earl-clark

On Earl Clark, the newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers celebrated Independence Day by reportedly signing unrestricted free agent Earl Clark from the Los Angeles Lakers. Reports indicate that Clark will receive a two-year deal worth $9 million, which includes a team option after 2013-14. 

Though conflicting rumors suggested otherwise, the city and surrounding suburbs did not actually include wine E-A-R-L's followed by gold C-L-A-R-K's in its fireworks display to highlight the move.

It's not that type of Skyenga's-coming-home-ish signing, but it could do more than simply disrupt the boredom involved with an otherwise inactive free agency period for Cleveland.

While I would primarily qualify signing Clark as a roster-filling move for the Cavs, it also includes a bit more upside than the traditional roster-filling moves we've seen recently. 

Clark has more untapped potential than C.J. Miles did when he was acquired by the Cavs last summer, for example, while also projecting to fill a similar role. Like Miles, Clark is expected to be a fringe starter more suited for coming off an NBA bench heading into 2013-14.

Unlike Miles, though, the 25-year-old former No. 14 overall pick will be asked to fill a void at small forward for the Cavaliers that he hasn't traditionally played in the League. It's a safe risk for Chris Grant and the Cavs who only invested one season of guaranteed money, while holding an option for Clark in year two.

But it's still a risk nonetheless. 

Is Clark capable of starting at small forward for the Cavs? 

Offensively I think he'll be fine.

Though don't expect Clark to be a small forward who creates for himself off the dribble. He'll lean on the play-making tandem of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to create most of those scoring opportunities.

According to Hoopdata.com, Clark did convert a career-best 39 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet for the Lakers in 2012-13, however, and he will have that shot open as defenses converge on the penetrating guards.

After shooting 66.1 percent at the rim, Clark also knocked down 33.7 percent of the 104 three-pointers he attempted.

Those numbers don't jump off the page, obviously, but they do suggest enough of a skill-set for the player who averaged 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds on 44 percent shooting in 59 games to be serviceable offensively while adequately fitting alongside Irving, Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao.

Assuming Clark comes in and starts over Alonzo Gee, that is, which is certainly not a given at this point. 

The more important question for Clark is can he defend small forwards?

This much I'm not necessarily sure of because we haven't seen Clark actually attempt to defend opposing small forwards for the duration of an NBA season. 

It's fair to assume, however, that Mike Brown believes Clark can.

After spending the 2011-12 campaign with the Orlando Magic, Clark only actually played in one game under Brown before the Lakers fired him last season.  That game came on November 4, in a 108-79 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Clark entered late and played for two minutes, recording one foul and no other statistics.

He did not begin to make a name for himself in L.A. until after replacing an injured Pau Gasol in January and February. During that two-month stretch, before Clark himself was later injured and locked back down on Mike D'Antoni's bench, he averaged 10 points and eight rebounds as a starter for the Lakers. 

But Brown did spend the offseason and numerous practice hours with Clark in Los Angeles, enough to make a reasonable determination about his defensive potential.

So while it would have to be part of a systematic approach to defense–as opposed to asking Clark to defend SF's on an island, for example–I think he'll be solid enough at the position.

And if Clark is serviceable defending SF's? 

Besides being a fringe starter who might be able to average the 10 points he scored during January and February for an entire season, Clark also brings immediate help in the rebounding department. 

According to Basketball-Reference.com, Clark has averaged 8.0 rebounds per game per 36 minutes for his career. The Cavaliers could use that type of production, especially if it can come down off the small forward spot.

While he might add an element of three-point shooting, I'm more intrigued by what Clark brings defensively on the perimeter from a collective unit perspective after his ability to crash the boards.

Mike Brown likes taller defenders on the perimeter so much that he once started Sasha Pavlovic based only on Sasha being the tallest guard on the roster.

Or so it seemed. 

In Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving, Brown has a starting backcourt that lacks the size he typically likes to roll out. If Clark can play the three, though, the Cavaliers are lining up a guy who's an athletic 6'10" in support of those two guards.

In my opinion, that's a big reason why Clark was acquired in addition to being an inexpensive risk that will only receive one year of guaranteed money.

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of StepienRules.com. I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine, Cleveland.com, BleacherReport.com, InsideFacebook.com and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.

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