Nylon Calculus: Ian Clark can hit open jumpers for the New Orleans Pelicans
The Golden State Warriors are an incredible team that also happens to be incredibly unique. One of the ramifications of their uniqueness (and there are many) is it’s hard to evaluate their role players. It’s fairly easy to project how players going into the system will be affected, but for someone like Harrison Barnes coming out of Golden State last summer it was difficult to project how well he could perform in a larger role and without the incredible spacing afforded by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
We have a similar, albeit much less important, mystery with Ian Clark.
Clark, who recently signed a one-year veteran’s minimum deal with the New Orleans Pelicans, was mostly a bit player for the Warriors. Over the past two seasons, he played just over 1,700 minutes for Golden State standing out mostly as a 3-point shooter. He’s only played 2,079 minutes across his entire four-year career (a little less than Brandon Ingram played as a rookie last season) so there just isn’t much to go on.
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We know that Clark can split time between both backcourt positions, at least to some degree — over the past two seasons with the Warriors he’s played about a third of his minutes at point guard. However, the primary appeal for the Pelicans is his shooting.
Clark shot 36.8 percent on 3-pointers across his two seasons in Golden State. However, he was a robust 41.5 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s last year and ranked in the 79th percentile as a spot-up shooter, according to the NBA’s play type statistics. If he can replicate those percentages, it will be a huge boon to the Pelicans’ offense.
With DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis paired in the frontcourt, space is going to be at a premium and outside shooting is going to be essential — both to keep the defense from packing the paint on Cousins and Davis, and to take advantage of the defensive attention they draw to create some high value shots.
The Pelicans ranked 13th in the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game after Cousins was acquired, but they made just 35.1 percent of those attempts — 25th in the league and well below the league average of 37.2 percent. From the table below, you can see what an outlier Clark’s strong catch-and-shoot ability will be on the current roster, especially if you’re a little bit skeptical of Rondo being able to sustain his numbers from last year (numbers for Quincy Pondexter and Darius Miller are from 2014-15 and 2013-14, respectively).
Clark averaged 14.8 minutes per game last season and 7.0 of those minutes came in the fourth quarter. Obviously, given his team context, those were far more likely to be garbage time run than high-leverage minutes in close games. You can see this in his shot attempts as well, where about 59 percent of his total attempts last season came with the Warriors either leading or trailing by more than 10 points. Also, slightly more than half of Clark’s total shot attempts, and 87.8 percent of his 3-point attempts, were classified as open or wide open (no defender closer than four feet) by the NBA’s player tracking statistics. He made 40.3 percent of those 3s.
There’s no denying that playing with the Warriors made Clark’s life easy on offense last season. However, while we can certainly be skeptical about Clark’s ability to sustain other parts of his statistical profile away from the Warriors, but his shooting percentages should remain relatively stable.
In the case of Barnes last season, the question was whether a player who had been a spot-up shooter could maintain the same efficiency with more of a primary creator role. Clark should be doing the same thing in New Orleans as he was doing in Golden State — shooting open jumpers — and while there might not be quite as much space, Cousins and Davis do occupy a lot of defensive attention.
Clark is still just 25 and, as mentioned above, doesn’t have all that much actual in-game experience under his belt. Perhaps there’s more to his game and more opportunities will allow him to blossom. But the Pelicans need someone to hit open jumpers and even if that’s all they ask of Clark, there’s every reason to think he’s up to the challenge.