NBA Draft Prospects: Earl Clark, Louisville

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IMay 25, 2009

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 22: Earl Clark #5 of the Louisville Cardinals drives to the hoop against the Siena Saints during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 22, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Stats: 14.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.4 bpg, 3.2 t/o's, 45.7 percent FG, 32.6 percent 3PT, and 64.7 percent FT

Listed Size: 6'9" and 220 lb, 1/17/1988 (21 years old)

About Him: There is no denying the potential that Earl Clark has. The kid is a fantastic athlete.

At 6'9" and 220 lb, he is big and strong enough to bang on the block, but he is also quick and mobile enough to get out and defend guards on the perimeter. With his frame (big broad shoulders and long arms), he could probably still add 15 pounds of muscle without negatively affecting his athleticism.

This versatility makes him an enticing pro prospect.

The issue is that so much of what Clark brings to the table is potential. One of the biggest problems that Clark faced in his time at Louisville was a lack of identity, so to speak—he was always stuck between being a three and a four.

This season was a perfect example.

Playing alongside Terrence Williams and Samardo Samuels in the front court, it would seem like the four would be the natural fit for Clark. But with the lack of playmaking ability from Louisville's backcourt, Clark (along with T-Will) was forced to be the guy that the Cardinal offense ran through.

This created a bit of a catch-22 for Clark. For starters, he seems to be much more comfortable playing on the perimeter. He does not have a great back-to-the-basket game, and earned a reputation in the Big East for being a bit soft around the rim.

For someone with his size and athleticism, you would expect to see him dunking on people more than he did. Clark has a tendency to shy away from contact, trying to get cute and spin in a ball off the glass as opposed to going through the defender to finish.

While Clark seemed more comfortable playing on the perimeter, it doesn't necessarily mean he is cut out for playing on the perimeter in the NBA. He does have the physical tools, but his skill set has yet to catch up.

One major issue is his aggressiveness.

Clark is not a good perimeter shooter (streaky, but very inconsistent), yet he settled for a ton of threes and deep pull-ups. He seemed afraid at times of the contact that occurs when he takes the ball to the basket.

Another issue with Clark is that he is not the best decision maker. Yes, he can knock down the occasional perimeter jumper, and yes, he is a good passer when he decides to create (as evidenced by his 3.2 apg), but he also turned the ball over at a high rate (3.2 t/o's).

While he does have a solid handle for someone his size, he seemed to get out of control at times—which led to a lot of his turnovers.

Defensively, however, Clark is a pretty good playmaker right now, averaging over a block and a steal per game. One of the reasons that Louisville was as successful as they were in their press this year was his ability to wreak havoc playing the second line in the 2-2-1.

It's tough to know exactly what he can do in a man-to-man situation because Louisville played a lot of zone; his physical tools are good enough that it will be a matter of effort for him. If he is willing to work on that end, he will be a good defender.

But effort is something that Clark does not always put out. As I said, he is a very inconsistent player, putting up 25, 15, and five games just as often as he would go for eight points, four boards, and seven turnovers.

He also built up a bit of a reputation for dogging it in practice (I remember reading a quote from Pitino somewhere that read, and I'm paraphrasing, Earl Clark is a great player, just not in practice).

Comparisons—Best Case: Danny Granger and Boris Diaw (at his best); Worst Case: Julian Wright and Boris Diaw (now).

Bottom Line: Clark has a world of potential.

The question is going to be...will he live up to it?

But it seems like his "stock" soared and fell on a game-by-game basis. For every Ole Miss (25 pts, 16 bs, four asts, and five blks) and Providence (24 pts, 10 rbs, seven asts, two blks, and two stls), he had a West Virginia (four pts, five rebs, and four to's) and a UConn (five pts, three rebs, and 2-16 FG's).

I've read in a lot of places that he has bust written all over him, mostly because of his lacking work ethic. Based on potential alone, he is probably a lock for the lottery, maybe even sneaking into the top 10.