Earl Clark still learning in his new role as Cavs’ small forward

131015-vCHA-3If Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee could morph into one athletic Frankenstein of a small forward, what would his name be? Earlonzo Geek? Alonearl Clee? Even if we add in CJ Miles’ name for extra, um, parts, it doesn’t offer much more in terms of options. What if we just use Calvin?

As much of a mess that word jumble proves to be, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown may find himself in an even bigger bind when it comes to production, both desired and actual, from the wing spot in his new five-man lineup. It is no secret that the small forward spot continues to be the weakest link of the Wine and Gold’s chain. Not only has it proven to be tough to replace a three-time MVP1, the team has swung and missed on multiple occasions, attempting to derive something—anything—out of players like Omri Casspi, Christian Eyenga and Joey Graham.

This season, Brown has a familiar face in a lengthy a defensive-minded Earl Clark joining the more trigger-happy Gee and Miles. The rub: The 6-foot-10-inch Clark has never played small forward before coming over to Cleveland, where he will be asked to shore up the defensive side with his immense wingspan while hitting open shots when provided the opportunity. With Gee and Miles battling nagging injuries and slow starts to the preseason, it has been Clark who—despite his own issues from the floor—received nearly 28 minutes of playing time from the small forward spot in Thursday’s preseason finale, a 105-92 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.

“Nobody’s really separated themselves drastically from the other guy,” Brown said of his small forwards after the game. “One thing that I haven’t gotten from my small forwards is rebounds. Our numbers just weren’t quite there, and I don’t know why but we need some rebounding production from that position.”

In those 28 minutes, despite his size, Clark pulled in just three rebounds. In 29 minutes within the previous game, a win over the Washington Wizards, Clark once again managed just three rebounds; Gee equaled that total in 15 minutes off of the bench. Rookie forward Anthony Bennett, despite his rebounding skill set, will be primarly playing the role of power forward. Fellow first-rounder Sergey Karasev, despite his 6-foot-8-inch frame, will be earmarked for the shooting guard spot. Alas, it will be a work in progress for Clark, who has to work toward becoming more comfortable with his new home.

“I’m trying man,” said Clark of his rebounding prowess, or lack thereof. Tristan [Thompson] and Andy [Varejao] make it tough. Tristan got 10 rebounds in five minutes last game. I think as the season goes on I’ll be able to crash the boards a little bit more. Right now I’m in a different role than I’m used to, but I’ll find a way.”

To Clark’s credit, the duo of Thompson and Varejao have combined for 35 percent of the team’s rebounding efforts through the course of the preseason. Varejao always appears to have a knack for pulling down the tough boards while Thompson continues to get better each night despite no longer being the team’s center. And this is not to discredit anything Alonzo Gee has done when provided the opportunity. When Clark had the night off this past Monday, it was the former D-Leaguer who went 4-of-6 from three-point range, finishing with 14 points and a pair of blocks. Gee’s converted threes undoubtedly aided Kyrie Irving in achieving 12 assists on the night—it is hitting those open shots, likely from the corner, which will continue to keep both players in the small forward rotation, regardless of who starts.

With Clark, it will be a matter of changing his approach to the game, getting back on defense, but staying out on the wing, only crashing the glass once a shot goes up. With Gee, it will be a matter of maintaining his health (He was , after all, one of just two members of the Cavaliers to play in all 82 games last season) while providing that spark whenever needed; he’s already shown the ability to play defense on All-Star caliber talents, it has just been the depth behind him that has been, well, atrocious. Both players have an advantage of not having to carry the load offensively as the small forward spot tends to be a focus for many teams. For both players, their role will be to simply listen to their head coach—lock down on defense, execute when called upon on offense. Until then, it will be up to Mike Brown to figure out a way to morph his two players into one extremely long, lockdown defending, above the rim-capable shot-maker. What we call him will be up to you.

Photo: David Liam Klye/NBAE/GettyImages

  1. Duh. []

  • Andrew

    Tristan also started all 82 games last season.

  • Thank you. Not sure what I was thinking there.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    I thought I read that Earl Clark played SF for the Lakers…but that was basically the only time he’d ever been asked to play that position.

  • Harv 21

    I watched my first 2+ quarters of Cavs ball last night and wish I didn’t, wish I just told myself that there will be no effort in the last preseason game. Love that Kyrie looks fully engaged defensively, love Tristan’s smooth new free throw stroke. But Varajao looked so rusty and lifeless I’m wondering if maybe he’s starting his career descent rather than just dog paddling until next week (andy, if you up-fake from 15 feet every possession but never ever shoot it from there they will not bite, you’re just deep knee bending). Bennett has miles to go, Waiters was drifting, while the Bobcats looked all springy.

    I know, it doesn’t count. But wasn’t anticipating a Mike Brown team so obviously going through the motions.

  • JoJo

    True, people don’t come here for the writing. But please…

    “Rookie forward Anthony Bennett, despite his rebounding skill set, will be primarly playing the role of power forward” Whut?

    “To Clark’s credit, the duo of Thompson and Varejao have combined for 35 percent of the team’s rebounding effort” Whut Whut?

    “As much of a mess that word jumble proves to be…” yeah…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Last night was a bad preview no doubt but it just reminded me that people will have to be patient because what you see in November, hopefully, won’t be what you see in March. In other words it’ll be a long season with tremendous victories and bad losses. Such is the case with a very young team under a new old head coach.

  • Steve

    Kyrie might have gotten a sit down after the previous pre-season game, where he idly watched Beal go by him numerous times. I think it’s going to be a big learning experience for him this year. Lots of ups and downs at that end of the court. Luckily, Mike Brown doesn’t have any hair left to tear out.

  • Stay productive, anonymous editorial staff.