July 31, 2014

Everything you need to know about new Cavs forward Earl Clark

Earl Clark CavsWhen Earl Clark was the the No. 14 pick in the 2009 draft, he probably never expected to be in this position four years later. But here he is now, a 25-year-old with the opportunity to provide depth and length to the young Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cavs general manager Chris Grant still has more work to do this offseason with over $15 million left in cap space and several other roster holes to fill. But Clark was a nice first free agency move after his most productive NBA season.

Looking back through Clark’s college and professional career, one can see how his athleticism and versatility have intrigued NBA executives. What remains to be seen is what he can contribute consistently on offense and where exactly he’ll play his minutes in 2013-14.

This article will serve as a primer on Earl Clark’s potential Cleveland impact through the eyes of varied articles from the past about this versatile forward.

Earl Clark Scouting Reports” — Draft Express: 2005-09

Although he was a McDonald’s All-American and top-15 national prospect, Clark’s NBA profile went mainstream mostly after a solidly productive sophomore season at the University of Louisville. That 2007-08 season, he averaged 11.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in just 28.5 minutes per game, bursting onto the scene as a high-energy, uber-athletic 3/4 hybrid. He flirted with the NBA draft that summer before eventually returning to school.

Thus, his DraftExpress profile is quite robust. There are oodles of articles and reports dating back to his high school years. What’s important to note: Many of his then weaknesses and strengths remain the same today. He’s a “freakishly tall wing”, but his playing profile is a bit enigmatic.

At the time of the 2009 draft, he had the highest turnover rate and worst point per possession rate among all eligible power forwards. He took a high number of jump shots and wasn’t very good at them. Overall, teams were intrigued not based on a high level of offensive production, but because of his tools, potential and abilities defensively and on the glass.

Rahway’s Earl Clark glad he decided to stay at Louisville” — NJ Star-Ledger: Jan. 21, 2009

This next profile from his home state provides a softer look at the Clark family. The key findings: the UL forward was a down-to-earth and fun-loving personality who seemed to enjoy the college lifestyle. Yet his father, Larry Clark, a former college player too, seemed to understand the tough transition ahead of his son in the NBA.

It appeared it was Larry’s pushing that led Earl to return to school in the summer of 2008. He mentioned how his son needed to mature and needed another year of seasoning under head coach Rick Pitino. Thus, by the spring of 2009, Earl was solidly in the mid-first round tier, after possibly falling to the second round the previous draft.

earl clark college stats

In Earl Clark’s complete collegiate statistical history, one can again find the common weaknesses that now sprout up. He’s very turnover-heavy for a forward. He never shot quite that efficiently and although he was one of Louisville’s best players, he didn’t factor in too many offensive possessions. He didn’t rank that highly in many statistical categories at all, despite his all-around game.

What We Think We Know About Earl Clark” — True Hoop: June 22, 2009

One of the most extensive articles on Earl Clark actually happens to be at the Worldwide Leader over at True Hoop. The profile began with a look at how Clark grew 6 inches between eighth grade and freshman year, shifting expectations for the former perimeter-loving guard (think of Anthony Davis).

Yet the point of this piece was to investigate the origins of concerns behind Clark’s “inner desire” to reach his NBA-caliber potential. This was why he was “only” a mid-first round prospect, despite his certainly fascinating tools. Clearly, the numbers already were concerning in a variety of ways as seen above, but what else?

Again, this is where Clark’s care-free personality came into consideration. He rated well on league personality tests. But teams had a conviction he lacked a killer instinct, while acknowledging his accolades in the tough Big East. In regards to his tweener status, Clark easily could handle anything defensively. Offensively was another issue.

The key comparison used here was Lamar Odom, a player who similarly never had to give more than 80% effort to dominate on offense for a long time. Both players have so many possible skills that they hesitated when faced with pressure, leading to the common concerns. But in the end, Clark focused again on “just being a basketball player”, whatever that may be.

The future (and past) of one Earl Clark” — Bright Side of the Sun: May 31, 2010

So as the story goes, Clark was picked at No. 14 by the Phoenix Suns in that 2009 draft. He had a disappointing freshman campaign in the league, playing only 7.5 minutes per game in 57 contests. His numbers were erratic, at best, when he got his sparse playing time.

That led to this similarly over-sized article from this Phoenix Suns blog. This wove through his high school and college history, then leading to his rookie season where it seemed after one mistake, Clark was back on the bench. Thus, he was back to his old habits of trying to take over games.

He re-focused himself in practice and on simply committing to contributing via defense and rebounding. There even was a quote in this article from Suns assistant Igor Kokoskov who talked about Clark’s immense potential. Suns fans didn’t know what to necessarily expect in the future, but realized he’d need consistent playing time to showcase why he was a lottery pick.

Earl Clark Is Blowing Up, Still Hilarious” — Card Chronicle: Jan. 17, 2013

Just into his second season, Clark was moved to Orlando in the mega-deal involving Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Vince Carter. Things weren’t all that much different in the Sunshine State, although he started to show some flashes of improved two-point shooting efficiency and rebounding in his similarly limited minutes. He also received some mop-up time in the playoffs.

Then in August 2012, Clark was considered a relatively meaningless throw-in to the mega-deal that brought Dwight Howard to Los Angeles. He was just one of the many, many moving parts in that deal, which now appears to be won by Orlando since Andrew Bynum, Andre Iguodala and Howard all could be on the move to new teams within 12 months.

Through early January, the story was the same for Clark. Up until Jan. 6, he only had played in nine games and totaled less than 30 minutes. He was a relatively inconsequential part of a supposedly deep Lakers roster expected to contend for the title. But then, the miracle happened.

This article from UL blog Card Chronicle (which is a fantastic read year-round), shared how again, this forward is a care-free personality. He’s long been a jokester and a fan favorite.

Earl Clark: The Lakers’ Diamond In The Rough” — Lakers Nation: Jan. 19, 2013

On Jan. 6, Clark found his spark. Late in a game where the Lakers were facing multiple injuries, Denver coach George Karl picked Clark to shot two injury free throws. He nailed them both. Thus, he ended up with the rare statistical line of two points in exactly zero minutes. He was then forced into action without Pau Gasol the next day, playing 20 minutes the next game.

This is where he caught fire and “Earlsanity” began. Other items in note in this article: Clark nearly hopped over to China during the NBA lockout. He had an agreement in hand, then was able to return back to the states when play started. His nickname with the Lakers was “Easy” and always received reminders from Kobe Bryant at his hard-working practices that his day would come.

Ten things to know about Earl Clark” — ESPN Los Angeles: Jan. 25, 2013

And boy, did Clark find the perfect place and the perfect opportunity to have a career-best stretch. In Los Angeles, with the team mired in a season-long funk and hoping to make it back to the playoffs, everything was going to get super-sized media attention. Some other notable tidbits here: Clark is a family man, a sneaker-man, loved just hearing his name called in the Staples Center starting lineups and made a few goofball mistakes with the media.

Overall, in a 28-game stretch, Clark ended up with eight double-doubles. He became a lightning rod on the team because of his hustle on the boards (8.2 per game) along with defensively (0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks per game). Most of all, his success was due to the consistent playing time and his long, hard work in practice. Finally, when he received upwards of 30 minutes a night consistently, he was showing his potential.

Earl Clark’s fresh start with Lakers could have huge payoff” — LA Daily News: Feb. 4, 2013

But as the success grew longer and players eventually returned to the Lakers by mid-March, the team realized Clark might be playing his way out of town. His perceived lack of a “killer” instinct was no longer there, with his years of internal disappointment shed away by months of intense hard work. Head coach Mike D’Antoni called Clark’s story a “good jolt” in an otherwise bland season.

Playing time dwindled slightly when Dwight Howard and Paul Gasol returned with health to the team’s rotation. He still playing over 20 minutes a game in his final 25 contests including playoffs, but his efficiency and shooting percentages were way down. He totaled over five points just seven times and had only one double-double in these 25 games.

The Lakers’ sweep in the first round led to speculation over the past few months whether the team might be able to retain his services. Instead, many teams were supposedly on his trail with the Cavs being a natural link. Rumors started to heat up over the last two days, leading to his signing on July 4th.

A Quick Statistical Primer on Earl Clark” — Cavs The Blog: July 4, 2013

earl clark split stats

Now that he is a Cavalier, this fellow Cavs blog shared their thoughts on his statistical profile and where it matches this roster. What it ignored somewhat was Clark’s history as a player and where he can succeed. Per 82Games.com, Clark played 1/3rd of his 2012-13 minutes at small forward. Defensively, as has been known for years, he can guard multiple positions because of his length and athleticism. Offense has been the question.

The chart above then shows his offensive breakdown comparing that one fantastic 28-game stretch in Los Angeles with the rest of his career. The biggest difference? Shooting percentage. He only had 10 three-point attempts prior to LA last season. With mild efficiency at those threes and, of course, consistent playing time, he got into a rhythm and was able to re-imagine the success he had back in college and high school.

With the familiarity of Kokoskov and even VP of basketball operations David Griffin from Phoenix, along with head coach Mike Brown from early last year in LA, Clark was a familiar rotation cog that could come into the Cavs’ roster. They had been looking for versatile wings and Clark fits that bill. He’s not a complete package offensively, but that’s not necessarily what this roster needed anyway.

In 2013-14, expect to become a fan of Earl Clark’s. He’s gained many over the years at his many stops through his outgoing personality and commitment to improve his game. At a fresh start and with a guaranteed rotation spot, he should continue his success in Los Angeles and blossom into the talent many scouts expected back from his earlier days as a prospect.

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • jeremysexton

    He was below average last year, an improvement from being abysmal the rest of his career. This pickup makes no sense to me.

  • http://www.crowdfundinsider.com/ Charles Luzar

    “That 2007-08 season, he averaged 11.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in just 28.5 minutes per game, bursting onto the scene as a high-energy, uber-athletic 3/4 hybrid.”

    I’m struggling to see the vision of how this is a playoff team this year, but perhaps I’m beginning to. They have these tweener 3/4 guys (Bennett, Clark). Is the plan to basically play a stretch 4 at the 3 (bigger bodies while still stretching the floor) and try to open the lane for the guards? Help me understand here. Are they going to snag another SF, C and a SG? I realize none of you are Chris Grant but give me your best shot. (Chris, feel free to comment on Cleveland sports blogs. We won’t tell anyone, promise.)

  • baclap

    Great article Jacob.

  • JacobWFNY

    You know how Terry Pluto often says to not let millionaire athletes ruin your day?

    The corollary: Don’t let 8th-man free agency pickups with one guaranteed year ruin your day.

  • JacobWFNY

    Thank you. Appreciate that. I’ve been fascinated by Earl Clark (and lots of UL athletes) for years. This was a lot of fun to write.

  • JacobWFNY

    Well, the point is there need to be more warm bodies on the roster. Here are the guys that the team has committed to for next season: Kyrie, Dion, Tristan, Bennett, Varejao, Zeller, Gee, Clark, Felix. That’s 9 players.

    Obviously, a need still exists at backup PG, rotational SG and backup PF/C. They have $15 million to possibly fill those slots, although they don’t have to use it all and they’ll obviously prefer one-year guarantees only.

    So yeah, Clark slides in as a rotational 3/4 who can match up well defensively. Ideally, he’ll get 15-25 minutes (consistently!) per night. He’s not a huge difference-maker, overall. But he’s a nice piece with upside and familiarity with the front office.

  • Lyon25

    It’s a low risk move. Low $ amount and he has high potential. If he can guard the wing it helps tremendously. If not, he becomes another PF fighting for minutes.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    For some reason I keep thinking he played at Illinois.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Very true this move doesn’t “hurt” maybe it’ll help. It’s just hard to imagine that this is the kind of move to help backup all of the “we are sick of being in the lottery we want to make the playoffs”. Kinda reminds me of the Indians signing Mark Reynolds. Take a chance on a guy who won’t garner alot of attention throw some cash at him and hope he can play better then what you expected. Of course if the guy does well it probably means he leaves but hey, no guts no glory!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Familiarity with Mike Brown for a whopping six months! It will be great to see Clark reward Brown for his obvious confidence and trust. Time will tell.

  • Nate

    Definitely good stuff here, I’m ultimately intrigued by Clark myself. Cleveland has the opportunity to make a run at something special since it’s the east(8th seed). But I like our future with these solid picks ups past few seasons.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I’m not there. I just don’t see the vision. So Clark is not the replacement for Gee at small forward? That’s a relief but only until you realize that means another year of Gee starting in a position where the Cavs could have easily made an upgrade (and they seemingly really needed to).

  • BROSEPH

    Statistics don’t tell the story. I watched a lot of Lakers games this year. Clark was probably the only bright spot of the season, reading NBA forums also tells you that Lakers fans are really upset about seeing him leave. He’s young, plays with high energy, plays with passion, the kind of player you want on your team. Clark has never gotten consistent playing time, but the thought around the league is that he’ll grow into a nice piece as he gets more playing time. That’s why he got a pay raise, and I think this season he’ll show us that he deserved it.

  • maxfnmloans

    am I the only one starting to be reminded of the 200 roster where we had an All-Star PG, and a slew of guys who were between 6’6″ and 6’9′?

    In 2000 we had Wes Person, Lamond Murray, Jim Jackson, Ced Henderson, Tractor Traylor, Clarence Weatherspoon, Chris Gatling (listed as 6’10″ but I dunno), and even Chucky Brown started a couple games.

    Just wondering if I’m the only one

  • Larrybird1

    This guy can play! Great pick up by the Cavaliers.

  • DaveinLA

    I couldn’t agree more. I live in LA so I saw more than my fair share of games this year (as long as they didn’t conflict with the Cavs of course). Clark was generally solid, and on occasion better than that. He can be a spark when his team needs him.

    Jacob hit it right on with his comment about having 9 spots filled so far. Not every signing can be a blockbuster, but you still have to fill the roster out. We got a 3 with athleticism and, based on what I’ve seen, a good deal of upside with limited downside if he’s used right. That’s better than filling it with some aging journeyman or an unproven D-Leaguer.

    I’m excited to see him put on the wine and gold. Solid article.

  • Vernon Chiow

    as a CAVS fan …I know we got a steal….he is no Casspi for sure….

  • LaundroMat

    You might be the only one, but not because your comparison is invalid — because of age/memory.

  • woofersus

    Don’t forget the bench was the worst part of the team last year. Quality rotation guys are a big need, and Bennett/Clark are a huge upgrade from Jon Leuer and Kevin Jones. From that perspective I like this signing. As Jacob noted below, a quality backup PG and SG at least, and will probably be added soon. A second unit that is really good would be huge.

    As far as strategy on the size of the players, I think there area variety of reasons. Bennett was just the guy they thought was the most unique athlete with the most polished offensive skill set. They didn’t pick him for fit. Clark on the other hand accomplishes a number of things they needed. He allows them to get longer at the SF spot when they need to, or more athletic at the PF spot when they need to, (since you can’t rely on Bennett just yet) and you can be sure Mike Brown wants a couple of defensive specialists on the roster. (hence the drafting of Carrick for perimeter defense)
    They’re certainly not done though. A bunch of dominos won’t fall until the Dwight Howard sweepstakes comes to an end.

  • maxfnmloans

    i think you just told me Im old, but not senile…thank you?

  • Kevin Hetrick

    Thanks for linking to my article. I liked yours and agree with the sentiment to not “let 8th-man free agency pickups with one guaranteed year ruin your day”.

  • JacobWFNY

    Thanks, Kevin. Love your work at CTB.

  • citizen8

    I’m a Lakers fan and I’m trying to figure out why they let E Clark get away. I think the Lakers will regret not signing him.