It was at this point last year that Earl Clark
really began to take off as a prospect, utilizing his outstanding physical tools to help spark Louisville onto a long win streak, and in the process catapulting his firmly name into the NBA draft picture. It wouldnt be a bad idea for Clark to go through a similar type of resurgence right around now, as he doesnt seem to be having the type of year many predicted from him when he announced his intentions to return for his junior season.
Clarks scoring rate is slightly down in fact from last year, as is his efficiency, and not by a small margin. His 2-point percentages have plummeted (from 54.4% to 47.6%) as hes struggled to take on a much bigger role in Louisvilles offense, while hes getting to the free throw line less, rebounding worse, getting less steals, picking up less blocks, and committing more turnovers. The only improvements can be found in his 3-point shooting percentages (up from 22.7 to 27.5%), and a big increase in assists, which reflects the role hes inherited from David Padgett
as one of the teams main facilitators from the high post.
Clarks biggest problem is that he seems to be suffering from somewhat of an identity crisis. Hes a power forward at the NCAA level who wants to be a guard, particularly in the way he settles for jump-shots from the perimeter. His jumper is way too streaky for that to be effective, but you regardless see him pulling up for 19-foot fade-aways off his back heel on a regular basis. While he definitely shows a great feel for making plays for others, there is no way around the fact that his shot-selection is extremely poor right now, which only exacerbates his limitations offensively.
Clarks biggest assetshis athleticism and ball-handling skills, arent quite polished enough to help him get regular production for Louisville. He often looks out of control by the time he gets to the basketmaking him fairly turnover prone--and really seems to struggle finishing through contact, trying to get too cute flipping the ball in off the glass, instead of just going up strong and powering the ball through the rim. Rarely do you see Clark finish a play with a dunk, and after watching his film extensively, its hard not to come away thinking that he lacks a good amount of physical toughness.
The impression you come away with from scouting Clark heavily depends on which day you catch him on. On some nights he looks incredibly active, playing extremely hard, utilizing his athleticism to its fullest, and making very good decisions. On others, he looks completely asleep, disappearing for long stretches and being very passive. Rick Pitino touched on this issue earlier this season without naming Clark specifically: We've got a lot of guys that have mood swings, and that's why I think we're not reaching our potential right now," Pitino said. "I don't think it has anything to do with basketball, I think it has to do with psychology. That's the unfortunate thing."
With that said, you just cant ignore the tools Clark possesses and the upside he brings to the table. There are very few players in college basketball with his combination of size, athleticism and length, and very few of them can play at the top of their teams full-court press, take a rebound coast to coast, and show the type of court vision Clark does. If the light bulb ever truly comes on for him, he could be a mismatch nightmare for opposing teams, and considering that he just turned 21 a month ago, that obviously isnt out of the question.
As weve discussed in the past, the place that Clark is able to make the biggest impact at the moment is on the defensive end. Big and strong enough to guard handle most NCAA big men on the block, he can absolutely smother smaller players on the perimeter as well with his length, looking very capable of switching on pick and rolls and easily staying in front of his matchup. He tends to lose his focus at times, getting lost off the ball and letting his man blow past him, but hes so athletic that he often has no problem recovering and getting back in time to contest his shot regardless. Even though his rebounding numbers are down a decent amount, he still gets his fair share of boards (just under 10-per 40 pace adjusted) as well as two blocked shots on top of that. Louisville is an amazing defensive team, and Clark plays a big part in that.
Clark is likely to be considered one of the great riddles of this upcoming draft, as its extremely difficult to project how he will develop over the next few years. Hes probably too talented to fall out of the lottery, and with a strong NCAA tournament, could possibly even boost his stock into the top five. Hell need to play for the right coach and in the right organization in order to reach his full potential, but even he probably doesnt know how good he can be down the road.