Kobe’s New Role
During the four-game stretch in which Earl Clark emerged and received big minutes, Kobe’s minutes dipped from a 38:36 season average to just 34:36, although most of that is due to the Lakers’ convincing victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee.
Nonetheless, the switch allowed/allows Kobe to focus on harassing smaller guards instead of trying to stop shooting guards and/or small forwards. Although from here on out it appears that Kobe will take on the opponent’s best perimeter player–whether it be a guard or forward–it at least solidifies the option of having Kobe guard the smaller guards in the league for a whole game if need be.
I’m not saying Clark is the Lakers’ savior by any stretch, but his versatility allows him to keep up with more perimeter oriented power forwards, which is something Jordan Hill couldn’t do effectively, and something that Pau Gasol can’t do either. More importantly, it allows Metta World Peace the ability to remain guarding the small forward position, which in turn allows Bryant to disrupt the smaller guards–and apparently Kobe’s quite good at it even in his advanced age.
Coupled with D’Antoni and Kobe’s decision for the Black Mamba to play on-ball rather than off of it, the adjustments looks to be paying off and should continue to do so going forward as well. Clark’s length and relative speed could also be an improvement when closing out on shooters–which is one area in which Bryant has lacked this season.
Effect On Guards
If Clark remains productive, it would likely keep Kobe Bryant playing at his natural shooting guard position–other than short stretches where Mike D’Antoni decides to play Darius Morris and Chris Duhon together along with Bryant, although that typically happens with Bryant on the bench.
Jodie Meeks is currently the “odd man out” as so many other Lakers have been at various times throughout this bizarre season, but it’s not exactly due to Earl Clark’s emergence. Mike D’Antoni appears to like the idea of having point guards Duhon and Morris or Morris and Nash on the floor together at times, which leaves little time for the three-point shooting Meeks. Because Bryant will likely not switch down to the three spot too often if D’Antoni decides to keep playing his forwards significant minutes, Meeks will likely remain out of the rotation.
However, despite Morris’ defensive energy and Duhon’s play-making ability, Meeks has proved that he can be as much of a hustle player as he can be a deadly three-point shooter. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will once again get his chance this season, just as basically every other player on the team has.
Earl Clark’s emergence truly came as a blessing in disguise for the Lakers, and couldn’t have come at a more desperate time. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill were all sidelined, and Clark provided the versatility Mike D’Antoni had been searching for at the forward position all season; a player who has length, quickness, the ability to shoot the long ball, pass, drive into the lane, cut to the basket, and defend.
While he may not be an All-Star, he has a well-rounded skill-set which is perfect for the Lakers. The fact that he’s playing alongside extremely talented and intelligent basketball players maximizes his natural abilities and instincts.
In return, “Easy” Earl Clark–as they now call him–has given the Lakers an added dynamic which enables his teammates to be more productive as well.