The Golden State Warriors won a record 73 games last year and came within a game of repeating as NBA Champions. Stephen Curry won his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award and broke his own record with 402 three-pointers. Steve Kerr earned Coach of the Year honors. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson were both selected to the All-Star team and selected second-team All-NBA and third-team All-NBA respectively. Yet for all their individual honors, the most unexpected success story on the club might have been Ian Clark.
Yes, Ian Clark.
An undrafted free agent point guard out of Belmont University, Clark had cups of coffee in the league for Denver and Utah but was supposed to be camp fodder when he signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Warriors last September. Not only did he make the team, but he saw action in 66 games playing for the juggernaut Dubs, and leapfrogged people like Brandon Rush and at times even Leandro Barbosa in the rotation.
Clark’s overall stats weren’t anything to write home about, but he shot a respectable 35.7 percent from downtown and even saw action in the playoffs when Curry was sidelined. He was one of the few guys on the team who performed better in the postseason than he had during the regular season and just the fact that he was able to contribute at all to one of the best teams in NBA history was remarkable, considering that absolutely nothing was expected of him.
So who’s going to be this season’s Clark for the Warriors, assuming that last year’s version still has a spot?
The immediate inclination is to guess Patrick McCaw, but he may be overqualified. The Warriors picked McCaw, a shooting guard out of UNLV, in the second round of the draft and he shined in the Las Vegas Summer League. With both Rush and Barbosa jettisoned in the off-season, McCaw’s place on the roster is all but assured. He’s most likely going to be Thompson’s backup and a rotation player from the get-go, and a solid bet to contribute more as a rookie than first-round pick Damian Jones, who’s injured.
Then there’s the “name” veteran JaVale McGee, who is somehow still just 28-years-old despite having been in the league forever. What’s more surprising, he’s only been on four NBA teams in his career or that he’s just two months older than Curry? McGee, a goofball who’s a two-time “Shaqtin’ A Fool” MVP and most famous for jogging back on defense while his team still had the ball, has retained enough of his pogo-stick athleticism to still be a viable threat to block shots and slam home alley-oops, but by now it’s been pretty established that he can’t actually play and it’d be fairly shocking to see him make the final roster for an organization that no longer suffers fools.
While there are more established bigs that McGee will have to beat out like Anderson Varejao and James Michael McAdoo, as well as guys whom they’ve invested draft picks on in Jones and Kevon Looney, the Warriors’ front office seems more interested in providing legit competition for McCaw at two guard and even Clark as the third point guard.
Of the non-guaranteed guys they signed Phil Pressey has the most pedigree, almost entirely due to the fact that he’s the son of Paul Pressey, who had a long, successful career, mostly for the Milwaukee Bucks, during the 80’s and early 90’s. The junior Pressey had an extensive trial run with the Celtics in 2013-14 after making the team as an undrafted rookie out of Missouri, but he shot terribly and they gave up on him midway through his second season when his jumper didn’t substantially improve. He caught on briefly with Philadelphia and Phoenix but couldn’t shoot well enough to stick at either place.
What’s intriguing about Pressey is that he might have the best play-making skills of anyone on the roster save Curry or Green. He averaged 9.5 assists-per-36 minutes last season and 7.7 assists-per-36 minutes during his brief career. Those are impressive numbers, especially considering how far people play off of him, daring him to shoot. I doubt Pressey’s passing will be enough to overcome Clark’s advantages virtually in every other aspect, but I’m curious to see whether the team’s developmental staff can tweak his jumper.
Elliot Williams, a combo-guard from Memphis, is already 27 and has been with five NBA organizations, with the lion’s share of his playing time coming with the Sixers in 2013-14. In fact, he’s seen only 432 minutes of court time, total, with the four other clubs. His numbers in the real league have been sub-optimal, but Williams has played 50 games combined for the D-League Santa Cruz Warriors the past two seasons, winning Finals MVP in 2014-15 and being named to the league’s All-Star team twice. He averaged a ridiculous 28.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 21 appearances for Santa Cruz last season, so either there’s some latent talent there or it’s just a scathing indictment of the D-League and they should just shut it down.
Cameron Jones is another undrafted 27-year-old two-guard who’s played abroad the past two years. He’s never gotten an NBA shot, but played 99 games for Santa Cruz from 2012-14 and averaged 19.4 points in 2013-14 for the D-League Dubs. If you’re going to be a long shot anyway, you might as well be the best three-point shooter, and Jones has that distinction in this group, with a career 40.2 percentage from downtown.
Finally there’s Elgin Cook, 23, a 6’6 swingman out of Oregon, and a genuine rookie. He played for the Kings in the Las Vegas Summer League and while his numbers there didn’t distinguish him, he nevertheless was signed by the Warriors. Cook was named First-Team All-Pac 12 as a senior for the Ducks and was named Pac-12 Tournament MVP, averaging 17.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. He’s the most athletic among the prospects –well, outside of McGee– and someone who could be possibly be groomed in the D-League to develop as a legitimate backup to Kevin Durant once Andre Iguodala moves on.
I would say there are 13 locks on the roster, with Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green, Zaza Pachulia as the starters, and Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West, McAdoo, Varejao, Looney, Jones and McCaw as reserves. That leaves two spots for six other guys. My guess is that it will come down to Jones versus Cook for one spot, with Cook having the edge because of his size, youth and D-League eligibility, and Clark versus Pressey for the other, with Clark being the heavy favorite as the incumbent.
So the answer to who might be this year’s Ian Clark for the Warriors may well be… Ian Clark.