Earl Clark is Making the Cavs Offense Better and You Had No Idea

Nov 27, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Earl Clark (6) shoots over Miami Heat power forward Rashard Lewis (9) during a game at Quicken Loans Arena. Miami won 95-84. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Over the summer, the Cavaliers paid Earl Clark $4.5 million dollars a year for two years. Coming off a season where he had a mini-breakout season on the most depressing Lakers team ever, the expectation was that Clark would be able to add valuable spot-up shooting and rebounding to the Cavaliers. And finally, over the last couple weeks, that has started to happen.

Clark’s stats aren’t awe-inspiring or anything. So far, he’s putting up 11 points and six rebounds per 36 minutes on 39.8 percent shooting, which isn’t that impressive. However, his last few games have been solid. Against Charlotte, Clark began this stretch with a 15 point, five rebound effort on 6-7 shooting. Then, against Washington, he had 11 points while holding Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza in check in a win. Two games later, Clark had 11 again against the Pelicans, and he had a solid 13-point effort against the Heat, hitting 3-5 from three-point land with LeBron guarding him for stretches. Even with a no-show against Boston and limited play Wednesday night against Denver, Clark is shooting 47 percent in his past eight games, and 53.8 percent from beyond the arc in his last 8 games. He’s currently leading the team in 3-point percentage at a 44.4 percent clip, as well, and is killing it from above the break, as illustrated below.

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This is huge for the Cavaliers. The big issue for the Cavs so far this season has been offensive spacing, which has limited Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in attacking the basket, and stagnated the offense. Two weeks ago, the Cavs were 29th in 3-point shooting. Since the Charlotte game, however, Clark and Waiters have started drilling threes, hitting an average of 2.4 per game between the two. That’s led to a jump in team three-point percentage to 35 percent, which is league average. That’s quite an impressive jump. Even though it isn’t showing in offensive efficiency yet, Clark lineups have an eFG% of 48.9%, three full percentage points higher than team average. In fact, Clark’s NINE most common lineups are scoring at a better efficiency and posting a better eFG% than team average.

Let’s take a look at how this is working, first for Clark. In this scenario from the New Orleans game, the Cavs got a fast break opportunity, and Waiters takes the ball to the rack.

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Normally this season, we’d expect Dion to continue into the lane and probably get his shot hilariously blocked by Anthony Davis. That’s been the norm this year. However, the Pelicans get lost getting back on defense, and Earl Clark and Matt Dellavedova (Quietly shooting 37.5 percent from deep himself) are both wide open. Waiters sees this, and realizes these guys are more likely to make a shot (Dion’s learning, you guys!), and hits Dellavedova in the corner.

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Normally this season, we’d expect Dion to continue into the lane and probably get his shot hilariously blocked by Anthony Davis. That’s been the norm this year. However, the Pelicans get lost getting back on defense, and Earl Clark and Matt Dellavedova (Quietly shooting 37.5 percent from deep himself) are both wide open. Waiters sees this, and realizes these guys are more likely to make a shot (Dion’s learning, you guys!), and hits Dellavedova in the corner.

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Notice all five Pelicans above the free-throw line? Yeah……Earl Clark hasn’t moved.

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WELLLPPPPPP. Clark easily drains this three because he’s hilariously wide open. The Pelicans didn’t respect the possibility of a Clark three on this break, and he made them pay. That’s a product of this recent hot stretch as well, because I guarantee before mid-November Waiters would never have fired that kick-out, or Dellavedova might have opted for a corner three instead.

Here’s another example, this time against the Heat. Jarrett Jack takes the ball off a screen, with Clark in the corner.

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Michael Beasley sags off Clark for help D. However, Jarrett Jack has a perfect view of the floor, with Clark directly in his line of vision. From here, he can ISO against LeBron (His normal, stupid option), wait for a second screen and hit Varejao on a roll, or kick to Dion for a three.

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Jack opts for the screen, and suddenly gets Chris Bosh on him. Jack at this point might be screwed, except he’s been eyeing Clark the entire time.

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And there it is. Jack whips a long pass to Clark, who gets a mostly open three because Beasley was sleeping. As you can see, Clark’s shooting has strengthened the Cavs’ guards’ trust in him, and here we’ve just seen two perfect examples of plays that prior to this stretch, the guards would have likely taken matters into their own hands.

And Clark is helping his guards out, too. Here’s an example from the next possession following the last three against the Heat. The Cavs run the exact same set.

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Beasley sags way off of Clark again, because it’s Beas, and learning is not something he does. Jack gets the screen from Varejao.

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The Heat blitz the PNR this time, and Jack dumps to Waiters. Clark sets a screen for him. Waiters then gets trapped, and reverses the ball to Jack.

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Jack finds Clark again, who now has Beasley’s full attention. Waiters begins to drift into the corner off the pass, and Clark makes the rare decision to drive as soon as he gets the ball. Normally, Waiters would be considered the larger threat by a defense, and Clark would be left to go one-on-one against Beas. However, because Clark has already hit two shots to fuel a Cavs lead, Ray Allen stays to help on Clark’s drive.

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Oops. Clark dishes a behind-the-head pass to Waiters, who uses the space to drain a corner three. All a result of Clark hitting shots and earning the respect of first his teammates, and then his opponents.

Despite this, Clark’s minutes have significantly decreased in the last four games. He started against Miami, but barely played against San Antonio and Boston, didn’t play against Chicago, and played 14 minutes against Denver. I don’t understand this one bit. The offense has been quite good with Clark over the last three weeks, and he’s scoring at a career-high efficiency. The Cavs have won two straight, but Clark’s going to need to play if the Cavs are going to have sustained success. Clark is effective playing at the three and especially in small-ball as the power forward, and he’s about the only player I trust guarding DeMarre Carroll against Atlanta. Hopefully the last few games have been a mirage, and Clark continues to play. Right now, he’s starting to click with the Cavs guards, especially Dion, and that’s worth continued exploration.

 

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