After graduating Belmont college, Ian Clark was not selected in the 2013 NBA draft. The Co-Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year (shared with eventual Rocket draftee Isaiah Canaan) played for both the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors during NBA Summer League. Clark lead the Warriors to the Las Vegas Summer League championship, scoring 33 points and winning league MVP.
This year, Clark was back in Summer League, and I got a chance to catch up with him following the Jazz loss to the Spurs in Summer League playoff action. During his rookie campaign, Clark worked on improving as a true point guard. “Reads, being able to handle the ball, and knowing the right ways to come off pick and rolls are things I’ve been working on a lot this summer and dating back to last year,” Clark said, “I think it’s helped me a lot here for Summer League.” Through four games, Clark is averaging eight points on 44% shooting and just under two assists per game.
Clark parlayed his strong Summer League performance last season into a two year contract from the Utah Jazz, but his rookie campaign was nondescript. He appeared in only 23 games, averaging just seven and a half minutes and three points. He also had two short stints in the D-League with the Bakersfield Jam, totaling eight games. For the majority of the 2013-2014 season, Ian Clark did not play meaningful minutes.
When I asked about his time with the Jam, Clark was complimentary, saying, “It really helped me at that time, getting to play and getting a lot of minutes.” Clark emphasized how helpful it was to go to Bakersfield with fellow rookie Rudy Gobert, where the two bonded both on and off the floor.
Clark didn’t see playing time in Utah due to the players in front of him (Trey Burke and Alec Burks) and because Tyrone Corbin insisted on playing John Lucas III. With a 50 game D-League season, it seems odd for Clark to only spend eight games in Bakersfield. Though, perhaps the Jazz did not see extended value in sending Clark to Bakersfield. After all, the Jam are an independently owned D-League team, meaning more than one NBA franchise can send players to the team. Last year, five NBA teams used the Jam for developmental stints. Most companies in the non-basketball world probably wouldn’t be comfortable sending their employees to an independent subsidiary for an extended period of time to learn how to be better in-house employees.
While with the Jam, the Jazz had no control over what system Clark was taught. Essentially, Clark and Gobert were sent to play basketball, stay in shape, and attempt to practice whatever guidelines Jazz officials laid out for them.
Comparing Clark’s season with the path of former college rival Isaiah Canaan is a bit maddening, but both ended up in less than ideal situations. Canaan was drafted as a third string point guard and ended up fourth on the depth chart at certain points of the season. Houston owns their D-League affiliate and Canaan saw plenty of opportunities for growth. Canaan followed up a modest season with a strong Summer League and may have locked up the second string point guard spot.
Clark also found himself in a positional logjam, but instead of getting chances to play he practiced with the team and sat on the bench. Clark has not had the same chance to develop.
There is good news for Clark moving forward, however. Those who cover the Jazz are confident that Utah will retain his services despite a vanilla rookie season and an even bigger bottleneck at guard in 2014-2015. A big reason might be the partnership the Jazz have entered into with the Idaho Stampede. After five different D-League affiliations during the league’s existence, the Jazz may have finally found value in the one-to-one model.
Despite a disappointing start to his story, there’s still cause for hope for Ian Clark. Hopefully, the case for a one-to-one model will pick up steam in the coming months. It seems as if it took a direct example for Utah to learn the value of direct control over a D-League team’s basketball operations. A strong and consistent D-League is good for players, coaches, and team executives long term.