The Pelicans came to terms with free agent guard Ian Clark on Tuesday evening as New Orleans signed the former Golden State reserve to a one-year veteran’s minimum. The move was universally praised because Dell Demps had inked a budding talent with championship experience for a significantly smaller sum than expected.
Wanting to know more than just basic basketball-reference.com statistics, I reached out to our sister SB Nation site responsible for the Warriors, Golden State of Mind, and a pair of their writers were more than happy to answer all of my questions: Hugo Kitano and Duby Dub Dubs, who prefers to keep his real name anonymous. Sorta like Bono. Anyway, here’s what they had to say about Clark.
1. Ian Clark undoubtedly had the best season of his career in 2016-17. The thing that stands out most to me are the minutes he logged — 1,137 is nearly double the amount from the year before. What did he do to earn such a big boost in playing time?
Duby Dub Dubs (DDD): Ian Clark is probably the most vanilla bench player you’ll ever see. Where most guys come in off the bench trying to make an impact, I feel like Clark’s primary role was not to mess anything up. In this role, he was fantastic. With the roster we had, Clark was really able to selectively choose his spots. He’s not the strongest ball handler and lacks awe-inducing athleticism, but he is an excellent floor leader. He plays adequate defense, shoots well from all over the court, and is a willing passer.
The takeaway from all this is that he was perfectly suited to replace Leandro Barbosa (and this also partially explains how he got so many minutes). Barbosa was given the lion’s share of backup minutes in the previous season, but with the addition of Kevin Durant, the Warriors opted to go with Clark’s steady hand over the offensive dynamism of Barbosa.
Hugo: As Duby stated, Leandro Barbosa and Brandon Rush left in the 2016, leaving a lot of minutes at backup point guard and shooting guard. Clark’s shooting has always been his NBA talent, and at times he’s looked like the best scorer off the bench for the Warriors. When he’s on, he can hit open threes and floaters, and create just enough as a supporting guy. He’s smart and efficient, and a great locker room guy.
However, he was inconsistent. Towards the end of the season, Clark went through a shooting slump that led to his minutes decreasing substantially. Also, he’s not a point guard and probably will never be. Fortunately for the Warriors, Shaun Livingston often played alongside him and had enough size (at 6’7”) to cover opposing two-guards when necessary. Lastly, Clark was a poor on-ball defender: though he tries, he can be embarrassed. This was most apparent in the Finals, when Kyrie Irving destroyed him in isolation possessions repeatedly.
2. Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday are penciled in as New Orleans' starting backcourt this season. Does Clark deserve to be the first guard off the bench ahead of E'Twaun Moore and Jordan Crawford? And who would Clark play best with, Holiday or Rondo?
DDD: I actually commented on this in our recent thread on the signing. I’m of the mind that Clark with eventually become the starting PG for you all. Like Holiday, Clark is something of a combo guard who will be able to fill in at the PG or SG position. But unlike Rondo, Clark is actually something of a threat offensively. Particularly, his ability to space the floor as a shooter, while also handling some of the ball handling responsibilities is going to almost immediately make the case for him to start over Rondo. This also answers the question of where I think his best fit is (alongside Holiday or Crawford).
Now, the caveat here is that I’m not super familiar with your team, so I don’t know how the fit will work out, as far as the depth chart goes. In general, I’m pretty low on inefficient players, so personally, I’d give the nod to Clark over either Crawford or Moore. But it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Given your bigs, I wouldn’t be all too shocked to just see a full-on three guards, two bigs lineup be your most successful.
Hugo: I think Clark is better than Jordan Crawford, but probably not as good as E’Twaun Moore, who is more well-rounded than Clark. He can play spot minutes at point guard, but will probably be best off-ball. Therefore, I’m most intrigued to see him play with Jrue Holiday, who might have the size to deal with larger twos if Ian Clark needs to guard ones.
The Pelicans really need shooting, and Ian Clark might just be the best pure shooter on the team. But he doesn’t solve the Pelicans’ massive lack of wing depth, as he’s more of a combo guard.
3. The Pelicans desperately need outside shooting, does Clark solve that problem? I see he is coming off career-highs in three point makes (61), attempts (167) and percent (37.4). Can Clark keep that pace up in a presumably larger role in New Orleans?
DDD: Ok, so two-part question here, so here’s my two-part answer. No, Clark does not single-handedly solve your outside shooting needs. But honestly if he was, your management sure as hell wouldn’t have picked him up for a single-season, minimum value contract. He will help though, for sure. He may be known as a shooter (and he excels at it), but he’s worked a lot recently to become a more complete player.
Now, this gets into the second part of your question, because the biggest limiting factor here will once again be how much playing time Clark can earn. If you give him the minutes, I think he can produce for your team. But I think the playing time question is somewhat out of his hands. After the Pelicans pursued Crawford, I can only assume they envision a heavy role for him. I’m just not sure how the rotation will shake out, but if given the chance, I’m pretty confident that Clark would continue to put up something close to his current Per36 stat line, more or less.
Hugo: I really do think Clark might be the best pure outside shooter on this Pelicans team. I think he can up his percentage on threes with just a little bit more consistency over the course of the season. I’m not exactly sure how many minutes Clark will earn, as Holiday, Moore, and Crawford will be competing for minutes at shooting guard (and none of them are taller than 6’4”).
4. I read in Dean Campbell's season review that Clark has room to improve defensively. Clark "doesn't have the size to fit with the switching scheme" Golden State used and Steve Kerr had to bench him in favor of the taller Patrick McCaw in the Finals. New Orleans improved dramatically defensively last year by deploying a similar switching style of play, is this going to be an area of concern for Clark?
DDD: Yup. It is. He’s simply not a great defender — and this is even more of an issue once you factor in size (and any desire to play him as the SG) it compounds into a real concern. He’s not going to single-handedly kill your team or anything, but asking Clark to be a defensive asset is asking a lot, particularly once he gets switched on to larger players.
Hugo: Yes, he was probably the worst defensive player in the Warriors’ rotation last year. But given the right lineups, he can tip the scales offensively to more than compensate for his defensive issues.
5. Why was New Orleans able to get Clark for such a bargain deal? The expectation was Clark would get up to about $8 or $9 million but instead New Orleans got him for the veteran minimum. What happened?
DDD: Ya got me! ...I don’t know. Some combination of market demand and buyer skepticism?
My pet theory is that teams are reserving all their money for more impactful players that can do a bit more. Clark’s nice and all, but he’s something of a one-way player. Undersized offensive role players aren’t that hard to come by. Also, there may be some hesitancy due to all of his output happening in Golden State, where the team’s players and systems easily cover a guy’s weaknesses. The fact that rookie Patrick McCaw came in and passed him on the depth chart immediately just further confirms any fears that teams may have about Clark.
Hugo: Nobody expected the Warriors to retain Clark this offseason. We did expect to see Clark get a medium-sized contract last year, though. I think two things caused Clark and many other free agents (especially restricted free agents) to miss out on decent money this offseason: first, the league cap is a few millions lower than predicted because of disappointing playoff revenue, and second, teams massively overpaid for free agents in 2016.
6. Ian Clark has been a player that's improved every year since coming into the league out of Belmont. What can we expect from him this season? Does he take the leap?
DDD: Clark can score, if he gets minutes. We got a lot of flak for it in the national media, but that game where Kerr sat our main players, Clark went off!
Also, ask the Blazers, if you give him a matchup he likes, and some minutes to play with, he can do damage on offense.
If Rondo or Holiday goes down with an injury, or Clark somehow manages to fight his way into big rotation minutes, he absolutely can improve. In my opinion, he is a better option than Rondo and Crawford right now, but you’ll need to give him some room to spread his wings if you really want him to develop. One thing’s for sure: Clark will be a fantastic addition to your team. He works hard, seems like a great guy, and doesn’t cause any drama. Congrats on a great bargain find, and good luck!
Hugo: I can absolutely see Clark improving on his consistency this season. If he can add more skills to his offensive game and hold up defensively, he can be the Pelicans’ best scorer off the bench. He’s a tremendous worker, and is worth much more than a minimum contract.