Earl Clark Must Be LA Lakers Sixth Man in 2013 Playoffs

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2013

Earl Clark has a chance to be an X-factor for the Los Angeles Lakers in the postseason.
Earl Clark has a chance to be an X-factor for the Los Angeles Lakers in the postseason.Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Los Angeles Lakers have accomplished their goal of qualifying for the NBA playoffs, it's time to examine how Mike D'Antoni's lineups may change in the postseason.

Matching up against the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1, the Lakers will have their hands full trying to contain a lethal offensive attack that ranked seventh in the NBA in points per 100 possessions (108.3) and sixth in pace (94.2), according to Basketball-Reference.

One way to shore up the Laker defense? Give Earl Clark the bulk of the minutes as the team's sixth man.

Yes, Clark only averaged 7.3 points per game during the regular season on 44 percent shooting (33.7 percent from three), but he's a significant upgrade on the defensive end over Antawn Jamison.

If the Lakers hope to have any chance of keeping pace with the Spurs, they'll need to tighten the screws on defense, particularly in transition.

According to Basketball-Reference, Clark finished the regular season with a defensive rating of 105, the second-best mark among players who topped 1,000 minutes for the Lakers.

Jamison, on the other hand, allowed 108 points per 100 possessions and is notorious for getting lazy in his treks up and down the floor.

Clark proved throughout the regular season that he can shoulder some of the offensive burden for the Lakers. He averaged 10.9 points per game over 13 starts in the month of February. However, Clark's most efficient 31-day stretch came one month prior, when he shot a lights-out 49.6 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from three in January en route to 10.3 points per game.

With Kobe Bryant out, the Lakers need an athletic wing who can create off the dribble and off the catch, and Clark's shown the ability to do both throughout the regular season.

Now that Jodie Meeks has taken over as L.A.'s starting 2-guard, the Lakers are not only smaller on the wing, but less athletic.

Instead of trusting a sluggish 36-year-old Jamison to get the job done, D'Antoni should give a spry Clark the opportunity to get thrive in the postseason.

With the Spurs possessing a multitude of perimeter threats (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Matt Bonner just to name a few), Clark's length and athleticism makes him a more appealing reserve option.

Examining small sample sizes against the Spurs this season, we're presented with more evidence as to why Clark should get the nod over Jamison.

Over two games against San Antonio, Clark shot 64.3 percent from the field en route to 12 points per game (Jamison averaged 9.3 points on 47.6 percent shooting). Clark also pulled down eight rebounds per game, superior to the mark of 5.7 boards per game that Jamison posted in three games against the Spurs.

The real game of note for Clark came on January 9, when he scored 22 points (on 9-of-12 shooting) and grabbed 13 rebounds in a tight 108-105 loss to the Spurs.

What it comes down to is this: Would you rather have a proven yet underwhelming commodity like Jamison taking on significant minutes, or would you rather give a strong, athletic wing like Clark a chance to shine?

Now that they've earned a second wind, so to speak, the Lakers have a chance to reinvent themselves. In order to beat the Spurs, a team that defeated them on two of three occasions during the regular season, reinvention may be the Lakers' only option if they hope to pull off a stunner.

In a series in which the Lakers will be looking for any spark they can get their hands on, Clark may wind up being just that.