After working out several free agent wing players over the last few weeks, the season (and possibly NBA career) ending achilles injury to Xavier Henry forced the Los Angeles Lakers' hand, and they made their move. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that the front office has decided to bring back forward Earl Clark.
While some fans will remember Earl for his mini "breakthrough" with the Lakers in the 2012-13 season, his previous stint in LA was arguably the best he has played all around in his career after being forced into duty due to injuries among LA's frontcourt, averaging 7.3 points (on 44% FG%) and 5.5 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game. On a related note, these were the highest points, rebounds, minutes, and field goal attempts of the former Cardinal Bird's career (and his second highest FG%, 0.1% lower than his high). After leaving L.A. for the Cavaliers, Clark once again struggled to resemble an NBA player and was let go by Cleveland after just 45 unimpressive games.
The main problem for Earl Clark to make it in the league is that he is a bit of a "tweener" who struggles to fit a position. At a listed 6'10" and 228 pounds, Clark certainly has the size to play power forward, but not really the skillset. A career 40.4% shooter, Clark struggles to convert anywhere other than the rim. Over his career, the vast majority of his made field goals have been assisted, suggesting that Clark can't create his own shot. This mitigates his value offensively, because without the ability to effectively drive, post up, or shoot threes (33.6% on three pointers in seasons with above 100 attempts), it's hard for Clark to play the four or the three.
Defensively this has been just as much of a problem for "Eazy", which is his nickname as well as describing the difficulty level with which players can score on him. Clark has consistently posted a negative net rating throughout his career (-10 average), which is partially a product of being on bad teams; but surely Clark is not blameless. This also goes back to his being a "tweener." At his aformentioned 6'10" and 228 pounds, Earl is too long and slow to consistently stay in front of small forwards, but not bulky enough to effectively defend the leagues' bigger power forwards.
These facts makes it unsurprising that Los Angeles would be the team to give Clark potentially his last chance to make it in the league, as during his lone season in L.A. he was merely a -2 net rating. The reason for this? While Clark was around his career norm in defensive rating with opponents scoring an average 105 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor, Clark's offensive rating was well above his career average of 95, with the Lakers scoring 103 points per 100 possessions during his minutes. This falls in line with 2012-13 being Clark's best career year in terms of effectiveness, and also points to unsustainable shooting fueling an outlier of a season statistically for the journeyman big.
For all of the reasons listed above, as well as the simple fact of him being available for a mid-season signing, color me dubious that Clark will have much of a positive effect on the Lakers this season. Dakota Schmidt, my colleague at this wonderful blog and video compilation wizard has put together a comp on Clark's play in addition to some of his own observations on the Lakers' newest free agent signee and Rio Grande Valley Vipers superstar scorer. Dakota, what are you seeing from Clark?
By just examining his extremely brief stint in the D-League, you can see that Earl Clark has the ability to produce on all facets of the offensive end. Per usual for a player that stands at 6'10, Clark worked as a pick-and-roll screener alongside Gary Talton, who's one of the D-League's best distributors. Talton allowed Clark to capture open perimeter and mid-range looks, which he made on a regular basis. Also, Clark showed an ability to work from the perimeter and cut to the rim.
On the defensive end, Clark seemed focused, which led to him becoming a pretty good help defender. His work on the defensive end was showcased by Clark averaging 3.3 blocks per game. Here's a compilation of Clark playing well in the D-league:
Thanks Dakota for your thoughts and the accompanying video that you put together. Be sure to give him a follow on twitter at @Dakota_Schmidt. So obviously our opinions on Clark differ a little bit, surely because of the differences between NBA and D-League competition. In case you were wondering how Clark was shooting in the D-League after watching him make it rain in that video, here is his shot chart from his time with the Vipers.
Clark still is mostly struggling from the perimeter, and it's doubtful he will be able to get as many layups in the big show as he was during his time in the minors. Regardless of what level of success he has, it will at least be interesting to watch a fresh player who might contribute something unexpected when juxtaposed against the option of watching the now predictable and consistent failure of this current Lakers rotation.
All Statistics per Basketball Reference