Earl Clark's Dress Rehearsal: There's Another Understudy Nipping At His Heels

Earl Clark is the only player on the Suns roster who is completely impossible for me to project, predict or otherwise quantify or qualify.

He's got an incredible body with a unique combination of potential skills, which includes running, jumping, dribbling, passing, sometimes shooting, and defending. He's a wickedly talented athlete who almost always seems to be just moments away from figuring it out. 

And yet, it's hard to see him figuring it out. And by "it" I mean the game of basketball played as a team.

He might already be the team's best individual on-ball defender, but, from what he's shown so far, is utterly lost when it comes to team defense.

He flashes moments of offensive genius when he puts the ball on the deck like a two-guard and blows by slower-footed defenders, but then becomes kind of lost when he gets in the lane and there's traffic. 

The Suns want Earl to become a lock-down defender, but Earl hasn't figured out how to give up on his other tools, which at the NBA level aren't nearly as dominant as they've been the rest of his basketball life.

This month will be huge for Earl Clark. The Suns have until November 1 to decide if they are going to pick up the team option on his third year that would pay him about $2 million.

It would seem, based on word from San Diego (where I am most decidedly not right now as evidenced by the 173 degree weather outside my window), that the Suns are going to take steps to simplify Earl's life.

If the problem is too many tools in the tool bag, the solution is to empty out the sack.

To that end Earl, according to Earl, will be playing just one position this season instead of trying to bounce back and forth between small forward and power forward, which he admitted gave him problems last season.

"I'm feeling more comfortable and learning the plays more," Clark said. "I know I'm going to play straight four (power forward) this year."

Learning the plays. Acting instinctively. Making smart basketball decisions. These are the things that bring Earl down.

That comes on top of what Mercury Coach Corey Gaines, Clark's dedicated mentor/coach, said about wanting Earl to keep things simple. One or two dribble pull-ups only. Run the floor hard both ways. Defend. Period.

Earl has the potential to a valuable part of the rotation when the Suns are playing against the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. He can give those guys fits for a few minutes at a time, but only if he's got a "do no harm" approach on the other end of the floor.

The Suns offense is built around taking open shots. Earl Clark needs to understand that he's the exception to that rule -- at least for the next year or two.

If he makes it that long.

Earl's going to get minutes during the preseason and he surely must understand that he's in full dress rehearsal mode. With impressive rookie Gani Lawal right behind him ready to fill the role of energetic, defensive power forward, Earl's got some serious stepping-up-of-his-game to do and not a lot of time to do it.

Do you think the Suns will end up picking up Earl Clark's option or will a front office that's not responsible for drafting him cut their losses and move on?

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