NBA Summer League 2014: Jazz guard Ian Clark ready to return to where it all started

USA TODAY Sports

Ian Clark came on the scene in Vegas, and then fell all of the NBA map. He's ready to remind everyone of who he is, and what his smooth game looks like.

NBA Summer League 2014: Utah Jazz Roster -- Jazz Schedule -- Things to watch

In a few days the Utah Jazz will pack up their Summer League team and head down to Las Vegas. For one member of the team this is a bittersweet homecoming of sorts. After a four year college career at Belmont, where he would averaged 18.2 ppg as a senior, Ian Clark automatically entered the NBA Draft. And draft night came and went, and his name was not among the 60 players picked. For many college basketball players that’s the end of their story. For a few others, it means it’s the start of a new chapter in their lives in another country. Fewer still deal with going undrafted, and put in the work in the off-season, and absolutely fight tooth and nail to get an NBA training camp invite. And truly, the rarest of rare gems find a way to shine their way onto an NBA team, with contract in hand for the upcoming season.

When placed in such a context it’s hard not to be in awe of and applaud just how much adversity Clark has already overcome. A huge stepping stone last year was his performance in the Las Vegas Summer League. Then, a member of the Golden State Warriors club, he let his club to the championship and won the tournament. They wouldn’t have gotten there without his 12.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.4 apg, and 1.1 spg, all the while shooting a stellar .478 .485 .700. [N.B. Clark also played for the Miami Heat in the Orlando Summer league, and finished with averages of 16.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, and 2.2 spg, but it is a much smaller stage.]

He made the big shots, and took control when his team needed him to. He played on the ball and off the ball. And, over all, he was a winner. Directly after the Vegas tournament it was a no-brainer that he would be named MVP. On the internet Golden State Warriors fans were getting really excited for this rare gem, and felt as though he would be a key rotation player for them, spelling Stephen Curry and keeping him fresh.

The Utah Jazz swooped in and offered him a contract, plucking him from a fun, free-flowing Warriors club that loved the three . . . onto a grind it out, slow Jazz club that somehow started a small ball lineup and did not run. His summer was an emotional roller coaster, from getting his college degree, going undrafted, working his way up the ranks by playing in both summer leagues, then winning the MVP of one – and then getting signed by a team before training camp for the next season. And then when training camp started he saw that he was, at best, starting off behind Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and Brandon Rush on the depth chart.

Welcome to the NBA, rook.

Clark went from playing 33.4 mpg in his senior year at Belmont, to playing (on average) 28.1 mpg in the summer league. And then in the NBA preseason that went all the way down to 12.4 mpg. And when the season finally ended he would look back and see his playing time with the Jazz end up being a paltry 7.5 mpg.

It’s hard to show your stuff, and prove you belong, if you don’t get a serious shot.

Even at the Developmental league level, where you think you’d want to stash such a player, he didn’t get regular playing time. He was sent down first by the Jazz on December 14th, then recalled on the 21st. Then send back down on January 4th, and recalled on January 13th. If you remove travel time and other random off-days he would play just 8 games for the Bakersfield Jam last season. Great development league use there, Tyrone Corbin!

That said he did something only one other assignee has ever done, in Jazz history. He really showed that he didn’t belong in the developmental league, he was too good, and perhaps that’s why he was recalled after a week’s work both times. In the eight games there he averaged 32.2 mpg, and put up averages of 12.4 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3.3 rpg, and 1.6 spg. Sure, someone like Morris Almond put up more points (way more points), but Clark showed that he had a more complete game and was able to help out in a variety of ways. And yes, his three point shot was still there. But for the most part, his talents were wasted playing in the D-league, and at the NBA level sitting on the bench while Brandon Rush went out there and played hundreds of more minutes than you.

And that was the kind of year it was for Ian Clark. He worked hard, never gave up, and whenever he got a chance he distinguished himself as one of the best players on the floor. But he didn’t get a lot of chances. It’s hard to split hairs about this, heck, even the former #3 draft pick Enes Kanter seemed to regress last season. So it’s not like this was a Clark only problem, but a systematic one where EVERYONE didn’t develop – despite what people on the payroll indoctrinated viewers and listeners to believe.M

So here we are, almost a year later, and Clark is going back to Vegas – basically where it all started and where he put himself on the NBA map. His rookie season in the league was filled with a lot of time on the bench, and a grand total of 23 games played. It wasn’t the rookie season anyone envisioned for him after his stellar play in the summer that crescendo’d with an MVP trophy against other NBA hopefuls, and a contract signed with an NBA team on July 30th.

Does Clark recapture some of his lost mojo and career momentum? Does the fact that he’s on the team with Trey Burke and Dante Exum hurt him here? Or does he find a way, as he has done all his career, to find a place to fit in, and let his hard work take it from there?

I believe in Ian Clark, and it’s a no brainer for the Jazz to guarantee his second year of his contract. And I also believe that after Vegas is over plenty of other people will agree with me. You can’t predict how a new coach will use a player. But I’ve learned enough about Ian Clark to know not to count him out. He is a guy who just won’t be out worked or hustled. And for a team that needs shooting – it would be awfully poor planning to try to find shooters in free agency when you have one, unused, sitting in your collective laps.

I hope Clark gets a serious chance in Vegas, because I know he will make the best of it. Just like he did last year.

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