HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Advanced metrics are at the heart of measuring a pro prospect’s potential. But as newly signed Utah Jazz guard Ian Clark is out to prove, number-crunching can’t measure heart.
He’s used to the doubts.
The skinny kid from Memphis didn’t get a scholarship offer from his hometown Tigers after four stellar years at Germantown High School. And after four tremendous seasons at Belmont as a knock-down shooter on three NCAA Tournament teams and an all-conference defender, not even the hometown Grizzlies, rooted in defense and desperate for perimeter shooting, showed much interest in this 6-foot-3 ‘tweener — undersized by NBA standards to play shooting guard and not a natural point guard.
“Not that I know of,” Clark said from Memphis in a Tuesday morning phone interview about 18 hours after he signed his contract in Salt Lake City and was introduced as the latest member of the youth-movement Jazz.
“I guess it’s kind of instilled in me now since I’ve been growing up,” the 175-pound Clark said of being a perennial underdog. “I’ve never been the premiere player, per se, and getting all the attention, so I’ve kind of gotten used to that. At the same time, it’s a sense of pride and sense of confidence that you have in yourself that you want to prove you can compete with anybody. So that’s kind of the chip I’ve had since high school and throughout college and now I have to do it at this level.”
NBA TV’s David Aldridge covered every angle of Clark’s basketball journey through the Summer League, including his awesome 33-point championship game with the Golden State Warriors that Clark’s agent Bill Duffy said put his client “over the top.”
Clark, 22, said he picked the Jazz over a few other interested teams as well as some lucrative options overseas because of the team’s foundation of young players and the opportunity to break in quickly.
The Jazz totally revamped their backcourt outside of shooting guards Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. They acquired shooting guard Brandon Rush, drafted point guard Trey Burke out of Michigan and signed journeyman point guard John Lucas III. Clearly, the point guard position could provide plenty of opportunity for a player who seizes it.
So now the question is: Can Clark, a high-character person play the point at a high enough level in the NBA? At Belmont, he shot better than 48 percent for his career and 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. He only averaged 2.2 assists in his career, but he wasn’t asked to set people up; he got set up to let it fly.
“I look at myself as a combo guard, being able to utilize my shooting ability when needed, but also being able to bring the ball upcourt and initiate the offense and get guys going,” Clark said. “I’m definitely not a pure 1 (point guard), but I’ve been working a lot this summer on my ballhandling and making the right reads, ball screens and defense.”
Playing for Miami in the Orlando Summer League, Clark scored 15 points on Burke and the Heat. With Golden State in Las Vegas, he averaged 9.0 ppg until he scorched the Suns for seven 3-pointers and was named the title game’s MVP. He averaged 1.4 apg while the Warriors up-and-coming shooting guard Kent Bazemore handled the point the majority of the time.
“I’ve been playing 2-guard my whole life,” Clark said. “I think it’s definitely going to be a transition, but once I get used to it, once I get with Utah and coach [Ty Corbin] really helps me out, I think I’ll be able to transition into a combo guard.”
That’s the Jazz’s hope.