Earl Clark, enigma

TrueHoop has a nice piece on Louisville forward Earl Clark, a versatile 6’10” forward who some believe has the most upside of anyone in this draft even though he’s projected to go in the middle of the first round. His advocates say that he’s a top five talent but his detractors say that he’s a tweener and doesn’t have the drive or intensity to succeed in the NBA.

Clark embodies this basketball archetype. When he falls below the radar on the court — whether it was in that horrendous game against UConn or in a hostile road environment like Morgantown, West Virginia — it isn’t so much that he’s unassertive. It’s often a case of not knowing which of his many skills to assert on a specific play. A player like Clark can look like he’s taking plays off when, in reality, he’s paralyzed by choice.

When Clark gets twitchy on a halfcourt possession, he often holds the ball overhead along the perimeter. He looks over at the weak side, then down low, then back up at his point guard. There’s a moment you think he’ll put the ball on the deck and drive past his defender, and sometimes he’ll start his dribble move that way. Only Clark doesn’t display the tunnel vision of a fierce slasher. You can riffle through dozens of clips before you see Clark simply put his head down and drive for the hole. He hesitates, will look for a kickout or a cutter, maybe back it out, or just stop in his tracks. It’s the tentativeness of someone with too many options.

Watching Clark at moments like these evokes memories of Lamar Odom’s early days with the Los Angeles Clippers. Odom came to the pro game with a vast array of skills, almost none of which were wholly NBA-ready. He’d recognize a mismatch — for instance, a hulking big man guarding him on the ball along the perimeter. Odom’s initial instincts would be spot on, and he’d blow by the big man without much effort. But he’d ease up before he got to the hole, which would allow a lanky weak side defender to challenge the play and force him to his weaker right hand. Prior to arriving in the NBA, Odom never needed more than 80% speed to finish an elementary play like that.

The Odom comparison is a good one. It’s frustrating to watch the Laker forward because at times he’s the best player on the floor. Other times, he barely makes an impact. I watched several Louisville games this season and Clark seems to be a background player. He doesn’t make a big deal when he makes a great play, and his points are often of the “quiet” variety. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t effective.

He averaged 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 blocks and 3.2 turnovers per game during his senior year. He shot 46% from the field, 65% from the line and 33% from long range; none of those numbers are particularly good for a 6’10” perimeter-oriented forward, but keep in mind that he was arguably the best player on a Louisville team that won the Big East Championship.

Clark’s draft stock was consistently in the top 10 most of the season and started to take a dip when all of these point guards — Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday — began to emerge before and after the combine. Now he’s projected to go in the middle of the round, while the occasional mock will have him cracking the top 10, usually to Toronto at #9 or to Milwaukee at #10.

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2009 NBA Mock Draft Version 3.0 + Updated Consensus

The draft is just a few days away, so it’s a good time to take one final stab at mocking the first round of this draft. I’ll continue to update the consensus draft this week, but this will be my last attempt at predicting what will happen this Thursday.

First, let’s take a look at the most recent consensus. Chad Ford released the most recent version of his mock draft today, NBADraft.net also updated today, while DraftExpress updated their mock yesterday.

Now I’ll go, pick by pick, through the first round, taking the consensus into account while also throwing in my $0.02 here and there.

The Clips have shown no signs of trading away their opportunity to draft Blake Griffin. There is much fluidity with the next few picks, but the Oklahoma product is pretty much guaranteed to be the first pick. The Clippers will then (reportedly) try to move Zach Randolph or Chris Kaman, though it might be wise to move forward with Kaman and Griffin in the front court, Baron Davis at the point, and Eric Gordon and Al Thornton on the wing. Randolph is going to be tough to move. (I still can’t believe that Mike Dunleavy traded for him last season.)
Pick: Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma

The consensus says that Hasheem Thabeet will be the pick and I don’t disagree, even though he just pulled out of a workout with Memphis due to a shoulder injury. DraftExpress thinks that Memphis will go with James Harden and move O.J. Mayo to the point, which they say is his natural position. I don’t know that they’ve given up on Mike Conley yet, so I think they will go big with this pick. Their biggest need is at power forward, so trading down and drafting Jordan Hill is a possibility. But if they stand pat, Thabeet could very well be the pick, even though he doesn’t seem to want to play in Memphis.
Pick: Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn

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2009 NBA Mock Draft Version 2.0

It has been about two weeks since I published my first mock draft, so it’s a good time to check back in with all the news and rumors and take another stab.

Like I said in the intro of my first mock, it’s tough for me to make predictions about what teams will do because I’m constantly thinking about what they should do. These are obviously two very different things.

For this go-around, I’m going to try something a little different. I’ve compiled the picks for four mock drafts from sites that I respect — ESPN (Chad Ford), Dime Magazine, DraftExpress and NBADraft.net — and then I’ll provide my own picks taking their picks into account, to form some sort of consensus.

Let’s get on with it…

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2009 NBA Mock Draft Version 1.0

With the NBA Draft Lottery behind us, we now know the exact order of the first 14 picks. The Los Angeles Clippers hit paydirt when they won the right to draft Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin with the first overall pick. The Grizzlies moved up from #6 to #2, and the Thunder moved up one spot to pick #3. The big losers Tuesday night were Sacramento and Washington, who had the best and second-best shot at the top pick, but instead fell to #4 and #5, respectively.

Mock drafts are tough for me because I’m usually thinking about what teams should do instead of trying to predict what they will do. This mock will be more predictive, but if I disagree with a selection, I’ll say so. Over the next few weeks, I’ll update this mock to jive with the latest news from around the league. It’s still very early in the process so things are very fluid. One mock has a player going #11 while another may have him going #29.

I’m just going to make picks for the first fourteen slots on the first go-round and then provide the picks of a few different mocks that I respect for #15-#30, along with a short writeup for each team.

Even Mike Dunleavy can’t screw this one up. Barring something obscenely out of the blue, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin will be the first overall pick. The Clippers could use a power forward to replace Elton Brand, and Griffin is the only “sure thing” in this draft. He’s strong, skilled and athletic, and he has an improving offensive game. He has star written all over him.
Pick: Griffin, PF

The Grizzlies were reportedly one of the few teams more interested in UConn’s 7’3” center Hasheem Thabeet than they were in Blake Griffin. The Grizzlies already have 7’1” Marc Gasol, so Thabeet wouldn’t fill a need like Jordan Hill, Ricky Rubio or Brandon Jennings would (assuming the team isn’t sold on Hakim Warrick or Mike Conley), but Thabeet has the potential to become a dominant defensive center along the lines of Dikembe Mutombo. But will he be willing to put the work in to become an effective post player?
Pick: Thabeet, C

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Random thoughts from a big day of college basketball

There were five top 20 matchups on Saturday, and although there weren’t any buzzer beaters, there were some good games. Here are a few random thoughts…

– What is CBS thinking having Gus Johnson in the studio? He’s a capable in the halftime show, but he should be at the gym calling a game.

– #8 Syracuse blew out #13 Notre Dame, 93-74. The Big East is deep again this season and any win will be tough, especially on the road. Six Orangemen scored in double figures, led by Arinze Onuaku’s 19 points. Luke Harangody scored 25 points, but was a miserable 9-28 from the field.

– #2 Duke beat #12 Georgetown at home, 76-67. This game was close at the start, but a late first half run put the Blue Devils ahead, 40-29. From there, Duke simply managed its lead. G’Town cut it to five with 0:46 to play, but Duke made its free throws and coasted to the win. Gerald Henderson led the Dookies with 23 points and is looking more and more like an NBA talent.

– #3 Wake Forest won at #9 Clemson, 78-68. There was a great atmosphere at Littlejohn Coliseum, but the Demon Deacons passed the ball really well down the stretch to fend off the pesky Tigers. Clemson cut the lead to 61-60 with 4:54 to play, but Wake went on a 10-1 run over the next two and a half minutes to essentially put the game away. Jeff Teague led Wake with 24 points and five dimes.

– #15 Arizona State went into Pauley Pavilion and upended #7 UCLA in overtime, 61-58. Former North Carolina State head coach Herb Sendek has the Sun Devils playing solid basketball. They aren’t a very balanced team; James Harden (24 points) and Jeff Pendergraph (18 points) scored 42 of the team’s 61 points. UCLA simply couldn’t figure out the ASU zone in the second half, and didn’t score a single point for the last eight minutes of regulation. Including the extra period, the Bruins scored a total of four points in 13 minutes. Ouch.

– #20 Louisville upended #1 Pittsburgh, 69-63. Like I said earlier, winning on the road in the Big East isn’t going to be easy this season. There are a lot of good teams with strong home courts. Terrence Williams (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists) led the way for the Cardinals, and Earl Clark posted a double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) on his birthday. It looks like Duke will be the #1 team in the nation come Monday, at least in the ESPN poll.

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