Will Earl Clark's Emergence for LA Lakers Surpass the 'Linsanity' Craze?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2013

Feb 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Earl Clark (6) dunks during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

First Jeremy Lin, then Earl Clark. What exactly is Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni putting in his players' Gatorade these days?

The man responsible for Linsanity has now helped revive another dying career, transforming Clark from a seldom used role player into a starter for the most polarizing team in the NBA.

But does Clark's emergence surpass the importance behind Lin's? Does it even match it? Are any of these even fair questions?

Not unlike Lin, Clark has become an overnight sensation. He's averaging 12.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes on 49.1 percent shooting. He's hitting on a team-best 48.3 percent of his attempts from downtown and is one of three Lakers (Dwight Howard, Jordan Hill) averaging a double-double per 36 minutes.

Most definitely unlike Lin, Clark has helped shift the defensive narrative in Los Angeles. The Lakers are allowing fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and he's holding opposing forwards, power and small, to a PER of 12.7 per 48 minutes.

Still, his numbers just aren't as flashy as Lin's were. With the New York Knicks, Lin averaged 19.6 points and 8.3 assists per-36 minutes, restoring faith in what had become a hapless franchise. Forget the stats, Clark can't possibly mean as much to the Lakers as Lin did to the Knicks.

Kobe Bryant says otherwise (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com):

Where would the Lakers be without their throw-in small forward from the Howard trade turned starting power forward turned sometimes center Earl Clark?

"We'd be in deep crap," said Kobe Bryant on Tuesday after Clark had another stellar night in the Lakers' 92-83 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Playing against the same franchise he used to watch while growing up in Plainfield, N.J., with his father, mother and sister in the stands, Clark scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and guarded everyone from shooting guard Joe Johnson (who finished just 4-for-15 from the field) to center Brook Lopez late in the game when Gasol went down.

"He's earned a lot of trust and he can guard everybody," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "He can guard from the point guard to the center. It's invaluable to have somebody like that."

We can't put a price on what Clark has done for Los Angeles, though like Lin, multiple teams will try to this summer. His versatility has become an irreplaceable actuality, something that the Lakers simply can't function without.

McMenamin astutely points out that Clark has had seven double-doubles over the last 15 games, the same number as one Dwight Howard.

But Howard's been injured. So has Pau Gasol. The Lakers don't actually believe in Clark; this is purely situational.

Sounds like pure "crap," doesn't it?

Moving beyond Kobe's eloquently put sentiments, what the Lakers see in Clark is authentic. Their faith and subsequent dependence on him his real.

In Los Angeles' most recent victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers came out on top, but worse for the wear. Not only was Metta World Peace suspended and Howard unsure of his return, but Gasol was also lost for God knows how long.

Yet the Lakers still won. And at the heart of that victory was Clark, who logged 41 minutes, more than anyone else on the team, including Bryant (37).

Clark's value to Los Angeles is not an artificial happenstance nor is his rise to significance a facade. His is a tale that can at least compare to Lin.

Ah yes, Lin. The same one for which all future Cinderella stories will be compared. And Clark compares.

He just doesn't exceed.

Lin went undrafted and was never supposed to make a worthy contribution at this level. Clark was a lottery selection in 2009 and was expected to have the very impact he is having now. Not that of a superstar, but of someone who could inject tactical diversity into a winning outfit.

Three-plus seasons into his career, however, Clark was found buried on the bench, a stereotypical bust. He was an athletic fiend without the potential to evolve, a player who wasn't going to be of any significance to anyone, let alone a supposed contender like the Lakers.

Desperation's a funny thing, though. As was the case with Lin, injuries and the absence of a direction forced D'Antoni to extend an opportunity Clark's way. And like Lin, he's seized it without looking back.

Clark's claim to fame won't be able to match the craze that was Linsanity. Not because he isn't as talented, as capable or doesn't mean as much to his team, but because he was supposed to be all those things. His career fell to the depths of obscurity, while Lin's began there. 

Clark will also never become a global icon the way Lin has. The latter represented a cultural breakthrough, while the former is but a nightmare turned fairy tale.

One who's emergence will never create or match the hype that Lin's did.

But one who means just as much to his team, and serves as just as powerful an inspiration as Lin did.

Which is really all that matters.

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted. 


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