In a season where much hasn’t gone according to plan for the Los Angeles Lakers, there finally appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, and that light goes by the common name of Earl Clark.
The recent Earl Clark appreciation may indeed be due to the fact the Lakers’ rabid fan base has been searching for anything positive after the high-priced team with championship aspirations stumbled through the first half of the season to their current 16-21 record. It also may be due to some fans growing weary of Pau Gasol’s steadily declining play year after year. Whatever the case may be, Clark has taken full advantage of his opportunity and has injected much-needed energy into the Lakers’ lineup.
First let’s examine the player that Clark is and what he can and is bringing to the table. Coming out of Louisville Clark was a 6’10” combo forward; meaning he could play both the small and forward positions effectively. Clark flashed enough potential to prompt the Phoenix Suns to draft him 14th overall in 2009 and many believed Clark had the talent to be–and should have been–a top-10 pick.
Clark saw limited action during his rookie season with the Suns before being shipped off to the Orlando Magic as a throw-in in the deal that brought Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix. Clark showed signs when given the opportunity to play in Orlando, but those opportunities were just as few and far between with the Magic as with the Suns.
When the Magic decided to finally end the Dwight Howard fiasco, Clark was again a salary cap throw-in and appeared to be lost in a crowded Lakers front court that also had Gasol, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill ahead of Clark in the rotation. Once Howard, Gasol and Hill all went down with injuries against the Denver Nuggets January 6 Mike D’Antoni had no choice but to turn to Clark, Which brings us to the present day.
Clark has made the most of his opportunity to show what he can do over the past week. In the Lakers last four games, Clark has averaged a respectable 12.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while looking comfortable in his role with both the Lakers starters as well as the reserves. Clark’s length and mobility have allowed him to guard multiple positions, a luxury the Lakers were lacking with the slow-footed Gasol getting abused by quicker, more athletic power forwards on a nightly basis.
There’s no telling how long Clark can keep this up, but with the Lakers desperate for a boost they should ride the wave as long as possible. Gasol still has yet to be cleared to return from the concussion he suffered a week ago, so Clark will continue to get enough minutes to solidify his spot in the Lakers’ rotation even after Gasol returns. One thing is for sure; Clark is making it extremely difficult for D’Antoni not to put him on the floor.