Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
With Jordan Hill slated to miss the rest of the season and Pau Gasol suffering from a concussion, Earl Clark has found his way onto the hardwood. Originally a "throw-in" to acquire Dwight Howard, Clark is now earning minutes, and an extended look from Mike D'Antoni. Let's break it down.
We love Earl Clark.
Not because he's a superstar in the NBA dropping 30 points a night without effort, not because he's slamming down monstrous alley-oops and posterizing opponents on a quarterly basis, but because he's an energy player who can do a little bit of everything. On a roster that severely lacks athleticism, depth, playmakers, and perimeter defenders Clark does a great job checking these boxes off while showing his versatility. His emergence came under less than ideal circumstances as Jordan Hill's injury left him shelved for the remainder of the season, and Pau Gasol has been dealing with a concussion.
So, the opportunity is here for Earl Clark to devour: a delicious entrée freshly out of the oven on a purple and gold platter. As he digs into his plate the Lakers have benefited from feeding the "throw-in" from the Dwight Howard trade, and with each passing game, it becomes clear that his place in the Lakers' rotation is no longer a "break in case of emergency" but "don't break this because it's working".
So, again, why exactly do we love Earl Clark? Let's take a look at what he's doing to earn minutes and the attention that's been heaped upon his doorstep (or, more likely in his case, his locker).
He plays with energy and is an active rebounder on both ends
Since Earl Clark began gaining minutes in these last five games (20 or more in each contest, along with three starts) he has logged at least 9 rebounds in each game. He's averaging 10 rebounds a game in this stretch, and has at least 2 offensive rebounds every outing. His total rebounding percentage in this window is 19.62%, which would make him the most effective rebounder on the team (Jordan Hill is now out for the season but had a 19.8%, and Dwight Howard currently leads with 19%. Behind Dwight is Pau Gasol with 13.4%). This is a very small sample size however, but it remains a trend to keep an eye on. Let's take a look at Earl grabbing boards on both ends.
Earl Clark is playing power forward here and is matched up with Serge Ibaka. Metta World Peace has an empty lane to drive through and makes the move, causing Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka to both rotate.
With the defense collapsing on him, MWP still decides to go for the layup. Earl Clark stays engaged in the play and doesn't sit back as a bystander of the moment. With Ibaka's back turned, he's going to sneak into the paint and grab the offensive rebound.
EARL SMASH! He grabs an easy offensive board and gets the putback dunk to top it off. Staying active in a play leads to great things, and similar to Jordan Hill, Clark's motor seems to always be running. This is great for the Lakers who desperately needed another one of those guys before they lost their one player who was already there (Hill).
He doesn't just take advantage of out of position defenders, though, he fights for position and rebounds.
Here, he's battling with 6'11'' Tiago Splitter for position as the Spurs get a shot off.
He wins the battle and grabs the loose ball over Splitter.
He tosses the ball to Kobe as they move into transition in this play. It's simple, but the Lakers have been struggling to keep opposing teams off of the offensive glass (ranked 24th in the league currently), most recently exploited by the Milwaukee Bucks in Tuesday night's game (21 offensive rebounds). Not only does a defensive rebound kill second-chance points, but it turns into transition, so let's continue with the transition of this play which leads to the next reason why we love Earl Clark.
He's shown he can be effective as a screener, can pop out for the mid-range jumper, and works off-ball
Kobe takes the ball up court and Earl sets a screen for the leagues leading scorer to work around.
He sets a second screen for Kobe, then slips it and pops out to just outside the elbow of the key.
Kobe drives and kicks the ball to wide open Earl Clark after forcing the defense to collapse on his drive. Just a routine jumper for Clark to sink without much defense to change the shot.
Rebound, transition, easy offense: a sequence the Lakers need to find more often than they are currently. Clark dropped his jumper here and has shown he has a bit of "range" to help keep the floor spread and give another option out of pick and rolls. Let's take a closer look at his shooting percentages:
Aside from the top of the key Clark has been shooting at a high clip at mid-range. Again, the caveat that this is a very small sample must remain. On a team featuring Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and (as soon as he is cleared from his concussion) Pau Gasol, Earl's offense won't be a pillar for the Lakers to lean on, but another option to utilize. The amount of attention the rest of the starting lineup can draw will open up the floor for players like Earl Clark.
He doesn't need the ball to be effective, and he isn't one dimensional on offense
This is the opening play for the Lakers in their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is actually a Horns set with Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard operating in the elbows. Metta is going to set a screen to free up Kobe.
Kobe moves down to the elbow after a solid screen from MWP that leaves his defender out of position and is going to receive the pass from Steve Nash. This isn't designed for Kobe to work the mid-range, as he's going to set a screen for Nash and hand it off as he begins driving to the paint.
Kyrie goes under the screen which gives Nash a lane to drive. Earl Clark finally comes into the picture as he waits in the corner. Notice the only defender near Clark is now looking at Steve Nash driving towards the rim.
Cleveland's defense collapses on Nash to cut him off. No matter, as Clark takes advantage of the space and lack of attention he was given and drives to the rim as Nash sends the ball his way. Plays like this are what the Lakers role players need to be prepared to make as their high profile teammates draw attention away from them.
Earl drives in for the layup but Tyler Zeller does a good job recovering and contesting the shot, forcing Clark to miss.
Surrounded by three wine jerseys, Earl Clark still gets up for the offensive rebound.
Clark recovers and tries to finish, but is fouled in the process. He hits both free throws.
This was a well executed play by the Lakers-- one of the most fluent sequences we've seen from them in some time if I must say. This play serves as a great example as to why Earl Clark has been such a great addition for the Lakers, as his athleticism and hustle are on full display with the extra effort and quick recovery shown here.
He isn't just an individual scorer, though, he's a great playmaker
Playmakers are few and far between for this Lakers team, and Earl Clark has shown an affinity to making plays for his teammates. In these last five games Earl Clark has had at least 3 assists in every contest and is averaging 3.4 assists per game.
Here, Clark has a complete mismatch with Kendrick Perkins isolated on the wing. He's going to drive on him and force Serge Ibaka to rotate and help.
Not only does Ibaka help, but Kevin Durant also rotates over. Earl Clark still finds the open man after leaving his feet and hits Robert Sacre with a pass.
Robert... Sacre... smash? ROBERT SACRE SMASH!
This was a great pass on the fly, and overall great decision made by Clark in this sequence.
On a team full of role players who don't make good decisions, Earl Clark seems to "get it" and makes the right play
Here the Lakers are in a secondary transition situation. Earl Clark is posted up on the block but has no intention of trying to work the post. Antawn Jamison is the trailer man and the Thunder defense has completely forgotten about him as they crowd the paint. Jamison is going to cut to the rim, and Clark recognizes this before the ball ever touches his hands.
As soon as the ball touches his hands he slings the ball over to Antawn Jamison who is about to have an easy layup, completely catching the Thunder defense with their pants down.
So, what happens when you combine his decision making, his ability to handle the ball, and his tendency to make plays happen?
He makes good decisions in transition, and is a pretty good passer overall
This play has two great things. The first will be Kobe's off-ball defense from Tuesday night's game against the Bucks. Here, he chases Brandon Jennings off-ball as he tries to streak to the rim. Monta Ellis is going to try and sneak the pass by the trailing Kobe. Dwight Howard is in position to rotate and help.
A few things happen here. The first, Howard rotates on time and is in position to cut off Jennings. The second, Kobe Bryant doesn't fall behind and gets a hand on the ball. The third, the ball deflects off of Kobe's hand and bounces over to Earl Clark.
Earl Clark is going to lead the break here and try to turn Kobe's defense into offense for the Lakers. Both he and Metta will be ahead of the pack.
Metta is way ahead of his man and Monta Ellis is backpedaling as he prepares for Clark to drive into him. Earl notices the great position Metta is in to finish this break.
Clark leads Metta to the rim with a bounce pass. Ellis is in no position to make a play here as he was solely concerned with stopping Earl.
Because of the great pass placement, Metta is in position to finish the break and gets an easy layup.
A successful Lakers fast break is a rare Lakers fast break as we know all too well. Clark did a great job of leading the break, showing his ability to not only handle the ball, but make a precise pass: a commodity for the purple and gold. This play started because of Kobe's defense, so perhaps most importantly...
Defense, defense, defense
The Cavaliers wisely pick on Antawn Jamison with a screen, and Earl Clark is playing on-ball defense.
Jamison sags back while Earl fights over the top of the screen and is able to move quick enough to stop the dribble penetration into the paint.
Since the dribble penetration was cut off, the Cavs kick it out to the perimeter and reset. Darius Morris closes out, causing his man to drive into the paint.
Morris is blown by but Clark recognizes his teammate's failing and is prepared to make the play.
Clark goes up and gets a clean block on the ball.
Earl Clark has had a block in all but one of the last five games he has played in, and has had two games with at least three blocks. He moves his feet well and has shown he can make crisp rotations and good decisions on the defensive end as well.
The Spurs are great at plays like this. This is a triple screen hand off setup for Manu Ginobili who is going to swing around the entire arc. Metta fought through the first screen but is already falling behind and is headed straight into the second body, which is Boris Diaw who will be giving the ball to Manu.
Metta World Peace is now actively doing the running man and is out of the play. Earl Clark picks up Ginobili, shifts his feet while rotating, and cuts off any dribble penetration forcing him to reset on the perimeter.
Clark and Ginobili are now in isolation and Manu is going to attempt to drive to the rim.
Clark shows his great foot speed and stays on Manu without fouling.
Manu tries to get a shot attempt up but it's tightly contested by Earl Clark who sticks on him through the drive. Still no foul.
The shot misses, Earl Clark grabs the defensive rebound, and this breakdown comes full circle. Earl Clark does all the little things right.
Earl Clark has only provided us five games (three of which were starts) to see what he can do. In that time, he has shown his value to the team in a variety of ways. His effort and energy show in the way he actively attacks the glass. He sets solid screens and is able to pop out and hit the mid-range jumper. When the rest of his teammates are executing a play, he's able to be an option without the ball in his hands, and he's great at driving to the rim and cutting. His ability to handle the ball is useful not only on his drives, but in transition where he displays an ability to make the right play in fast breaks. His passing ability has been a great tool as he shows good court vision in half-court sets, on the fly while driving to the rim, and in the aforementioned fast breaks. Clark's defense is the cherry on top here as he is able to use his foot speed to cut off dribble penetration and stay with his man in isolation.
Put it all together and it's clear why we love Earl Clark, and more importantly, why he deserves playing time with the Lakers.
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- Shot chart provided by Vorped.com