Who Can Provide NY Knicks with More, Earl Clark or Shannon Brown?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2014

Shannon Brown and Earl Clark, welcome to the New York Knicks' nightmare.

Thin on bodies—and bridges it hasn't torched—New York turned to two veterans to deepen its debilitated roster, and per Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, both of them are now officially Knicks:

Signings this time of year are typically marginal, the result of an influx of free agents made available after being bought out. In most cases, players on 10-day contracts don't make noteworthy contributions. They're the NBA's version of fat pants: You have them, but you're not supposed to need them.

But the Knicks aren't most teams.

Standing on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, they need help. A lot of help, especially following the departures of Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih. Improbable playoff stories don't write themselves, after all.

Their (brief) search for added depth and a defensive identity has brought them here, to Clark and Brown, two players with 10 days to prove they belong in New York.


Earl Clark

A forward for a forward.

Clark had a breakout season under Mike D'Antoni with the Los Angeles Lakers last year, parlaying it into a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While in Cleveland, Clark posted averages of 5.2 points and 2.8 rebounds on 37.5 percent shooting in 15.5 minutes per game.

The forward's production was mostly disappointing, since many believed he could build upon a strong 2012-13. Instead, he found himself basically on the outskirts of Cavs coach Mike Brown's rotation.

Given how much he struggled in Cleveland, his arrival comes as a surprise. World Peace, while seldom used, could at least play alongside Anthony as a small forward. Playing at the 3 doesn't suit Clark, who saw his career hang in the balance while spending most of his time at small forward for the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic

Part of his resurgence last season was attributed to logging extended minutes at power forward, where the Cavs also used him. Not only does that limit his ability to play next to Carmelo Anthony, but the Knicks are already crowded at the 4.

Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Tyler figure into the 4 and 5 rotation, as will Kenyon Martin if he ever gets healthy. If Clark is to receive any minutes, it will be at the 3, where he's registering a 6.8 player efficiency rating, according to 82games.com, compared to 10.9 at the 4.

Even if Coach Mike Woodson can scrounge up minutes at power forward for Clark, or is gutsy enough to play him alongside Anthony at small forward, the 26-year-old hasn't shown he can remain productive in limited playing time.

It took D'Antoni gifting 23-plus minutes a night to make Clark look like he belonged in the NBA. That kind of playing time won't be available in New York. 

And yet again, even if it was, even if Woodson willed him into the rotation, what can Clark do? He's not particularly deft at spacing the floor—33.5 percent shooting from deep for his career—which is of concern, because Anthony is best surrounded by shooters.

Clark also isn't an ideal defender at either of his positions. Opposing small and power forwards are combining for an average PER of 19.6 against him.

When he was on the floor with the Cavs, he wasn't able to improve their already suspect defense either. According to NBA.com (subscription required), the Cavs allowed 104.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, a mere tenth of a point better than their season average (104.6).

Whatever impact Clark can have will come mostly as a spare body Woodson can maybe, quite possibly throw at opposing wings. For all his statistical shortcomings, Clark is more athletic than World Peace and now better suited to guard the evolving small and power forward positions.

That's something, right?


Shannon Brown

A point guard for a shooting guard.

Wait, what?

The Knicks may try to spin their signing of Brown as an attempt to fill a playmaking hole they've had all season, but he's an undersized shooting guard who has never been considered a floor general. So there's that.

But the Knicks do have room in the backcourt in general, where Iman Shumpert is battling a sprained MCL.

Shump, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton have all been underperforming this season as well. If Woodson decides to trim their playing time, Brown could crack his way into the rotation, at least until Shumpert is back.

Brown also fills a gaping athleticism hole. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been New York's only athletic wing presence this season. Be it because of injuries, regression or sheer lethargy, neither Smith nor Shumpert has been their usual athletic selves.

With the Knicks (finally) embracing smaller lineups, explosion is key because players are often guarding out of position. At 6'4", Brown isn't going to slow any small forwards, but he gives the Knicks speed on the defensive end, and someone who is more inclined to attack the basket than what Smith or Shumpert have shown.

Unlike Clark, Brown has also proved he can be productive in various types of situations. He's someone who can put points on the board in a hurry, potentially topping 10 if given 20 minutes of playing time. 

Similar to Clark, though, his shooting remains a concern. Brown hit on just 27.7 percent of his deep balls in 2012-13 and didn't make a single three during his short time with the San Antonio Spurs this season, though he did connect on 36.2 percent during the 2011-12 lockout-truncated campaign.

Still, it's difficult to see what Brown can bring other than his athleticism and scoring. Defense has been New York's biggest issue all season, and Brown's lifetime defensive rating of 107 isn't cause for faith.

If the Knicks expect him to do anything other than score at the rim and potentially hit some of his spot-up treys, they're in more trouble.


Who's the Better Fit?

In an ideal world, the Knicks wouldn't have signed Clark or Brown. For what they both bring, there appear to be better options out there (cough, Jimmer Fredette, cough).

But the Knicks don't make ideal decisions, so this is what they're left with.

Of the two, Brown at least fills a need. There seem to be minutes available in the backcourt, even beyond Shumpert's absence. Toure' Murry or Udrih definitely could have seen more time up until now, but Woodson rarely gave either of them the nod.

Maybe he'll have more faith in Brown, who arguably becomes New York's second-most athletic guard behind Hardaway. Or maybe this is just another pair of mistakes in a long line of poor decision-making. 

As Bleacher Reports' Joe Flynn penned:

Clark and Brown might have turned into useful rotation players if only the Knicks could have signed them two or three months ago. But the damage has already been done. Per Basketball-Reference, New York currently has a minuscule 4.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. Their season is all but over.

The Knicks shouldn't be wasting their time with this kind of rotational filler. These players aren't young—Brown is 28, Clark is 26—and they have no real upside.

New York would have been better off using their two open roster spots to audition younger players who might be able to help next year's team.

But that's not the Knicks. They seemingly exist only for us to question their already suspect judgment.

The Knicks needed a point guard, or at the very least, a shooter (cough, still Fredette, cough) who can potentially double as a playmaker. Neither Brown nor Clark fits that bill, essentially making Brown the better of two lapses in judgment.

"Mathematically, we're still in it," Woodson said of the playoffs, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring

That may be true, but the Knicks' playoff odds are fading fast, a mathematical malady that Brown, the more sensible of two inexact acquisitions, isn't going to remedy or solve.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.


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