Free Agent Preview: Ian Clark
We’re going to keep trying a series where we take a deeper dive at some of the upcoming free agents, and give my personal and amateur opinions about the best situations for them. I’ve been focusing on stars so far, but I thought it’d be interesting to examine a role player instead (even if this may appeal to about 10 readers total.)
The player you’re getting
After bouncing around the league for a few years, PG/SG Ian Clark seemed to have finally found a home: as a rotational player on the Golden State Warriors. He played 77 games for the team this year, albeit for only 14.8 minutes a night. That role shrunk in the playoffs in favor of sturdier vets like Shaun Livingston, as the team gave Clark a total of 14 minutes over the final three games in the Finals.
Still, you have to be intrigued with the 26-year-old guard, given his prowess as a shooter. He hit 37.4% of his threes this year, not far removed from his 36.4% over his short career. You may want to dismiss that and credit the spacing Golden State provides, but Clark is a legitimate shooter. Even a freshman in college, he poured in 2.4 threes a game at a 40.2% clip. He hit 40% from beyond the arc all four of his years at Belmont, peaking with 45.9% as a senior.
The reason Clark has never caught on in the NBA, despite that shooting, is that he’s a 6’3″ combo guard — not a natural playmaker at the point, and not big or long enough to handle SG full time. It makes him an interesting case to examine this free agency; there’s any number of ways it could go.
The contract he’s getting
Honestly, I have no idea. Some teams may dismiss Clark as a roster filler and depth play, but there could be a few that see him as a hidden gem capable of an expanded role. Obviously, Ian Clark’s not Steph Curry — he’s not even Seth Curry — but could he play a role like Seth as a combo guard scorer off the bench? It’s quite possible.
Considering the Nets bowled over players like Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson with massive offers last summer, you’d think that some team with cap space may take a similar swing with Clark and hope for the best. The fact that he’s already 26 (compared to Crabbe and Johnson, who were both 24 at the time) makes his upside a little more limited, but intriguing nonetheless. In fact, I’d bet money on Clark being the biggest “WTF” contract signing of this summer, with a $10+ million contract not being outside of the realm of possibility. Although to be honest, I can understand the appeal of the gamble in a league that loves shooting more than ever.
The best fits
(3) Golden State Warriors
The world champions have a boatload of free agents this summer: from Ian Clark, to Shaun Livingston, to Andre Iguodala, to basically every center on their roster. For vets like Iguodala and even Livingston, the idea of leaving could be difficult to imagine. They’ve been around the block and realize what a good thing they have going in Golden State.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine anyone would blame Ian Clark for exiting stage left. Even his teammates would understand maybe even encourage it. Clark’s an undrafted player who’s never had a big contract in his career — this could be his best chance to cash in. Further, any confident NBA player is going to want to spread his wings and grab as big of a role as possible, which will be hard for Clark in Golden State. He may even be granted a starting job some places.
The only situation where I can imagine Clark returning would be if Livingston jumps at a big contract somewhere else. If Livingston leaves, there’s a bigger hole in Golden State and a clear path to consistent playing time. The team could bring Clark back as the primary guard off the bench, with as many as 25 minutes a night.
(2) New York Knicks
Phil Jackson and the Knicks just drafted a point guard in the top 10 in Frank Ntilikina, but the 18-year-old is going to be a project. At the moment, he projects as a better defender than offensive player, which could leave the opportunity for a player like Ian Clark to come in and have value. Clark can be a yin yang option at the point, or simply be used as a scorer off the bench. He’s not going to be a ball-dominant playmaker at PG, but I don’t think Phil Jackson envisions that for his offense anyway.
Given the fact that the Knicks have some talent on the team right now, like Kristaps Porzingis and Courtney Lee, it’ll be difficult for them to “tank.” Adding a risk/reward younger vet like Ian Clark could be a good compromise between rebuilding and trying to win now. They have some cap space as well, so if they strike out on bigger names, Clark can be a reasonable alternative.
(1) Indiana Pacers
There’s no debate about which direction the Pacers are heading in right now — presuming Paul George leaves now or next summer, they’re heading for a full-on rebuild.
The idea of Indiana taking a swing at Ian Clark resembles the approach the rebuilding Brooklyn Nets took with their signings last summer. (I don’t see Brooklyn as a great fit themselves since they already have D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin as offensive-minded guards). Clark’s a little older than Nets’ target Allen Crabbe, but he’s also an unrestricted free agent that will be easily to steal away. If the Pacers think he can be a legitimate piece moving forward, they can utilize their cap space to sign him now.
On the court, the fit makes sense to me. The Pacers have been talking up the idea of using Lance Stephenson at the point. Okay. Even if they do play Stephenson heavy minutes, his skill set would be well complemented by Clark. Stephenson can distribute (not Clark’s strength) and play defense (again, not Clark’s strength). On the other end, Clark can shoot (not Stephenson’s strength). In fact, the combo almost makes too much sense: the only reason not to do it would be if Clark leads to a few extra wins and prevents them from achieving a top 5 pick. Personally, I don’t think there’s a major risk of that, so I’d be interested in signing Clark even if he turns out to be a 6th man in the future.