I wrote back on November 21 that Gary Clark was instrumental in the Rockets’ turnaround from their disastrous 1-5 start to the season.
In Clark’s 241 minutes on the court, the Rockets have a +5.8 net rating, good for third on the team behind Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker. Houston is slightly worse offensively with Clark on the floor with a 105.6 rating with him on the court as opposed to a 107.2 rating with him off for a -1.6 difference. But defensively, the team has a 101.4 rating when he’s been on the court and a 108.9 rating when he’s been off, for a difference of -7.5. That’s been the highest difference on the team after fellow rookie Isaiah Hartenstein (-17.7) who has only played 127 minutes thus far.
They’re small sample sizes, but the lineup of Chris Paul, Tucker, James Harden, Clint Capela, and Clark has posted a net rating of +46.6 in 18 minutes while the lineup of Tucker, Gordon, Harden, Capela, and Clark has posted a net rating of +24.6 in twenty minutes. The trio of Harden, Paul, and Clark has shared the court for 44 minutes and had a net rating of +18.8. Clark’s presence is lifting the best players on the Rockets.https://www.forbes.com/sites/rahathuq/2018/11/21/rockets-two-way-rookie-gary-clark-is-here-to-stay-with-the-team/#450b78243ec4
But after averaging 20.4 minutes per game between October 26 and November 30, over 17 games, Clark was suddenly gone completely from the rotation. To me, it was one of the more baffling occurrences of the Rockets’ 2019 season. He didn’t appear again as a regular until January 11, when he played 17.9 minutes per game in the six games through January 21. The decision to pull Clark from the rotation for months at a time struck me as odd considering this was a team desperately in search of consistent contributors and desperately in search of a defensive identity.
It’s true that he did not shoot well (29.7% on 3’s for the year), but Clark is a capable shooter with viable form, unlike say, Clint Capela. He wasn’t going to get comfortable with his shot playing so erratically.
My main gripe in this regard is that the team was down to really five guys who could actually compete against Golden State, in the Western Conference semifinals. Capela was rendered completely unplayable and Faried wasn’t given a chance for whatever reason (most likely his inability to play anything resembling defense.) Just having another body that could give them minutes would have been huge in a series where every game was won at the margins. It’s not realistic to play rookies in high leverage spots? Did you see who Golden State was running out there in the Finals? And could Gary Clark really make mistakes any dumber than what we saw Gerald Green and Iman Shumpert put us through? Sure, he wouldn’t have been a shooting threat. But he would have played smart, solid defense, and could at least have given the team another player over 6’7 capable of grabbing a rebound.
This is all part of a broader issue of Mike D’Antoni needing to develop his younger players. Its an investment during the season that can result in some growing pains. But as we’ve seen with the San Antonio Spurs over the years, it pays off when a team is down on options.