Championship Key Matchup #2: The Swiss Army Knives
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn August 18, 2022
On Sunday, August 21st, Trilogy will play Power for the 2022 BIG3 Championship. Before that happens we’re breaking down all the key matchups. First, we took a look at each team’s key scorer. Today, we’re going to take a look at each team’s swingmen, or “Swiss Army Knives.”
Trilogy: Earl Clark
6’10, 225 Pounds
15.4 PPG/8.6 RPG/1.9 APG/1.8 SPG/1.4 BPG, 44.5% FG Percentage, 34.6% 3PT Percentage
Clark stands at 6’10 with a 7’2.5 wingspan, but his lithe frame allows him to move like a wing. That combination of size and speed allows him to be anywhere at any time.
In 2022, Clark set the single-season record for steals, and came within a single block of Isaiah Austin for the league lead in blocks. Anytime the opposing team puts the ball in the air, there’s a solid chance that Earl Clark will get a hand on it.
Clark is particularly interesting as a shot-blocker. He’s not your traditional rim protector. The majority of his blocks come from odd angles – from behind, from the side, from anywhere the player going to the rim doesn’t expect. He doesn’t challenge players at the summit or smack balls into the third row. He just slides over from the weak side, gets his hand on a would-be layup, and creates a loose ball. All these things are what makes Clark the odds-on favorite to win the 2022 BIG3 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Clark’s value isn’t limited to the defensive end. Since Isaiah Briscoe’s outside shot comes and goes and Amir Johnson rarely ventures outside the paint, Clark functions as Trilogy’s de facto floor spacer. He’s not a particularly high-volume three-point shooter, but he has to be respected from beyond the arc. Furthermore, he’s deadly when he gets a look at a long two-pointer, whether it’s off the catch or on a pull-up.
Finally, when the defense over-commits to Clark on the perimeter, he has a great first step and has the ability to float in the air for a tricky layup around the rotating big or a nice dunk if the help doesn’t come fast enough.
Trilogy’s backup swingman is David Hawkins, who hasn’t played much this season – he scored four points all year. He has a solid all-around game, but Trilogy Coach Stephen Jackson only goes to his bench when he really needs to.
Power: TJ Cline
6’9, 229 Pounds
10.4 PPG/4.9 RPG/1.0 APG/0.6 SPG/0.0 BPG, 59.7% FG Percentage, 40.0% 3PT Percentage
Earl Clark’s size, athleticism, instincts, and wingspan allow him to react to plays as well as anyone in the BIG3. Cline is the flip side of that coin. He’s effective because he’s always, always, always active.
(To get it out of the way: TJ Cline is Power Coach Nancy Lieberman’s son. It’s a wonderful story, but they’re both more than worth discussing based on their own merits. Now, onto said merits.)
No player in the BIG3 is as active without the ball as Cline. In the flow of play, he’s constantly looking for an open lane or a turned head to cut through for a layup. Nobody in the league gets more points by hitting an unsuspecting defense by slipping a screen and cutting to the basket than Cline on set plays.
Like Clark, Cline can stretch the floor. His stroke is unorthodox and he needs some space to get his shot off, but he can absolutely punish defenses from the perimeter if left alone. When he attacks close-outs and puts the ball on the floor, he generally goes to his floater, which he’s quite proficient with.
Cline’s ability to space the floor and relentless cutting makes him the perfect partner-in-crime for his frontcourt mate Royce White, who is the best passing big in the league but has yet to make a three-point shot all season.
Finally, Cline has a sixth sense for what to do in “no-clear” situations, which is particularly impressive considering this is his first year playing FIREBALL3. When he gets the ball on a turnover, offensive rebound, or airball, he either puts it right back up for a layup or instantly finds a teammate around the rim – you’ll rarely see him dribble away from the basket when he doesn’t need to.
Cuttino Mobley does technically start for Power, but when it comes to crunch-time, it’s the Rice/Cline/White lineup that’s tasked with getting the win.