Evaluating NBA Draft prospects is difficult. Sometimes players who were dominant in college don’t translate to the next level or at least player evaluators don’t expect that they will. That’s why you can find yourself in a situation where the player of the year in one conference is considered a fringe prospect while other guys in the league are more or less guaranteed a shot. Unfortunately, that’s the case with Gary Clark.
Clark had a majestic career at UC and he capped it off with an American Athletic Conference Player of the Year award this past spring. However, fellow AACers like Landry Shamet, Melvin Frazier and even teammate Jacob Evans are being given more of a chance at getting their name called tonight. All three of those guys are certainly deserving of a chance at the NBA but Clark deserves one as well.
It’s an underrated strength but Clark is an extremely durable player, especially for the frontcourt. The 6’7” forward played in 139 games during his collegiate career and generally never dealt with injury problems. That durability goes hand-in-hand with his endurance, which will obviously be helpful in the additional minutes needed to complete an NBA game.
Moving on from an area that is less quantitative, Clark is a guy that works on the glass and defense. He is going to out-hustle opponents for loose balls, whether they are clanging off the rim or skipping out of a ball-handler’s control. He led the entire nation in defensive rating (81.6) and defensive win shares (3.5) this past season. He also had a block percentage of at least five in three of his four seasons and is adept at creating mistakes elsewhere, collecting steals at a fairly high rate, especially for a big guy. As for rebounding, he averaged 8.1 per game during his career, including 8.7 this past year. He works hard on both ends, securing more than 100 offensive rebounds in each of the last three seasons. If you want second chance opportunities, you want Clark cleaning the glass.
In an era where bigs are being asked to shoot from long range, Clark has honed his game to fit that mold. When he first came to UC, he had no three-point shot, but he became dangerous from all over the floor by the time he finished, shooting 43.5 percent from three this past season (27-of-62). He finishes well around the rim (61.2 true shooting percentage and 57.1 eFG percentage this past season) and makes the right decisions on offense, helping him to an unreal offensive rating of 135.3 as a senior.
Finally, he is a winner. Yes, this isn’t something that can be entirely determined my metrics, but with 23.6 all-time win shares and an NCAA-leading .303 win shares per 40 minutes this past year, teams he plays for usually end up coming out on top.
Areas to Improve
This isn’t really an area he can improve, but at 6’7”, Clark clearly doesn’t have the length to dominate against larger bigs in the NBA. However, he did play against plenty of guys that had a few inches on him, including UCF’s Tacko Fall (7’6”) and that never seemed to work against him.
While his offensive game has developed nicely, he is not always an assertive scorer and still needs to work on his ability to bang down low and create easy looks in the paint. Additionally, while his shot is solid, he’ll need to make it a bigger part of his game, especially when the defense is tighter, to fit into a modern NBA rotation.
Current Player Comparison
Ceiling - Paul Millsap
Floor - Montrezl Harrell
Just Right - Trevor Booker
Ideally, Clark would go to a team that needs help improving its defense and shoring things up on the boards. If they could use a frontcourt contributor, especially in a bench role, that would be nice as well. For those reasons, I like the Sacramento Kings or Memphis Grizzlies for Clark. The Kings ranked 27th in the NBA in defensive rating and rebound percentage last season, while the Grizzlies were 24th in both categories. While both teams will address these shortcomings early in the draft, spending some second round draft capital on Clark would only help matters.
When Will He Be Picked?
If Clark is picked, it will be late in the second round. The Grizzlies and Kings both have early picks in that round, so while they fit well, they might not be willing to take him that early. If we assume he goes at least after pick No. 50, then the Phoenix Suns at No. 59 make some sense.