The Utah Jazz once again recalled center Rudy Gobert and guard Ian Clark (Aka Moose and Squirrel) from their NBA D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam.
"Watch me pull some playing time out of a hat!"
THIS time the pair were able to play in five games this time. Last time the Jazz called them up after they played in three games. PROGRESS! In all seriousness the point of sending them down to the D-League wasn't to "over dip them" with a lot of minutes against theoretically inferior competition. The bottom line was to actually get them some action, which they did get. They weren't getting any action at the NBA level. (Guess how many scheduled practices they were a part of during their last stint up in Utah at the end of December, it may surprise the "you earn minutes of practice" crowd quite a bit to know that.) Let's go over the timeline here:
- The Utah Jazz assigned them to the D-League on December 14th
- Gobert and Clark play in three of four NBA-DL Games
- The Utah Jazz then recalled them to the NBA on December 21st
- Gobert and Clark play in zero of seven NBA Games between 21st-4th
- The Utah Jazz then assigned them to the D-League on January 4th
- Gobert and Clark play in five of five NBA-DL Games
- The Utah Jazz then recalled them to the NBA on January 12th
Jazz rookies Rudy Gobert and Ian Clark have been called up from their D-League adventure in Bakersfield. They'll be in Utah later today.— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) January 12, 2014
While the primary objective of getting these rookies some game action did happen, the secondary objective may have been to get them some frequent flyer miles. (They rejoined the team in Charlotte in the middle of their four city road trip before Christmas) Did the Jazz get what they wanted out of sending Moose and Squirrel to the minors twice? Possibly.
The bigger issue is that the NBA-DL has always been about the player's own performance. Not every NBA team has a dedicated DL team and dedicated DL coaching staff. We saw this with Morris Almond back with the Utah Flash. They wanted to win games and get to the playoffs so they hitched their cart up to Almond who ended up scoring 50 points twice in his rookie year there -- but never learned to actually play Jazz basketball. Furthermore, guys who went to the Flash looking to get a call up never actually got called up to the Jazz. There was an overwhelming uselessness to the way the Jazz and Flash worked "together" on things. And the Jazz, who did dip into the D-League quite a bit, would sign players from other teams to join the Jazz. In a way, the appreciable utility of the Flash was just as an advanced scouting tool to sign players from other franchises.
Our coaching staff and front office didn't send Gobert and Clark down there with a life raft. There were no assurances that our guys who get guaranteed playing time (Gobert didn't even average 30 mpg, and it wasn't limited by foul trouble). If they were going to sink or swim as NBA players they'd have to do it the old fashioned way: by proving that they didn't belong down there in the NBA DL.
If you watched the games, that's exactly what they did.
Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso
The whole deal for Gobert -- a guy Tyrone Corbin's boss loved so much, he traded a draft pick and cash to move up for -- is that he needs to prove himself. He didn't play NCAA ball. He didn't grow up in that American High school AAU ball system. The Jazz already have on European center project on their hands in Enes Kanter (it's sad that in his third year he's still looked at as a project by our coaches, and not a prospect). It only made sense to give Gobert a shot in the D-league. (I advocated for it the day before he was initially sent down)
In order for his shot to be anything more than a shot in the woods (shot in the oil fields? That drive through Bakersfield is kinda boring...) he had to dominate. The Jazz had sent bigmen down before on assignment: Kyrylo Fesenko, Kosta Koufos, and Jeremy Evans. The Jazz had people they kept their eyes on as well play in the NBA-DL like draft pick Robert Whaley, and some eventual players like Mikki Moore and so on. Out of the assignment players the Jazz were able to give token minutes to guys who were raking up DNP-CDs in the association. They all played, and played better than the competition, but did not make anyone really take notice. The most jaw dropping thing was probably Fesenko shooting above 60 ft% for his career in the D-League. No one really dominated.
Until now. Gobert's performance really speaks for itself. Let's take a look:
These are straight up video game numbers, they are beyond the Roy Hibbert / Tyson Chandler level we were hoping to get. If Fes did this he would have seen some more game action. Gobert doesn't have the overt bulk, but his length is recordmaking. And he seems to be able to use it to actually *gasp* play basketball. He averaged a double double in less than 30 mpg, and shot over 70 fg% doing it. He was more than respectable at the free throw line and added in three blocks a game to boot. And he did it against the best the D-League had to offer in the D-League showcase.
Yes, the type of bigs in the minors aren't the same quality as in the majors. I get that. There's no formula for out to apply NBA-DL success to the NBA. Is 15 ppg good? Is 20 ppg good? There's no real equivalence for output. The key is performance. Rudy was efficient and changed the games he was a big part of. The butt kickings he doled out should give him confidence on the court -- which is the only currency a young player has in his 'experience bank' to fall back on when times are tough. You lose confidence by sitting games, for one, because your coach doesn't trust you enough to get out on the floor. Veterans have more success in the bank and so this doesn't kill them -- unless they are in contract years.
A guy like Gobert, who doesn't even have NCAA or overt NBA Summer league savings in the bank, really needed this. Of course, any career momentum may be lost if he doesn't get to play in the NBA and sits out the next seven games like last time he was recalled from the DL.
And just as a point of emphasis, again, dude averaged 13.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 3.0 bpg, while shooting 74.1 fg%, 70.5 ft%, and getting to the line 5.5 times a game. In 27.0 mpg.
Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer
Clark is also classified as a 'misused and misunderstood' player like Gobert. While Gobert is foreign and comes from a different system, Clark is local and from this High School / AAU / NCAA stream. The misunderstood part is that at the NBA level he is misused, and that leads to questions about who he is. In the Summer League he destroyed it. With the Jazz in the preseason and training camp they clipped his wings. They, as Stephon Marbury put it, put him in a box. For the longest time playing the wing in the Utah Jazz offense meant a limited number of things: post entry passes, staying in the corner opposite the pick and roll, and the Matt Harpring curl shot from 15 to 18 feet. If you try to put players into that very square hole, the round ones aren't going to fit. (Don't even get me started on the triangle shaped ones!) It's no surprise that Mr. Square peg, Richard Jefferson, is saying all the right things and very happy here. If you look at how Clark was used by the Golden State Warriors and how he's being used by the Jazz there are a few differences. For one, Golden State played through his strengths. As a team our philosophy isn't to do that, but to break down and fit players into our flawless (count da ringz) offensive scheme.
The innate stupidity of it is that Clark is a ball control guard. That doesn't mean he's effectively shoot first, but the 6'3 player isn't quite a point guard or a shooting guard. Playing him like 'simply' a wing isn't going to get it done, and he's going to look less effective doing it. Compounding this stupidity is that we let some of our wings create more this season: Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks have both been able to do more than just entry passes and Harpring curls this year. So far the Jazz did not let Clark do this. (Or even try him out at point guard back when the team was in point guard apocalypse mode earlier this season -- which is just like LAST season, but let's not get into it.)
I'm not saying there's a double standard with what our coaches allow rookies to do, and vets to do; but I'm just sayin'...
Clark got to play more to his strengths with the Jam, which is funny, what does it say about your NBA Head Coach if your NBA-DL Head Coach can coax more out of the players? And by playing to his strengths he got a shot to actually do something positive on the floor. The worry, the eternal worry, is that when an 'offense first' guard for the Jazz goes off the reservation (leaves the Jazz for the DL) that he'll really go full Mobe and just score score score. What we learned is that going full Mobe and just scoring doesn't a) display to the Jazz that you can play the team game, and b) one dimensional minor league pros don't usually get called up.
As an aside, I don't think it's likely that we'll see a Mobe situation ever again. There's more communication (we hope) between the Jazz and their affiliates now; the owner of the Flash wanted success for his franchise, not the Jazz; the coach of the Flash was thus pressured into a win-now mode; the offense of the Flash was basically the same offense as Rice; and Morris was surrounded by inferior talent (who was he really going to pass to? Fes?). If they were going to win it was through Almond's scoring. The traits that Jerry Sloan did not want to develop were all positively reinforced by his time down in the D-League. And a potentially superb 4th / 5th option starting wing (a Sasha Vujavic who can make the open jumper and stay in front of his man on defense) turned into a lost cause. The hands-off approach to development really sunk Almond, in the sink or swim way the Jazz used the Flash.
For Ian Clark the main thing was that while he was off the reservation that he would show restraint and not become another Morris Almond. Effectively, this meant being a ball control guard who could distribute; and not just a ball control guard who was a ball stopper (Joe Johnson). I think that it's fair to say that Clark was successful in this effort.
The main thing I was impressed with was his assists numbers (5.3 apg, 2.80 ast:to). Let's be honest here, when playing in the NBA-DL it's not like you're passing the ball to an open Randy Foye behind the arc, or Blake Griffin in transition. Assists are hard to get, especially with the -- how do I put this politely -- less than awesome talent some of the finishers have. The bigs are usually very raw and have fatal flaws to their offensive game, like they can't actually catch a ball, or are actually classified as very mobile ladders. And while the general guard level is much higher, these guys are one or two reliable tools away from making it to the association.
After the Atlanta Hawks recalled Dennis Schroeder the ball was in Ian's hands a lot more -- and honestly that's where it should be. Clark did not dominate like Gobert did, and he did not unlock some "Jeff Hornacek" mode where he's the starting shooting guard and primary backup at point guard. And, sadly, he didn't stroke it from the outside or get to the line much. (I have a thing for guys who get to the line, it hurts the defense more than just scoring does, because you only have 6 mana on defense, or fouls. And getting to the line takes away mana from your defenders, and takes away team mana each quarter, which is only 5.) Clark's PPS (not the best metric, but it's not like I have access to MySynergySports D-League stats for PPP) was significantly lower than average.
That's a mark on his report for sure.
But for the most part I think he performed quite well. He did more than just sit on the bench and clap; which is how Ty Corbin uses him. With Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks doing most of the ball handling it would behoove Ian Clark to have been a knock down spot up shooter. So his off-the-ball stuff needs work. (Which was apparent when he actually played in NBA games, remember way back when that happened.) Ball control guards get better playing off-the-ball with more experience. Or, well, they either have to get really good at being ball control guards, like Allen Iverson. I don't want Clark to be like Iverson. (Practice? Practice? How can a young guy earn his minutes to play in NBA games if your team does not even schedule practice? I'm talking about practice right now. We know you don't get better by playing minutes in a game. Not a game. But Practice?)
Well, I wouldn't be mad if he had the cross over of Allen Iverson.
But I'd be happier if he got a little better off the ball, while maintaining his ball control capability. Of course, translating his current skill set to the NBA probably means playing less John Lucas III (non-guaranteed 2nd year of his deal, so potential free agent) and less of Diante Garrett (technically will be a free agent after this year too). Of course Clark doesn't have a guaranteed 2nd year either (he went undrafted, and doesn't have years on the books like our other younger players).
Is it likely that he's going to be part of the rotation anytime soon though? No. Which suits the Jazz fine because if all of a sudden he blows up (unlikely) like Wesley Matthews did, then because he went undrafted, any team can throw any contract at him and the Jazz will not have a chance to match -- also known as "Portland Trail Blazers" -ing it.
Going to the D-League was good for Clark, his pro career has been a series of ups and downs. The high of leading your team to a professional championship (even if it was the Vegas summer league) and the lows of all the DNP-CDs can be rough. He has some confidence to fall back on again. But it is unlikely that he is going to play anytime soon. I will contend that he did distinguish himself a bit with his play. He didn't do everything in the best possible way, which is what Rudy did with the double double, high FG%, good FT% for a bigman, and 3 blocks per game. But Clark did more than just "be a scorer". In one of the earlier posts talking about Moose and Squirrel in the DL I mentioned that our wings (we've never sent down a PG) needed to fill up the boxscore a bit. They couldn't be one dimensional. The players who showed more facets to their game translated to the Jazz better than the ones who did not. Clark averaged 12.4 ppg, but he also hit 1.4 threes a game, grabbed 3.3 rebounds a game, and dished it out 5.3 times a game. He also added 1.6 steals per game. That's filling up the boxscore. One of Clark's facets that did not show up in the boxscore was his defense. At times it's clear that the defensive capability of some of our guards is a bit lacking.
D'ing up a guy in the minors is different than trying to get into the shorts of Tony Parker. But hey, it's a start. Clark did fine by me in his time there. He played more than Rudy, and didn't dominate. But he did enough good things to show that he's more diverse and capable than the ways he was used in the major league.
Where do these cats stand historically?
There are just about 30 former or current Utah Jazz players who at one point in their careers also played in the NBA Developmental League. Some of them were assignees, some of them were draftees who then bounced around, and some of them were players who were down there before signing with the Jazz. I will say that this is an interesting collection of players, and the majority of them did not play with the Utah Jazz affiliate team. Some of these guys never got off the bench for the Jazz. Some of them, when given a shot, did not impress at the top level of competition (which for them was NBA garbage time). Very few players 'made it' in the league beyond their stints with the Jazz. (N.B. Guys brought in for training camp who did not make it don't count, like former longtime Utah Flash point guard Kevin Kruger.)
Here's the list and their vital stats:
|16||John Lucas III||1||2||56||1778||31.75||16.18||50.0%||43.7%||83.3%||2.89||4.07||2.92||1.20||0.05|
Okay, that's a lot of info. Break it down for me, Amar.
- Point Guards: Randy Livingston, Sundiata Gaines, Blake Ahearn, Keith McLeod, Jamaal Tinsley, Diante Garrett, Jerel McNeal, John Lucas III, and the theory of Kyle Weaver (the rare PG/SF/SG). None of these players were on assignment from Utah, all call-ups. The number one quality here is passing for the Jazz. Guys who pass get a shot, unless you are Jello Shot, then you get a pass because you are an NBA vet. Ian Clark actually averages more APG than some of these cats, but in those cases was not as pure a shooter. Guys like Randy and Blake (Ba'Lakey) rarely missed free throws. Ian missed one every three. If we grade Clark compared to these full time points it's unfair for everyone. As an aside, yeah, Sundiata did average 23.9 ppg and 6.9 apg. This shows you that D-League stats don't translate to NBA success.
- Wingmen: This is the bigger group (biggest?) with Andre Owens, Morris Almond, Ian Clark, Travis Leslie, Devin Brown, Othyus Jeffers, DeMarre Carroll, Roger Powell, Mike Harris, Kevin Murphy, and Josh Howard. Murph and Howard's stats may be a bit off, as I last checked them days ago. (They are both in the DL right now). Four of these players were on assignment. Some played part of their rookie years with the Jazz, but either before or after getting signed / cut; and therefore not on assignment. (Trivia: Owens and Powell) If "all" you do is score forget about a call up from the Jazz. Clark destroys everyone here in APG, but he's not a PG (David Locke, probably). The 6'3 guard doesn't rebound as well as the forward wings, but is okay-ish against the guards. He did not shoot well, and this is a negative.
- Bigmen: Last, and largest in weight, we have Jeremy Evans (oh, the jokes), Marcus Cousin, Kosta Koufos, Mikki Moore, Lou Amundson, Robert Whaley, Rudy Gobert, Kyrylo Fesenko, and demi-Litch Greg Ostertag. Four of these players were on assignment. Utah always needs help playing defense, getting rebounds, and blocking shots. But scoring isn't overlooked here either. The best scorer was The Koof, which perhaps shows you what the Jazz have been working with, with all those low first round draft picks. Most of these guys did okay, but did not set the league on fire. By the way, earlier in the piece I talked about confidence. Confidence does wonders, take a look at Fes -- he averaged 10.7 ppg (50.4 fg%, 62.3 ft%), 7.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.8 bpg down there in 25.6 mpg. Confidence does wonders for sure. The alternative to playing with confidence is to be a wonder all by yourself. That's clearly the case of Jeremy who averaged 3.5 bpg, had a 7:1 assist to turn over ratio, on his way to 10.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg in 2 games down there.
- Jazz assignees: Our eight assignees are/have been Mobe, CJ, Murph, Elevator, The KOOF, Fes, and Moose and Squirrel. Mo didn't last long with the Jazz but ended up playing 5 seasons in the DL. Beyond him, only one player has played more than 50 games, that's Fes. (Btw, he just signed with some team, so hooray!) For the most part the Jazz assign a guy for a few days to get the youth out of their hair. It's like when you are a teen and your dad, who just returns from a business trip, gives you and your siblings money to go to a movie and gives you enough money for candy too. That's how the Jazz have *used* the DL so far. I don't expect them to use them any differently until we have our own affiliate. Utah shares the Jam with 87 other pro teams including three in the Philippines and of course Beşiktaş.
- Scorers: Only eight guys averaged 18 or more PPG, Sundiata (23.9), Mobe (22.7), Roger Powell (22.3), Ahearn (20.5), Othyus (19.0), Jerel McNeal (18.8), DeMarre (18.3), and Mike Harris (18.1). This gives you a good understanding that NBA-DL scoring is useless towards NBA success.
- All-arounders: Four guys contribute 29.0 or more BARPS (Blocks+Assists+Rebounds+Points+Steals) that aren't guys on that *scorers* list. They are THE KOOF, Randy, Diante, and Rudy. This group looks more sustainable as actual NBA player material. Randy is retired and now an assistant coach. Kosta is in the league still. And Diante and Rudy are with the Jazz right now. You could argue that Rudy should be contributing at the NBA level too.
- Traditional Bigmen: If all you care about is defense, rebounding, and blocks -- Gobert stands alone. Koufos and Evans are up there, Fes lower, but it's Rudy's game. No one is longer, and no one has averaged better numbers in this category.
There are only two players who have career D-League averages of a double double, who have at a point in their NBA careers played for the Jazz. One of them is Randy Livingston, who (depending on when you started following the Jazz) you may not even remember. The other one is Rudy Colossus Maximus Gobert.
Clark may have a spot in the Jazz rotation if the coaching staff decides to go with youth (a bill of goods we were sold in the off-season); but it's clear that Gobert can help an NBA team right now. Even if it's playing 10-15 mpg, but playing every game. Don't Fesenko-plan Rudy, where he'll play 20 minutes one night, then not play again for three weeks. I think we recognized that it doesn't work that way. Further forcing the hand, beyond the obliteration of the D-league, has to be the point that Gobert has been vocal about his lack of playing time. He's not happy with sitting. Maybe because he has little experience with the 'pay your dues' form of advancement that we're so browbeaten by? I don't know. But he demonstrated his ability, and when given time, shows that he doesn't belong in the D-League at all. He is an NBA player. Which is exactly what Dennis Lindsey and scouts saw in him. Heck, even Mychal and I saw the rawness there back at Attack Athletics months ago. But we also saw the undeniable truth to his size. True bigs are few and far in between, and talented bigs are rarer still. The payoff of not developing and not playing Gobert doesn't outweigh the potential benefit of actually doing some developing for once, and reaping the rewards.
Moose and Squirrel did their best, and are being recalled to the Jazz. Which is fine by me, because they left a crime scene down there by killing it. And they need to lay low for a while -- no better place than in warmups on the end of the Jazz bench. Thanks Corbama!