Ian Clark brings perimeter shooting, big-game experience to Pelicans

by Jim Eichenhofer

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that among the three veteran players New Orleans has signed in free agency this summer, they’ve each won an NBA or NCAA championship. On Thursday, the Pelicans officially added Ian Clark to a group that already included Rajon Rondo (2008 Boston Celtics) and Darius Miller (2012 Kentucky Wildcats, a team that also featured Anthony Davis).

Clark, 26, was a rotation player for title-winning Golden State in 2016-17, averaging 14.8 minutes per game and appearing in 93 of the Warriors’ 99 total games (regular season plus playoffs). In addition to the ring he won last season while backing up the “Splash Brothers,” the combo guard brings a track record of potent perimeter shooting. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Clark is coming off a career-best campaign from an accuracy standpoint, connecting on 48.7 percent from the field and 37.4 percent on three-point attempts. Via ESPN’s stats, that field-goal percentage ranked second among all NBA shooting guards (minimum 50 games). Among point guards, only Golden State teammate Shaun Livingston had a better field-goal percentage last season, at 54.7.

“Playing the role he had with Golden State, where he came in and stretched the floor and knocked down shots, was something that really intrigued us,” Pelicans Director of Player Personnel David Booth said of Clark. “When you’ve got guys like Jrue Holiday, Anthony, DeMarcus (Cousins) and Rajon, we needed floor-spacers. Ian’s ability to make shots is something that was really needed for roster balance. We thought he’d be a good fit with his shooting, especially when he’s on the floor with AD and DeMarcus. He’s a guy the defense has to respect beyond the arc.”

New Orleans finished 19th in three-point percentage (35.0) and 14th in makes per game (9.4) in ’16-17, but only had Cousins in uniform for 17 games following a February trade. The Pelicans hope to improve in both categories in 2017-18, with opposing defenses forced to devote significant attention to the All-Star big-man pairing of Davis and Cousins.

“We probably have the best four and the best five in the NBA,” Booth said of NOLA’s elite duo at the power forward and center positions, “but to utilize them as much as you would want, you have to make the defense stay honest, so they’re not doubling and sinking in on (Davis and Cousins). You don’t want a weak link on the floor, where it makes it tough on those two guys to always see a help defender. With Ian on the floor, that defender’s going to have to play him honestly. If not, he’s going to make him pay by knocking down shots.”

On a New Orleans roster that doesn’t have much postseason experience, Rondo (96) and Clark (32) add a combined 128 career playoff games. Rondo has appeared in 13 NBA Finals games, while Clark’s eight Finals appearances have all come in the past two years. That’s a round the New Orleans franchise has never reached; only three other current Pelicans have even been to the conference finals (Omer Asik in 2011 with Chicago, E’Twaun Moore in 2012 with Boston, Quincy Pondexter in 2013 with Memphis).

“Ian Clark is another guy with championship pedigree,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry said Thursday, in a conference call from South Africa. “He was a rotation guy on a championship team, and had some really big games. If you go back and look at a couple games he had against San Antonio (in the Western Conference finals), he had really big games. Obviously he’s not afraid of the moment. So just to have him, it adds depth to our team, and that’s one of the things we’ve struggled with in the past.”

“All the information I’ve gotten back is he’s a great teammate, works hard, very coachable, puts the team first and wants to win,” Booth said. “Character-wise, he’s an A-plus. He wouldn’t have been on Golden State’s roster if he wasn’t. We’re excited to have him, because he’s won and knows what it takes to get where we want to go.”

With Golden State, Clark often joined point guard Livingston in the second-unit backcourt, allowing Clark to play off the ball (he shot 61/163 on treys in ’16-17). In New Orleans, it’s possible he’ll play both guard positions, part of a backcourt that has gotten much deeper recently with the acquisitions of Rondo and Clark. The Pelicans have numerous options and versatility based on a handful of veterans with experience at each spot.

“He’s a combo guard who can play either position,” Booth said. “That’s good, because when we have Jrue or Rajon out there, or even E’Twaun (Moore), we have three or four guards who can play on or off the ball. That versatility is a great help. It gives you more options and different lineups to be played.”