It was only 11 minutes and 14 seconds but that was all Earl Clark, signed by the Nets hours before, needed to make an impact on Friday's game against the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers. A win that the Nets needed to keep pace with the teams on all sides of them in the playoff race.
"We didn’t go over one play," Clark admitted post-game with a smile. "I had no idea what was going on."
"I just think it's another opportunity coming around for me, try to answer the door, and I think I played cool, just coming from home working out and just being my first day with the team. I really haven't practiced," added. "It's a good win."
Clark didn't see action until the second half, but he came in and made a big hit. There was definitely some nervous energy from the 6"10' forward on defense ... some happy feet defending Kevin Love ... but he also stretched the floor the way Thaddeus Young did before he suffered a strained left knee and played hard down low.
Clark showed good court sense as well Friday night, staying out of the way of Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, and let the offense come to him. Watch him clear out to the weak side corner here, lose his defender, and get an uncontested three.
Clark, a career 33% shooter, is by no means a lethal threat from beyond the arc, but neither is Young, who's done a fine job in Brooklyn of getting hot from three (shooting 48% with the Nets, nearly 20 points higher than he did in Minnesota) and the newcomer, too, is already getting good looks from three-point land.
Brian Fleurantin wrote about Clark in June 2013 when writing about free agents. Clark had just finished his best season with the Lakers. As Brian noted, Clark relied on his jumper, and had an emerging three-point shot.
When we look at the way Clark gets his offense, we see that he relies on a lot of jumpshots. Of his 386 field goal attempts, 233 of them came from at least 16 feet. He wasn't bad from 16-24 feet, as he converted 37.1 percent of his attempts, which is a shade below the league average of 38.4 percent. Throughout the season, Clark has looked to add the three pointer to his repertoire. In his first three seasons, Clark took ten three pointers combined. This season, he averaged around two threes a contest, and he hit on 34 percent of them. It's probably a result of playing under Mike D'Antoni, but it's very nice to see Clark adding the three pointer to his game.
Fleurantin noted as well in his piece that Clark can finish around the rim. Perhaps by strategy, Clark stayed outside of the paint on offense Friday night, but we may see him take it to the rack if he gets more freedom in the coming games. "The area in which Clark had the most success was around the basket. He shot 60.6 percent, which put him in the upper half of players in the league," Fleurantin wrote of Clark in 2013.
It's clear that he has the size to play power forward. So, it's a real asset that he can play past the three-point line. Clark has more size than Young: He's three inches taller and has a three-inch advantage in wingspan as well. Young has been a pick-and-roll asset for Brooklyn in his first month with the team. Can Clark be a threat in a pick-and-pop scenario, like here?
Love gave Clark way too much respect on this three, and while Clark may not be a knock down shooter from three, if Friday night was any evidence, opponents can't leave him wide open.
Clark's defense was fine for a guy in his first game back in the league in months who drew Kevin Love as his assignment. As Fleurantin wrote, the Lakers defense suffered a bit when Clark was on the floor in 2012-13, but when looking at his individual D, he was about league average.
As an individual defender, Clark looks pretty good, as he held opposing power forwards to a 16.7 PER and 52.3 effective field goal percentage, both of which are right around league average.
While first impressions mean everything for a guy on a 10-day contract, it's one game. Moreover, since that year in L.A., he's been dumped by five teams! He was a disappointment in Cleveland last season before being traded to the Sixers who cut him. He had two ten-days with the Knicks but they didn't renew him for the rest of the season. He had tryouts earlier this season with the Grizzlies and Rockets, both of whom waived him. After a short stint in the D-League, he made his way to China.
Still, he was confident in his shooting stroke and didn't let himself be a liability on the defensive end. With Young doubtful the Nets next game against his old team on Sunday, and potentially more games to come, Clark is likely to see more minutes. Clark helps beef up the Nets front court rotation and alleviate some of the pressure on Cory Jefferson to play rotation minutes. As we said, It's one game, and we know that, but the hope is that Clark can sustain this type of play at least until Young returns.
If Friday isn't just an outlier, Billy King and the Nets front office may have found themselves a backup stretch four to continue to keep the paint clear for Brook Lopez and maybe more.