Can Gary Clark Earn Consistent Minutes in the Rockets' Rotation?

Michael Shapiro

Gary Clark earned his first significant playing time of the season in Wednesday's win over the Heat, tallying 12 points and eight rebounds in a season-high 29 minutes. The Rockets entered the matchup without Clint Capela (who sat out due to illness), and with Tyson Chandler only able to log limited minutes, Clark earned his chance to make an impact in Houston's short-handed front court. 

Clark made the most of his opportunity. He was decisive when left open on the wing, and he snagged a trio of offensive rebounds. Clark's versatility was on full display in the matchup, rotating from point guards to big men defensively without a hitch. On a night where the Rockets needed playable bodies, Clark made a noticeable difference.

"[Clark's] number was called and he was ready to go after not really having an opportunity this season," Rockets guard James Harden said following Houston's victory. "That shows he's learning from vets and he continues to work his butt off for moments like that. He was big for us tonight."

The 25-year-old forward made an impact on Wednesday, but can he earn sizable minutes through the rest of 2019-20? There's reason for optimism. Clark is a passable three-point shooter and switchable defender, two keys to succeeding in Mike D'Antoni's system. D'Antoni deployed Clark as a small-ball five often on Wednesday. We could see a repeat on Saturday against Atlanta. Clark's rebounding tenacity belies his slim frame. He's light on his feet and explosive in the air, showing off his impressive athleticism both in traffic and on the fast break. Clark can be a facsimile of P.J. Tucker in short spurts. 

"I feel like Gary can be like me with the second unit when he comes in," Tucker said on Saturday. "Gary can guard multiple positions, it's just getting him to talk more."

Clark is likely to be a fringe player when the postseason rolls around as D'Antoni whittles his rotation to seven or eight players. But an 82-game season requires a deep collection of passable bodies. Clark made the first step toward consistent playing time on Wednesday. A strong performance against Atlanta could make him a permanent feature in the Rockets' rotation.