‘Yans to the ‘Cans: How Ian Clark Bolsters the New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans dropped $1.6 million for a year of NBA Champion Ian Clark’s services. Underrated by casuals and possibly overrated by Golden State fans, Clark is nonetheless a useful backcourt addition to a frontcourt-heavy Pelicans roster. Ian, or ‘Yans as he's locally known, is an undersized floor spacer at his worst and a nifty combo guard at his best. His two fortés — shooting and team play — are perfect for a Pelicans roster still struggling to find its shape. His principal defect — an inability to stay in front of anyone with a modicum of talent — is made bearable by the cumulative 13
’10”, 523lb safety net offered by Pelican frontcourt behemoths Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. New Orleans has a relatively new roster, with only four players remaining from 2016 (two of those being the inconsequential Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca). And with both starter and meaningful role player additions in the past six months (DeMarcus Cousins, Jordan Crawford, Rajon Rondo, and now Ian Clark), their chemistry is obviously still bubbling. Getting better shooters is a needed ingredient for a team whose best shooter in 2016-17 was Dante Cunningham. Getting smart, team players is requisite for a team that has only won ~40% of its games since 2011. Ian helps on both fronts.
Immediate Impact: Spacing and Shooting
Clark’s immediate, quantitative impact comes on the offensive perimeter. Last season the Pelicans, as a team, shot 45% from the field and 35% from three (good for 20th and 19th in the league, respectively). Meanwhile, IC shot 56% from two, 37% from three, and 49% overall. Of this season’s returning Pelicans none shot better than Clark from two last year, only Cousins (38%) and Crawford (39%) shot better from three, and only Anthony Davis shot better overall. It could be argued that IC’s percentages are skewed by a statistically beneficent Warriors system or the luxury of garbage time, but the sample size is reasonable enough to properly credit his range. He took 163 threes, about as many as Boogie (96) and Crawford (95) did cumulatively.
It was a career year on all fronts. The most games Clark has played in a season were filled with his highest FG%, 2P%, 3P%, eFG%, and accompanied by the most minutes, points, steals, rebounds, and FTA per game of his career. Even if his role was relatively modest, Clark produced efficiently and outperformed expectations. Of all guards who played at least 30 games last season, Clark was 2nd in 2P%. Of all guards who played at least 40 games, he was 3rd in FG%. Going from playing alongside James Michael McAdoo and Kevon Looney to, rotations permitting, the gravitas of AD and Boogie, there’s no reason the 26-year-old shouldn’t continue trending upwards. On paper, the Clark addition gives the Pelicans, a team of two towers with little surrounding infrastructure, exactly what they need: more reliable guard play from the offensive perimeter.
Broader Impact: Team Character
Clark should even yield a positive impact moving off-paper and into the locker room. ‘Yans is a likable guy. He spent two seasons with the Warriors and in that time he became one of Stephen Curry’s pregame routine counterparts, Draymond Green’s late-game dance counterparts, and impromptu team liaison for last season’s additions JaVale McGee and Kevin Durant. Clark’s camaraderie with McGee and Durant has been well-documented, ranging from helping tutor JaVale to amping up (and sometimes matching shoes with) Durant. And it should be noted that Clark is responsible for the only time the world will ever see an MVP and Hall of Famer try and make reverse snow angels on NBA hardwood. All signs, and there are a lot, point to Clark being a great teammate and a boon to team chemistry. Locker room environments, nebulous and hard to manufacture, have major on-court consequences. Ten Warriors teammates, including each of the 2016-17 additions, attended Clark’s jersey retirement by Germantown High School in Tennessee. At the very least, he’s probably not a jerk. He’s also played in more playoff games than all but two Pelicans (new signee Rajon Rondo and veteran Omer Asik). His addition bodes well for creating a tangible, winning culture in New Orleans
A Pelican Still Needs Its Wings
Ian Clark is a useful addition at a fantastic price. The right mindset for a unified, winning team and the requisite skills to open up Alvin Gentry’s offense for underserved titans Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins. The same impetus drove the addition of Rondo this summer, who should bring savvy guard-play and an improved jumper to the New Orleans starting lineup this year. While a net-positive for the team’s chemistry, depth, and offensive potential — Clark does not fill the team’s greatest void: a starting 3&D wing. To truly compete, the Pelicans need a long, defensively-minded small-forward with bounteous range. E’Twaun Moore isn’t quite tall enough, Quincy Pondexter hasn’t been healthy enough, and neither Solomon Hill nor Darius Miller can be trusted shooting the ball past the free-throw line. Ian Clark and Jordan Crawford are great contributors on offense, but their limited size and defensive talents mean there’s no way you’re winning games with them matched up against starting wings. For the Pelicans to take that next leap they will need one of those coveted 3&D wings (à la Otto Porter or Robert Covington), but establishing a cohesive culture with a deep, multifaceted roster is a move in the right direction. ‘Yans should immediately benefit the New Orleans offensive efficiency and, more importantly, the Pelicans should enjoy long-term success through the concomitant team chemistry created by quality teammates, some more W’s, and the relief felt by both AD and Boogie once they start seeing some of their backcourt’s wide-open threes start falling.
By Théo Salaun
(All criticisms, steadfast agreements, and 1-on-1 challenges welcome @theosalaun)