The NBA draft's forgotten shooter: Belmont's Ian Clark
The best shooter in this draft class won't be drafted. I'm fairly certain of that, since there is no buzz about him in scouting circles and his name has yet to appear on any second-round mock. Although, who knows? Maybe there's a team that loves this shooter yet has stayed completely tight-lipped about him, and will take him as a surprise pick in the 50s. He has quietly worked out for eight NBA franchises, almost always playing out of his main college position.
This shooter has limitations. He's a small-school two-guard whose size necessitated that he audition as a point. He's a senior, and he's still a tad skinny. He doesn't excel in the pick-and-roll or at drawing fouls off the bounce. He's not first-round material. What I don't understand is why he has no buzz altogether. At 6-foot-3, he's not tiny. He was the defensive player of the year in two conferences, the Atlantic Sun and the Ohio Valley. And did I mention? He's the best shooter in the entire draft!
It's odd how much the ability to actually make shots in college games gets overlooked at draft time. I know that this skill does not always translate to the NBA, where size and athleticism matter far more than in college, but when one, anonymous shooting guard has numbers so superior to all of the shooting guards being considered for first-round selection, it would seem wise to at least give him deeper consideration.
So I present to you, draftniks, the statistical case for Belmont's Ian Clark.
Making a case for Clark was not my original intention. I was poring over shooting guard stats mainly because I was alarmed by how infrequently some of the guys in the first-round conversation (particularly Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr., San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin and Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) actually connected on shots in college ... and I kept finding Clark's name near the top of the efficiency leaderboards. So I built a spreadsheet of each shooting guard's efficiency numbers over the past two seasons, to increase the sample size, and also adjusted them for defensive strength of schedule, to account for the difference between shooting in the Ohio Valley Conference and the Big Ten or SEC. Even with the adjustments, Clark's stats stood out.
The first batch of numbers came from Synergy Sports Technology, looking at catch-and-shoot efficiency from the past two seasons, with my own schedule adjustments:
Clark, with a decent-sized sample (286 shots), was nearly 0.4 points per possession better than Caldwell-Pope, and more than 0.3 PPP better than Hardaway. That's a massive, massive difference. Kansas' Ben McLemore, a possible top-three pick, looks good here, but he's still not at Clark's level. Clark, alas, does not have the body of a prototypical NBA two-guard.
The second batch of numbers is also from Synergy, looking at off-the-dribble jump-shot efficiency from the past two seasons, with my own schedule adjustments:
One again, Clark blows away the field. More than 0.3 PPP better than Hardaway, almost 0.4 PPP better than Cal's Allen Crabbe, more than 0.4 PPP better than McLemore. But they are all 2-3 inches taller, and that makes a huge difference in the draft.
The last chart combines data from kenpom.com (free throw rate) and box scores (free-throw and three-point percentage) over the past two seasons, and is not adjusted for defense:
The first blue column shows one of Clark's biggest drawbacks: his low ratio of free throws to field-goal attempts, which means he doesn't draw many whistles off the dribble. His value lies in his solid defense and his exceptional shooting. He has a pure stroke from the free-throw line, coming in second only to McLemore. And from beyond the arc, the 9-10 percent gaps between Clark's large, two-year sample and those of Indiana's Victor Oladipo, Hardaway and Franklin are not pretty.
Every shooting guard in these charts except for Clark, and maybe Kentucky's Archie Goodwin, whose stock has been slipping, will earn a guaranteed NBA contract on Thursday. If Clark isn't a surprise second-rounder, he'll get invited to play in NBA summer leagues, facing long odds of securing an end-of-bench spot on a regular-season roster. Most likely he'll have to choose between toiling in the NBDL or signing a decent deal in Europe.
Will we forget about Clark after that? Or will he keep hitting so many shots that some NBA team, finally, cannot help but notice?