Earl Clark: Defensive Player of the Year Season Breakdown
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn September 16, 2022
Trilogy employed a fairly basic strategy en route to their third BIG3 Championship. Isaiah Briscoe hit the occasional jump shot and attacked the rim from the perimeter. Amir Johnson attacked the basket from the paint. Since Stephen Jackson went to his bench less than any other coach in the BIG3, Earl Clark’s job was to essentially do everything else.
Fortunately, the Louisville alum was perfectly suited for that task. Clark was Trilogy’s best outside shooter, which gave Briscoe and Johnson the space they needed to operate in the paint. He could also put the ball on the floor, create his own shot, and play above the rim when the opportunity presented itself.
As valuable as Clark was on offense, he truly shined on the defensive end of the floor.
Once upon a time, “tweener” was a kiss of death for professional basketball players. The term meant that a player didn’t fit any particular positional model. A scorer without the size to play the 2-guard was a tweener, as was a larger guard who played a pass-first game. A player without the size to play the four or the scoring ability to play the three would see his value crumble.
Over the last 15 years or so, “tweeners” have become “hybrid players.” Their value has never been higher in five-on-five basketball, let alone FIREBALL3, which demands even more versatility from players who want to make an impact.
Standing at 6’9 with the speed and shooting ability of a wing and a 7’3 wingspan, Clark is the archetypical hybrid wing. His combination of speed, savvy, and those incredible arms allow him to be a constant disruptive force when the other team has the ball.
Clark had 14 steals in the 2022 BIG3 season, which is a league record. He also had 11 blocks, which was second only to Isaiah Austin. Clark isn’t your typical shot-blocker who draws a line in the sand at the rim and sends the shot of anyone foolish enough to step into his territory into the third row. He comes from angles the opposing player doesn’t expect, and pokes or slaps the ball loose right as they think they’re free for a layup.
It’s the same story with his steals. An opponent will seek a reprieve from trying to get past Briscoe or Johnson by moving the ball to a seemingly open teammate, only to have one of Clark’s massive arms come from out of nowhere to snatch the ball.
Finally, Clark is no slouch when it comes to on-ball defense, which gives Trilogy the option to switch more plays than a FIREBALL3 team that uses a traditional center like Johnson normally would.
That’s how Earl Clark won the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year award. He didn’t sit near the rim and hunt for soul-crushing blocks. He didn’t pull up his shorts and hound players on the perimeter into retreating to half-court before picking up their dribble. He saw what the opposing team was doing, thought of a way to counter it, and struck when the opposition least expected it to shut them down and give his team the ball.
Make no mistake: without Clark’s ability to do anything and everything, especially on the defensive end, Trilogy wouldn’t be three-time Champions.