When will Earl Clark put it all together?

Can Earl Clark become a valued rotation player for the Suns or is more time on the pine in his future? (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Can Earl Clark become a valued rotation player for the Suns or is more time on the pine in his future? (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

LAS VEGAS — Immediately after the Phoenix Suns selected Earl Clark with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft, then-GM Steve Kerr doubted Clark would get much playing time as a rookie behind reserve forwards Jared Dudley and Lou Amundson.

At the time I thought it was undoubtedly a motivational tactic, as the Suns didn’t make the multi-talented Clark a lottery pick so he could sit behind a pair of unheralded bench guys to that point.

Of course, as things played out, Dudley and Amundson enjoyed breakout years while Clark found himself as the 11th man on a 10-man team much to my surprise.

With how deep the Suns ended up being, I figured we could chalk that up to the Suns’ depth allowing Clark to take a redshirt year and I immediately expected bigger things from Clark in 2010-11, especially after head coach Alvin Gentry proclaimed at the end of the season: “I’ll be really disappointed if he’s not a part of our rotation next year.”

When Amare Stoudemire left, the Suns seemed destined to have to rely on Clark. A gaping hole remained at the forward spot and Clark even admitted at the start of summer league that “of course it’s better for me” that Amare left.

But two major happenings of the last week have put Clark’s immediate future as a rotation player for the Phoenix Suns in doubt.

First of all, the Suns traded for Josh Childress and Hedo Turkoglu. Childress, like Clark, is a spectacular athlete who can guard multiple positions. Turkoglu, like Clark, should log serious time at the three and four as a multi-talented forward (who is actually proven at doing multi-talented things in the NBA).

Their additions on paper push Clark back to the 11th man on a 10-man team status that he was so familiar with last season. Of course, a move could be made to change that, but as things stand, the Suns are very deep at the forward position that Clark plays.

The second reason is more of a disappointment because it pertains to things Clark can control. He showed up to summer league in less than tip-top shape, according to both Clark and summer coach Dan Majerle, and then produced an overall lackluster performance for a Suns squad that could only beat the D-League summer team.

For the week, Clark averaged 14.8 points on 37.1 percent shooting to go with 5.0 boards and 1.4 assists per game. The so-called defender also averaged less than a block and steal per contest as well as 3.4 turnovers per game.

Like in the regular season, Clark often settled for jumpers, and when he drove the lane the results weren’t always pretty.

“He’s a good player, he’s very talented,” said Majerle, which is often where descriptions of Clark start. “He’s just got to figure it out, and he will. He didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, and Earl’s just got to figure a way now to not only make himself better but make his teammates better because he’s one of those players that’s got that kind of tools. He hasn’t figured it out yet.”

No, he hasn’t, but will he?

I’m not ready to jump off the Earl Clark bandwagon that I’ve been heading up since before the Suns even made him their selection.

As Clark himself will tell you, “I can do so much on the court, it’s just putting it together and knowing when to use it.”

In theory this is true, but even in summer league Clark has yet to show bonafide NBA skills.

He settles for contested jumpers that he misses far too often (both in summer league and the NBA), he has been no better than a mediocre rebounder and even on a team in which he could be the star he hasn’t exactly been a play maker.

Majerle suggested that things will be a lot easier for him when he’s playing with Suns regulars, but if he couldn’t create on a team on which he was “The Man” then how will he do that for the real Suns?

Goran Dragic, for one, is optimistic. I asked Goran before the playoffs started if he sees Clark making a Dragic-esque leap during his sophomore season. After all, Goran looked completely lost much of his rookie year and then came out and was a completely different player last season.

“He just needs time like me,” Dragic said. “Every practice, I see the same resemblance. When he’s alone he has the shot, and I was the same. I think next year’s going to be totally different because now he knows the league and the players.”

Clark has all the tools to be a good NBA player and at 22 he still has time to figure it out.

He still has the length and athleticism to be the kind of versatile defender the Suns thought they had drafted, and in theory at least he has the tools to become a well-rounded offensive player as well.

If I’m Clark, along with making sure I’m in better shape for training camp than summer league, I would spend the next two months in the gym taking shots every day. He shouldn’t leave until he makes at least 500 of them. Then he needs to be more selective and stop taking the kind of bad shots that have plagued his career thus far.

It’s certainly frustrating for Suns fans to see a player so talented on paper struggle to make a dent in an already deep rotation. Clark has all the skills to be a rotation player in Phoenix for years to come, but if he doesn’t start putting it all together soon, the Suns are deep enough to banish him to the bench for at least another season.

Some players possess the burning desire to be great and maximize their talents. All Clark has to do is look down his bench and see a couple of guys in Channing Frye and Jared Dudley who busted their butts last summer and came back as much improved shooters.

Can Clark make a Dragic-like leap in Year 2 to become a trusted rotation player or will he help the Suns most next season by waving a towel?

The next few months, while nobody is watching, will largely determine that.

“I definitely feel like I can take a step up,” Clark said. “I have big shoes to fill. I don’t really know my role on the team as of right now. I’m just trying to prepare myself, get better and continue to grow as a player.”

Tags: Earl Clark

  • Troy

    Won't happen. I knew it the first time I heard him open his mouth in an interview (at the beginning of training camp last year). Watching him in the summer league games this year verified it for me.

    His basic flaw is the same as Amare's (though his problem is admittedly more "acute" than STAT's is): Extraordinary talent from the neck down, too much wasted space from the neck up to take advantage of it.

    I hope to be proven wrong and will be pleasantly surprised if I am, but I predict that EC #55 will be yet another supremely talented athlete with not enough gray matter (or desire) to put it all together and realize his true potential.

  • Bob

    I’m not very confident in Earl Clark but I do trust Dragic. If Dragic says Earl can get better then I believe him.

  • Mel.

    I don’t think Dragic is the kind of guy who’d come out, point-blank, and go “Nah. He’s got the size and potential, but he’s a total wash in terms of finding his space or optimizing his gifts.”

    I’m also in an optimistic mindset as far as Earl goes, but honestly… he KNEW that all eyes were going to be on him from the very start of the STAT situation. Even if Amar’e hadn’t come out and stated the obvious–that he’d likely be chasing the max money contract he felt he deserved–the fact that Kerr was dangling him at the trade deadline should have set a fire up under Clark’s ass.

    He was basically being spoon-fed a shot at STAT’s vacated position, and showed up for league out of shape and out of whack. That doesn’t bode well for the discipline required to succeed at the NBA level.

  • Al

    Trade Clark, Pick/Cash for King’s Jason Thompson. Jason can be the new suns young PF at 6’11, 250 lbs alongside Robin Lopez at C 7’0, 255 lbs, Suns will be able to go up against Lakers and other teams with size.
    Nash (Dragic)
    Richardson (Childress)
    Turkoglu (Dudley/Hill)
    Thompson (Hakim/Lawal?)
    Lopez (Frye)

    Sounds like a good line up. Thompson has the length and size to go up against big PF’s and can be a 20/10 player in the Suns system.

  • First Things First

    He should just focus on better defense, rebounding, playing constructive, off the ball, game and not taking low percentage shots. That would prevent himself riding the pine.

  • paul

    Good article. Real Suns fans wanna know this stuff.

    Honestly Clark seems lazy and timid, while no one looked at Dragic the first year as lazy but simply timid. Its real hard to teach desire and work-ethic.

    And btw if he doesn’t work out thatd be on Kerr. Clarks our highest draft pick in years and itd suck if he’s a bust.

  • Kyle

    Is there at least potential still? When Lopez was in this position last year, he was fouling out early in the season really really early. Lopez had to learn how to play big but not foul. And it happened in the season.

    It seems like Clark’s thing is taking the easy, uncontested shot instead of trying to play physical for the high percentage shot. Like Lopez, is there still hope he can adjust and gain confidence?


    I still believe in earl clark and when you look at the suns summer league team who did they have. They had all bum besides scottie reynolds and gani lawal. Earl Clark was trying to be the star on the team u cant blame him for that i still believe he will do better with us this season. All he needs is a pass from steve nash to get him started. Just watch

  • Earl Clark

    I just need the ball more. I’ll be fine.


    @ Earl Clark you kno you are not the real earl clark its just somebody trying to be funny

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Stephen

    @ Kyle

    We can all see he has the potential to be a great role player in the Suns system, but he needs to get mentally prepared. With stat gone, he could be coming ff the bench for a good 15-20 a night and put 12 and 8 up a night. He should easily out rebound Hedo.

    But I think making EC55 ponder another half season looking at 1-5 minutes a game should be motivation in itself to pull his head in and think about his game.

  • petshop

    I think he can improve did we all forgot that Steve Nash (15th Pick of 1996) took 5 years to be like he is today it takes time in this league. As long as he got the skills and potential he will do just fine. I also believe in our coaches. I mean Frye averaged 0.333 3pt% the seasaon before he signed with PHX and even averaged 0.167% 3pt% in 06-07. I also believe in Steve he can make everyone better

  • HankS

    Actually, I'm not even sure Clark will be the 11th man on a 10-man roster this year. Right now, it looks like Turkoglu, Warrick and possibly Lawal are ahead of him at the PF spot (unless Fry gets into the mix, too), while Hill, Dudley and Childress on the SF.

    IOW, he's fast becoming a wasted lottery pick. Better trade him before that status becomes official.


    I’m gay

  • Evan

    Clark should try to emulate Lou Amundson, if he gives that kind of energy and effort, only tries to score when he is wide open or getting a dunk, he will develop into a reliable roll player for the suns, if not, Warrick and even Lawal will play before him and he will be a d-leaguer for a few years before going to China or Europe to play.

  • Heath

    Well, the suns made a dumb move by signing Warrick. Give the kid a shot and chance. you still have a portion of the T.E., and if he does not show improvment by the trade deadline, get a guy in who can play the 4.

    Remember, he was like this in college too. It took him 3 years to get as good as he was. I think he is a player that needs time to translate his game to the next level. Sucks, but you cant give up on that much talent too soon or its a waste of $$$

  • Heath

    I do believe he will put it all together. He will never be Amare, but moreso like an Odom. I agree with Corey, there was not much talent by his side in the summer league. I did see some flashes of talent and good decisions on the court by him.

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