Friday, May 22, 2009

NBA Draft Prospects: Earl Clark, Louisville

Stats: 14.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.4 bpg, 3.2 t/o's, 45.7% FG, 32.6% 3PT, 64.7% FT

Listed Size: 6'9", 220 lb, 1/17/1988 (21 years old)

(photo credit: ESPN)

About Him: There is no denying the potential that Earl Clark has. The kid is a fantastic athlete. At 6'9", 220 lb, he is big and strong enough to bang on the block, but he is also quick and mobile enough to get out and defend guards on the perimeter. And with his frame (big broad shoulders and long arms), he could probably still add 15 pounds of muscle without negatively affecting his athleticism. This versatility is exactly what makes him such an enticing pro prospect.

The issue is that so much of what Clark brings to the table is potential. One of the biggest problems that Clark faced in his time at Louisville was a lack of identity, so to speak - he was always stuck between being a 3 and a 4. This season was a perfect example. Playing alongside Terrence Williams and Samardo Samuels in the front court, it would seem like the four would be the natural fit for Clark. But with the lack of playmaking ability from Louisville's backcourt, Clark (along with T-Will) was forced to be the guy that the Cardinal offense ran through.

This created a bit of a catch-22 for Clark. For starters, he seems to be much more comfortable playing on the perimeter. He does not have a great back to the basket game, and earned a reputation in the Big East for being a bit soft around the rim - for someone with his size and athleticism, you would expect to see him dunking on people more than he did. Clark has a tendency to shy away from the contact, trying to get cute and spin in a ball off the glass as opposed to going through the defender to finish.

While Clark did seem more comfortable playing on the perimeter, it doesn't necessarily mean he is cut out for playing on the perimeter in the NBA. He does have the physical tools, but his skill set has yet to catch up. One major issue is his aggressiveness. Clark is not a good perimeter shooter (streaky, but very inconsistent), but despite that he settled for a ton of threes and deep pull-ups. He seemed at times almost to be afraid of the contact that occurs when he takes the ball to the basket.

Another issue with Clark is that he is not the best decision maker. Yes, he can knock down the occasional perimeter jumper, and yes, he is a good passer when he decides to create (as evidenced by his 3.2 apg), but he also turned the ball over at a high rate (3.2 t/o's). While he does have a solid handle for someone his size, he seemed to get out of control at times, which led to a lot of his turnovers.

Defensively, however, Clark is a pretty good playmaker right now, averaging over a block and a steal per game. One of the reasons that Louisville was as successful as they were in their press this year was his ability to wreak havoc playing the second line in the 2-2-1. Its tough to know exactly what he can do in a man to man situation because Louisville played a lot of zone, his physical tools are good enough that it will be a matter of effort for him. If he is willing to work on that end, he can be a good defender.

But effort is something that Clark does not always put out. As I said, he is a very inconsistent player, putting up 25, 15, and 5 games just as often as he would go for 8 points, 4 boards, and 7 turnovers. He also had a built up a bit of a reputation for dogging it in practice (I remember reading a quote from Pitino somewhere that said, and I'm paraphrasing, Earl Clark is a great player, just not in practice).

Comparisons: Best Case: Danny Granger, Boris Diaw (at his best); Worst Case: Julian Wright, Boris Diaw (now).

Bottom Line: Clark has a world of potential, the question is going to be will he live up to it. But it seems like his "stock" soared and fell on a game-by-game basis. For every Ole Miss (25 pts, 16 bs, 4 asts, 5 blks) and Providence (24 pts, 10 rbs, 7 asts, 2 blks, 2 stls), he had a West Virginia (4 pts, 5 rebs, 4 to's) and a UConn (5 pts, 3 rebs, 2-16 FG's). I've read in a lot of places that he has bust written all over him, mostly because of his lacking work ethic. Based on potential alone, he is probably a lock for the lottery, maybe even sneaking into the top 10.


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