The Suns’ X-factor: Earl Clark


If Earl Clark plays to his potential this season, the Suns could be in for a hell of a ride.

If Earl Clark plays to his potential this season, the Suns could be in for a hell of a ride.

PHOENIX — Nobody involved with the Suns’ organization wants to put anything close to expectations on Earl Clark, and after what happened when Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic were hyped a bit last year I can see why.

But I don’t work for the Suns so I’m free to say this: Earl Clark is a very, very good basketball player and the speed of his learning curve will determine how good the 2009-10 Suns can be.

Clark represents one of the few unknowns on this team. I mean, seriously, we know what the Suns are going to get out of Nash, Amare (if healthy), Hill and down the line even to guys like Dudley and Lou.

Sure, Lopez and Dragic are still a bit of an enigma, but I think it’s safe to say they’ll be nothing more than quality role players at best for this season at least.

As for Earl Clark, we really have no idea.

He could come in and be that versatile defender the Suns so dearly missed last year, a guy who can take a crack at Tony Parker one possession and Tim Duncan the next, all the while playing an all-around offensive game complete with shooting, passing and ball-handling skills.

Or we could see a rookie with a questionable motor who shows flashes of talent but all and all looks lost out there on the floor.

“It’s going to be a rollercoaster,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, “but for the most part he plays with consistent effort, and he’s a pretty good defender.”

We know what they say externally, starting with Kerr not expecting him to beat out Lou and Dudley for playing time, a statement I’m surprised he could utter with a straight face.

But internally, the Suns must be frothing at the mouth about what Earl Clark can do for them, particularly on the defensive end and on the boards.

This is a guy I was praying would drop to the Suns at No. 14, and we’ve already seen some flashes such as when he shut down Blake (not Taylor) Griffin in Summer League and skied above the crowd for rebounds like he did Tuesday night.

Aside from Phoenix’s stars, he’s as naturally talented a player as this team has.

“I’m only a rookie, but I also want to play well and be a standout,” Clark said.

The Suns will need some standpoint performances out of Clark, especially now that Robin Lopez will miss the first handful of weeks of the regular season.

I thought Gentry was joking when he first floated the idea of the 225-pound Clark at the five, but anybody who watched the end of Tuesday’s third quarter and much of the fourth would have seen Clark manning the five spot.

Partizan’s bigs got some easy buckets down low with him in there, concerning since they were Partizan’s bigs and not Tim Duncan, but Clark seems to have a fair understanding of how he must play against guys much heavier than him.

“Just try to use my quickness,” Clark said. “We read a lot, so I tried to front them, and hopefully the weakside will help me, because if not there’s going to be trouble.”

But on the other end, “I can use my quickness to get around them, pull up for shots and things like that. I have trouble defending them, but they have trouble defending me, so it goes both ways.”

With Clark at the five, the Suns have the potential to throw out some fascinating lineups. How about Nash-LB-Richardson-Dudley-Clark? Opposing defenses just can’t match that lineup on the Suns’ offensive end, and it provides some opportunities to switch on defense with those interchangeable parts.

The Suns will be anything but conventional this season, especially with their only conventional center on the shelf, and Clark’s versatile skill set will go a long way toward allowing Gentry to mix and match his lineups however he pleases.

You hate to see a 21-year-old like Clark have to start thinking about what he would do if he’s playing the five and Dwight Howard rumbles down the floor, but it is interesting that Clark was billed as a three who can play some four in Small Ball on Draft Day, and now he’s in the conversation at the five spot.

So what is Clark exactly?

“Just a basketball player,” he said. “At the end of my career I want to be able to play one through four, and hopefully I can do that.”

Only on the Phoenix Suns would a backup center talk about wanting to play the one through four.

The talented rookie could be that missing piece the Suns lacked last year, or Clark could struggle through an inconsistent rookie year. I think he will be great eventually, but in the interim neither result would surprise me much.

The Suns are wise to mitigate initial expectations, but let the truth be known that Earl Clark is this team’s X-factor.

Carly McElroy contributed to this report.

  • http://suns.com yanyanman2

    Great post! I know what I would do if I were Earl and Dwight or Shaq came a-rumblin down. I would "use my quickness" to get the hell outta there.

  • BJabs

    I mean..Clark can be AN x-factor, but he isn't THE x-factor

  • changchangchang

    Yaaaa I'm with BJabs on this one. Jason Richardson is going to be the x-factor. I really don't know why no one from PHX is saying anything about him. I know he has gotten in a bit of trouble with the law, but he could really make the difference on this team. He will be looking to score more than last year, and he will be able to do it all day long with Nash feeding him in the run and gun!

    To be honest (and I can't believe I'm about to say this) but I kind of agree with Kerr that Dudley and Lou will take most of the playing time. Dudley is still rather young and he showed a lot of potential last year. Didn't he start for the Bobcats? Although thats not really saying much. We shouldn't do to Dudley what Portland did to Fry.

  • OGcman

    I agree it is Jrich also. You can't expect a rookie to be an x factor and jrich has the ability to light up the scoreboard and who knows he might have stepped up his d.

  • BJabs

    sorry. no. Jason Richardson is the X-Factor. “Clark represents one of the few unknowns on this team. I mean, seriously, we know what the Suns are going to get out of Nash, Amare (if healthy), Hill and down the line even to guys like Dudley and Lou.

    Sure, Lopez and Dragic are still a bit of an enigma, but I think it’s safe to say they’ll be nothing more than quality role players at best for this season at least.”

    Even you couldn’t say that we know what we’re getting with Jason Richardson.

    I’ll say this plainly. Barring injuries, as always, If Jason Richardson scores over 20 pgg, we are in the playoffs. If he scores over 21 ppg, we are a 5-7 seed. If he scores 22 ppg, we can win 50+ games and compete for the 3-4 seed.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    I agree that J-Rich is a HUGE key to this season, but we know what he is. He’s a dynamic scorer, a fantastic finisher in the open court and a lethal three-point shooter. He’s being paid $13 mil for a reason, and I would be surprised if he didn’t average 20 ppg this year. This is a guy who’s basically averaged 17-23 ppg his whole career. In this system, I would expect those numbers to be on the higher end.

    But we also know that J-Rich isn’t going to be a lockdown defender, and that’s exactly what Earl Clark can be. In no way, shape or form am I saying Earl is more important than J-Rich. I’m just saying he’s the biggest X-factor.

  • http://wiki-ins.ru/wiki/????????:PKLSusann holistic health books

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her
    ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but
    I had to tell someone!

  • http://salvinorin.info/profile.php?id=2670 salvinorin.info

    Hi there very cool web site!! Man .. Beautiful .

    . Superb .. I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds
    also? I’m satisfied to seek out so many helpful info here within the publish, we need work out extra techniques in this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .

  • http://www.pisaniezagrosze.pl/clanek/praca-in-ynierska/43 praca in?ynierska

    Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this site
    before but after looking at many of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m certainly delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!