When 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.