Ian Clark looking to build on 2017-18 individually and team-wise

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

While the majority of the New Orleans Pelicans’ roster entered last season with minimal postseason experience, Ian Clark had just won a championship ring with Golden State and reached two consecutive NBA Finals. Still, he didn’t feel entirely comfortable walking into a new locker room and acting like his teammates needed to immediately follow his lead.

“I was a new guy on the team and wanted to just assert myself accordingly,” Clark said of his initial experience in the Crescent City. “I wasn’t as aggressive or confident as I should’ve been early in the season.”

Chalk it up as a lesson learned, because once the 6-foot-3, 175-pound combo guard found his niche on and off the floor for the Pelicans, the results were unmistakable. Clark averaged 5.8 points per game for New Orleans prior to the All-Star break, but after it, nearly doubled his scoring output to 11.0. He also increased his accuracy in every major shooting category, shooting 48.8 percent from the field, 36.8 percent on treys and 90.5 percent on free throws. During his third straight trip to the NBA playoffs, Clark was vital in a Game 1 win at Portland, dropping in 10 points on 4/5 shooting. In the team’s second-round Game 3 victory over his old Warriors team, he deposited 18 points on 7/11 shooting in a 119-100 triumph.

“It got to a point where everything clicked and I felt comfortable to not shy away from any moments,” said Clark, who connected on multiple back-breaking second-half treys vs. Golden State. “That helped me and us as a team later in the year.”

The 27-year-old had signed a one-year deal with New Orleans in the ’17 offseason, meaning he was again a free agent this summer. His decision to return to the Pelicans was based partly on the enjoyment he derived from being part of the club’s postseason run, as well as some motivation to build upon what he and his teammates achieved.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come back was the season we had, the strides we made as a team,” Clark said. “The camaraderie we built was unique. I wanted to be a part of that again. I loved being in the locker room with the guys, and the fun we had off the court. We have guys who want to win together.

“Everyone is easygoing,” he added of the atmosphere around the team. “Guys care for one another and are selfless, all on the same page. That’s kind of hard to find. There are different locker rooms where guys have their own agenda and aren’t fully invested in what the team or organization is doing. Here, especially with the players who’ve been here their whole career like (Anthony Davis), he’s seen it transform. With him being the head of the snake here, guys fall in line and it shows on the court.”

The Memphis native and Belmont University product wants to replicate the results he produced in March, April and May of last season, hoping to start ’18-19 quickly. He believes a full year under his belt in New Orleans will help, on and off the hardwood.

“I want to pick up from where I left off last year, and not take any steps back,” he said. “I want to be more consistent and be more of a leader at times. I’m not really that vocal, but it’s something I want to work on. I’m transitioning into a different role, going into Year 6 of my career. I’m not one of the young guys on a team anymore.”

Despite a red-hot 20-8 close to the ’17-18 regular season and the resounding first-round sweep over Portland, New Orleans players have heard some skepticism surrounding their outlook for this season, based at least partly on roster changes. Clark wants the Pelicans to build on what was the franchise’s best season in a decade, by improving upon a 48-win season and taking another step forward. If they do so, it would mark a second straight campaign of exceeding outside expectations.

“We’re going to have a lot of doubters, because of some people that we lost,” Clark said, alluding to preseason predictions. “But I think the additions we made are going to surprise a lot of people, because I don’t think we really lost a beat. For us, making it to the playoffs was a (big) deal (on the) outside, but guys in the locker room knew what we were capable of. I think this season is about getting back to that level, and even making a deeper run in the playoffs.”