Backup point guards aren't the norm when it comes to basketball chatter, but when talking about the 2017 Golden State Warriors, you've got to make an exception. The magnifying glass hovering over Oakland has grown tremendously over the past few years and it has now extended from the superstars to the role players. Javale McGee has filled in nicely for the injured Zaza Pachulia as of late and Ian Clark has finally been able to make an impact. Although he's still coming off the bench (duh, there's still that guy named Curry on the team), Clark is posting career highs across the board, playing double the minutes and scoring double the points compared to last season. He's even leading the team in FG% from three! Clark's greatest night in the NBA came just last week, when he scored a career-high 23 points in a blowout win against the Trail Blazers last week. After four years in the NBA and a few stints in the D-league, Clark's journey has come full circle.
"I've come a long way," Clark said after the Warriors smackdown of Portland last Saturday. "For me, it's just building confidence in myself. Not knowing where your minutes are going to come from earlier in my career, until now having a path and a semi-idea of where I'm going to get in the game and who I'm going to be out there with."
Draymond Green and Clark played in the 2013 Summer League together, where the Warriors won the championship and Clark was named MVP of the final game. Clark was only known for spot up shooting back then, something Green remembers, but Green made sure to tell the media that Ian Clark is a player of the past.
"To see where he's at today, where can you play him at the point? He can make plays off the bounce. He can make plays for others. He continues to work and work. It's amazing to see."
With the departure of guard Leandro Barbosa in free agency, I expected Shaun Livingston's role to increase as the backup point guard. He was one of the anchors off the bench for the 2015 championship team and has been a key veteran presence for the young guys, including Clark. But, through the first 28 games of the season, Livingston and Clark are neck and neck for minutes played. I would attribute this to the hard work Clark has put towards improving his game. Clark has become the better fit at guard for both the Warriors and the league as a whole.
Unfortunately for Livingston, the NBA has been leaning away from his style of play for a while. Shooting has become all the rage in the NBA and GMs expect that skill at every position. A big man who can shoot has become a pot of gold compared to the ground and pound big men of the past. Clark's shooting has improved tremendously while Livingston's has been capped at mid-range jumpers for years now.
Clark can also play both guard positions effectively. He's been a shooter his whole life but has now learned how to play point guard and it's made his value as a player explode. Livingston is a great point guard and is very smart with the basketball but those skills can only get him so far. I say make Clark the first guard off the bench, as you can stick him at either guard position, and bring Livingston in as purely a point guard and defensive replacement. Playing them together, with Livingston at the point and Clark at shooting guard, should become a nasty combo down the stretch for this team.
Clark is now the leading scorer off the bench (7.3 ppg), and that number should continue to rise as Coach Steve Kerr increases his minutes. Clark has etched his name in stone as the Warriors' new swiss army knife.