to replace Barnes with Ebanks was more defensible, but it appears thet MDA has decided that Ebnaks can’t play.

  13. The Clippers are up 93-68 in Memphis–without Paul. Barnes has 16 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes.

  14. Griz will end up in the 6th or 7th spot. All the trade rumors and cheap owner has caused issues.

    Portland, Houston, Minnesota and Griz will be under .500 2nd half and can be caught.

  15. KOOO-

    Maybe. As I said a few dasy ago, Utah has the inside track for th 8th spot IMO. Dallas is headed for another double-figure win and will be 16-23 after tonight.

  16. “days” “the”

  17. I’ve always been a fan of E-Clark because, even with the small amount of court time that he was allotted in his previous stops, one could see his potential if given the opportunity. That’s why as soon as the Dwight trade was announced over the summer and it was revealed that E-Clark was part of the package, I felt that he would be the steal of the transaction. Hoping for continued success. Even when Pau returns.

    Oskar,

    Excellent observation in regards to Dwight’s demeanor last night. It appears to me that he’s just not enjoying his stint here with the Lakers. His surliness could be due to a number of things:

    His overall health.
    His dislike of Kobe (The past Phone Call and just recently, the Locker Room altercation).
    The teams lack of success.
    His displeasure with D’Antoni (Remember, he wanted Phil).

    At the end of the day, I would much rather see Dwight for what he is – happy and fun loving while still being successful and ultra competitive – than the caricature of him that we’ve seen for the most part of this season. My reason for this is because, more than likely, it would mean that the team is having success.

  18. Griz played without Rudy Gay due to a family issue…Memphis struggles to score at times. Clips looking pretty good.

  19. Watched Clark a lot in Phoenix..His first year there he was a complete dud, really having very little clue offensively. He could still defend and rebound well, but be was the ultimate ball stopper: the ball would get in his hands and he would become completely confused, either doing nothing or hoisting a long two. Towards the end of his tenure, there were many more interesting moments where he seemed to get it offensively. So it was starting to get to be hard to see him go. He was ultimately used as a sweetner to close the deal where the Suns off loaded Turkaglu so that they could get Gortat (losing Jrich in the process as well). He also had moments in Orlando where you could see the potential. So there is a chance that we are witnessing is a guy with a ton of potential and some kind of Bball IQ issues, suddenly just “getting it” and becomes a real valuable piece.

    At the very least, he has always had the body and the athleticism to be a very intriguing player and certainly has potential to be useful here as a defence first athlete that can guard multiple positions, so that regardless if he is as effective as he has been through the first games will still be useful here given that he provides in spades precisely what is missing. And I like Darius’s analysis as it shows simple things offensively that he can do, regardless of how his shooting streak is progressing. Overall, looks promising for EC.

  20. I think Clark has not played enough for regression to the mean to be all that useful. By that, I mean he has been glued to the bench everywhere he has been. Now he plays a role that is desperately needed by the Lakers and there is not anyone to take it away. He is not putting up huge numbers on a high volume of shots. He is just making the ones he does get. Clark is already way better than I expected and if he continues to hustle he should keep his minutes.

  21. Kenny I think that is a pending trade issue on Gay. Expect this week.

  22. Hustle, defense, help the helper, block shots, rebound, athleticism and a bit of scoring is all that I need him to do the remainder of the season. Glue guy.

    I fan on another site named the guy “The Duke of Earl.” I like this name because it has its own theme song. Gene Chandler’s “The Duke of Earl”

    Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl

  23. Is Clark better than Hill? I mean Hill is a PER monster.

  24. I am convinced that Portland will stay above .500. They play very hard. Batum is the most improved player, imo. Lillard is the real deal, and Aldridge continues to get better.

    I also think Memphis will be fine. Minnesota and Houston are question marks, but if they can stay/get healthy then I think they can at least tread water and stay above .500.

    These teams are all pretty solid if they stay healthy. Plus they can beat up on eastern conference teams.

    Expecting other teams to fall apart that are playing well seems more of a stretch than expecting a collapsing Lakers team to go on a hot streak for the rest of the year.

  25. Something is off with Dwight for sure.He has to get it together.

  26. I read Dwight’s demeanor as a “let’s get down to business” thing. I like it.

  27. KOOO…..

    Gay missed the Clips game because he was excused to attend his grandmother’s funeral. Trade rumors do continue to swirl around him.

    Dwight’s demeanor in the Cav game looked okay to me. He seemed focused and determined, but who really can tell what’s going on inside a person’s heart and mind?

  28. First, i saw Clark, i think he can play, but i don’t know why teams letting him go, until i hear him talking on the ESPN radio, i know why , his voice like a kid. Yesterday, Nash said on the radio, he likes to shoot the ball, so like i wrote on this blog before, MDA has to figure it out for Lakers to win as a team, we don’t care who eats first, look at Miami Heat 2 years in a row, no more Wade’s team .

  29. Kenny T and KOOO
    Could Pau’s continued absence be for trade reasons? I find it hard to believe that his concussion would keep him out 8 days. Maybe they are being just a little more careful because they are shopping him?

  30. I thought Dwight was as focused as the guy can get. He is a bit of a clown but he payed hard Sunday, as for Rudy Gay it’s just wishfulthing king on my part to see some 3 way trade with Rudy endng here. I mean we did trade Walton once didn’t theyZ.

  31. “I find it hard to believe a concussion would keep him out 8 days.”

    I’m sorry, but that is a silly thing to say. A concussion is a brain injury. There is no right amount of time it should take for someone to recover.

    You’d do well to read this piece: http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/53428/working-bodies-nba-head-injuries

  32. Every time you hear or say the word “concussion,” mentally substitute the expression “traumatic brain injury.” Because that’s what it is. Certainly not all TBIs are of equal severity, but still, they’re no joke. (See the recently released findings on Junior Seau’s death.) It’s gratifying to see that professional sports leagues are (at last) beginning to take these injuries more seriously.

  33. Re concussions:

    Pau’s eight days is nothing. Google “Justin Morneau concussion” and see how a concussion has kept a non-contact, or at least “less contact” sport (baseball) guy like Morneau in jeopardy of having to retire for some time now.

    Re: Dwight’s demeanor

    I tend to be in the “you can’t read someone’s mind” camp. It’s tough to watch someone’s on-court “mood” and be sure what they are thinking. His activity the other night sure suggested something other than disinterest or disgust. He played with good effort and activity.

    Moreover, if your observation is accurate, then to the extent that Dwight isn’t as “goofy” or “lighthearted” during his run here in LA as he was in a Magic uni, ask yourself whether that is necessarily a bad thing. LeBron was a lighthearted joker frequently in CLE and during Heatles Version One–we know how that all worked out. Howard getting more serious, if it’s an accurate observation on your part in the first instance, might be just fine for him and for the franchise….

  34. “I find it hard to believe a concussion would keep him out 8 days.”
    ———————-
    “I’m sorry, but that is a silly thing to say. A concussion is a brain injury. There is no right amount of time it should take for someone to recover.”
    ———————–
    It is a sill thing to say, but not because of the right amount of time, but because it”s Gasol. Everyone knows he’s mentally weak (NBA basketball wise).
    How many games did baby Davis miss after being ko’d by Howard?
    How many games did Harden miss after being ko’d by Artest?
    How many games did Novak miss after being ko’d by Worldpeace?
    This is all about Gasol wanting to stay out this long.

  35. @ Manny:

    Yes yes, and you forgot “how many games did Kobe miss after getting schmucked by DWade” I get it…..

    Look, I’ve criticized Gasol here frequently (I think the words “pansy” and “Eurosoft” in an unnecessarily-emotional post shortly after a particularly disappointing playoff loss two years ago rightfully got me moderated because ultimately, neither adjective is a true description of his game) but your accusation is ugly and unsupported. The league has a policy, and it’s keeping him out of games. Period. I understand that if you know what the protocol is, you can make sure you meet it, and thereby keep yourself out of a game. But Pau, for all of his flaws, has always been a consumate professional. Your accusation presumes the opposite is true.

  36. For the record, Manny and MannyP are two different people.

    It’s ridiculous to pass judgments on concussions without knowing the severity of the cases being compared. I mean, even Kobe missed a few games with a concussion.

    Plus, as mindcrime states, Pau has always been a pro. NO reason to think that he is using this as an excuse.

  37. KenOak…

    Looks like you kicked over a hornet’s nest with that question about Pau….:-)

    I think that despite Jim Buss’ recent declaration that he “loves Pau”, if the right deal came along, Pau is history. But I don’t think Pau’s concussion has anything to do with that. As mentioned in the piece that Darius linked, concussions affect each individual differently. We have to defer to the medical experts on this one.

  38. Sorry for saying something silly here on FB&G. I must admit that I don’t know a hell of a lot about concussions (thanks for the link Darius) except that other players seem to not miss as much time or as many games as Pau has. That’s what prompted my question/statement.

    I think that it helps to understand that concussions affect everyone differently and that could be why Pau is taking a bit longer to recover.

  39. @Manny (not MannyP)
    Again, that is a really silly thing to say. You don’t know Pau’s injury, nor do you know what’s in his head. The fact that some players returned to play earlier means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Did you not bother to read the link Darius provided?

  40. Bynum never had a concussion though.