Player Capsules 2012, #145-147: Earl Clark, Nolan Smith, Chris Wilcox

Posted on Fri 07 September 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. Today we continue with Earl Clark, Nolan Smith, and Chris Wilcox.

• • •

_Follow Earl Clark on Twitter at __@3eaZy.___

I've got sort of a soft spot for Earl Clark. It's not that I love his skillset or his broader game. He's a rather limited player, especially offensively -- while Clark has shot 62% at the rim in his entire NBA career, he's always been unbelievably abysmal outside of that. Clark has shot (no typo) 28% over his career outside of 3 feet. If he's close enough to dunk it, he'll be okay -- get even slightly outside of that and the discomfort is palpable. He's not a very effective rebounder, and his passing is laughably poor (although he takes care of the ball reasonably well). Defensively, though? He's a scrapper of the tenth degree, and he's a relatively effective one too. His defensive statistics weren't excellent last season, but from a subjective standpoint I've always really loved watching him defend. While he lacks strength for the four, his smart contests, excellent reach, and ability to take a hit and keep his arms up make him an excellent defender against post-up fours. Against threes, he leverages his lateral mobility and general fluidity to stick with them, and it doesn't hurt that at 6'10" there's hardly a three in the league that can shoot over him.

In particular, beyond the scrappy defense, Clark is an excellent cover for the pick and roll. Examine the ridiculously excellent play here, outlined by Eddy Rivera at Magic Basketball. Very few players in the league have the sort of defensive talent that lets them show on the pick and roll, recover on the pick-man, and then proceed to weak-side block a 7'2" center without any notice or warning. It's something to behold, when he's on. The problem is, as I've outlined, Clark is awful enough on offense that he has legitimately no way to get playing time if he can't address his offensive deficiencies. His current strategy of getting through his offensive malaise essentially amounts to little more than "shootin' my way through it", which works about as well as Butch Cassidy trying to shoot his way through raging Bolivian forces. If Clark wants to have the opportunity to seriously impact a team off the bench, he has to do one of two things. He either has to work with a good shooting coach and develop some kind of long-ball move that he can shoot when he's absolutely and completely open, or he needs to eschew 3+ foot shots entirely in favor of better ball movement.

Still, with the Lakers, I think he'll be a pretty good fit. Clark exhibits in actuality what Artest does in theory -- he's a defensively vicious three-man whose offense leaves about as much to be desired as it could possibly leave. If the Lakers can wrangle a lineup along the lines of Duhon-Kobe-Clark-Jamison-Howard off the bench, they'll have an extremely solid defense coming off the bench and an offensive lineup that ensures Clark and Duhon don't imperil the team with poor shots. And if he can develop any kind of outside the basket move, playing him with Nash would be the best way in the world to get Clark to convert on that move well. I don't think he'll average 15-20 minutes with them, at least not until he develops that tertiary offensive skill. But Clark was a stealthily good pickup for the Lakers, and is going to help their defensive depth immensely going forward.

• • •

_Follow Nolan Smith on Twitter at__ @NdotSmitty._

Heh. I was a bit tricky in yesterday's riddle. When I said girls in my freshman dorm loved him, I didn't necessarily mean they loved him sexually, or wanted him like that at all (although some certainly did). I meant more that they found him adorable and loveable, in particular being fond of Nolan Smith's devotion to his then-freshman girlfriend and his jovial nature. I later found out that Smith never took most of his classes seriously (and in particular completely blew off an art class with my favorite artist), so that detracted from my personal liking for him, but he's still one of the more interesting players from Duke's title team. Consider his past -- Nolan Smith lost his father (former NBA player and coach Derek Smith) at the age of 8. The story of how his father died is heart-wrenching, and I highly recommend reading this ESPN OTL piece on Nolan Smith's depressing history. On a basketball training cruise, Nolan was aggravated with a game he played poorly and threw the basketball into the ocean. His father grabbed his wrist, took him aside, and told him he needed to work on his attitude if he ever wanted to make it in the game. Nolan nodded moodily, as children do, and his father left for a cruise-ending cocktail party.

That would be the last time they'd ever speak. Derek Smith suffered an out-of-nowhere heart attack at the party, and was dead almost instantly. How has Nolan coped with it? About as well as you can, I think. He's stayed in touch with most of his father's good friends. In fact, he ended up going to Duke not because he was particularly enamored with Coach Krzyzewski or the university itself, but because one of his father's best friends, Johnny Dawkins, was with the coaching staff. That meant he'd have a connection to his father without having to suffer the same awful experience his sister Sydney did, when she went to the same university her father did and had to suffer through the pictures of him everywhere and the constant drumbeat of "hey, your father was here" from professors and staff. Important. But Dawkins took a head coaching job at Stanford after Nolan's rookie year, and it became his responsibility to deal with his grief himself. He did a good job (and as someone who was at Duke for most of Nolan's career, I have to say the amount he matured in college from freshman year onward was absolutely incredible) and in time became the gleeful, loveable mainstay of a title-winning team.

Now, in the NBA, I'm not really sure what's going to happen to Nolan. He wasn't exactly a light's out player in college, and while his attitude was (and is) phenomenal, he's extremely undersized as a shooting guard. With a general lack of passing instincts, it's an open question whether he'll ever be able to play the point -- a question that leans to the negative. If he can't, his defense isn't nearly good enough to play solid defense on the wing, and he doesn't have Avery Bradley's core strength that let Bradley develop into the defensive talent he is. Nolan's main talent in college, his three point shot, has been somewhat lacking in the pros. He's not really used to shooting the NBA-distance three over defensive pressure, or players as athletic as the league-average guys in the NBA. His first season was something of a waste, and at 24 years old, he doesn't have a ton of time left to refine his game before the usual churn of NBA players spits him out and leaves him scrambling for playing time somewhere else. Personally, I hope he can find some kind of a role in the NBA, even if the role is pretty small. He's a nice guy, a good kid, and he's worked harder than most people know to get through the problems he's faced in his life. I don't know if he can do it, but I sure as heck hope he can.

• • •

_Follow _behind Chris Wilcox in a crowd in an effort to hide from me after I teach you math__.____

Ever wondered what I do as my day job? I'm a statistician. I do portfolio valuations modeling for a large bank. It's funny, a bit, because as anyone who follows this series closely might note, I'm quite the voracious reader. My second choice job was writing. Instead of focusing on my writing, though, I chose to focus my studies on the things I felt college could teach me that I couldn't simply master myself (advanced mathematics and analytics) rather than things I felt I could learn better hands-on, like writing and literary analysis. My day job leads me to have a relatively narrow set of on-the-job knowledge that I rarely get to bust out for this feature. But today, I can't resist. So here goes.

The Wilcoxon Signed-Rank test is among the most flexible of the statistical tests I use for my job. To contextualize that: have you ever computed a two-sample t-test for means? Most social scientists and engineers find themselves needing to use t-tests often. In case you haven't, I'll try to get at the goals. In essence, the goal of a t-test is to assess whether the means of two samples differ in a statistically significant way. If you have two populations that differ in only a single aspect, a t-test helps you assess whether that single differentiator drives a significant difference in two population means. So, for instance, let's say you have two populations, split by their favorite sport. If you can reasonably assume all other aspects of the population are equal, a t-test would be a quick method you can use to determine if the advocates of one sport and the advocates of another sport have a statistically significant difference in their household income, or their average age, or any other numeric variable you wish to track. There's a catch, though. In a t-test, you're assuming normality. You are assuming that your variable in both of the two comparative samples is distributed according to the principles of a standard normal distribution.

What makes the Wilcoxon Signed-Rank test so valuable to a statistical analyst is that you don't need to make that assumption. The only real necessity for a Wilcoxon is that the metric you're comparing means for demonstrates properties of cardinality. That is to say, the order of the numbers has to mean something. One must be more than zero. Two must trump one. Three above two. Et cetera, et cetera. Essentially, all it means is that you can't be using a numbering system that doesn't mean anything. You can't just be using ones and twos and threes as categories with no distinct or meaningful relationship relative to one another. The metric needs to make sense. If it does? You can compare hypothesis tests for just about anything -- even distributions that don't satisfy conditions of normality. In an NBA sense, this is useful because it allows us the levity to eradicate our natural all-normal assumptions regarding skill curve distributions and the general assignment of player importance. In a business sense, it's useful because you can more easily assess hypotheses regarding distributionally skewed variables like the decay of charge off rates and other such things. Lots of fun stuff, lots of interesting things, and lots of added value. The Wilcoxon is a gift.

"Alright. Cool story, bro. What does this have to do with Chris Wilcox?" Well... he invented it. ... okay, no, that's a bald-faced lie. He didn't. I don't believe Chris Wilcox has the slightest relation to Frank Wilcoxon, the one who actually invented the test. The only really useful part of the Wilcoxon/t-test framing, for this post, is to highlight the fact that what the Wilcoxon is to statistics is basically what Chris Wilcox isn't to the NBA. Where the Wilcoxon adds wonderful flexibility to hypothesis testing and two-sample testing, Chris Wilcox adds a 30-year-old center forward with massive defensive deficiencies and an incredibly inflexible game. He's a finisher, through-and-through -- he works relatively well sneaking to the rim in the pick and roll (virtually always finishing on a dunk) and he'll rebound relatively well in a pinch, but he has no real notable facets of his game beyond those two things. He's a subpar free throw shooter with no real post game, no well-defined defensive game (although he did better on that front in Boston next to Kevin Garnett and under Doc Rivers' schemes), and no real hope to get that much better -- after all, he's already 30, and the comprehensive history of big men who improved in their 30s is about as scant as the pamphlet on famous Jewish-American athletes from Airplane.

Still, he's a serviceable player -- just because there's a better alternative doesn't mean I don't use the t-test with some regularity to prove a point, and just because Wilcox is a relatively limited player doesn't mean there isn't a useful spot for him in the NBA. His last season was cut short with a scary heart problem, but going forward, assuming he can stay in shape (he came to training camp completely busted last season -- he needs avoid making that a habit) there's no real reason he can't ply his admittedly limited trade for 3 or 4 more years. Off the court, he seems like a nice enough fellow. He's trying to use his heart scare to spread the word on proper treatment and proper screening for heart problems. Which is extremely cool. I'm hoping he'll be a decent player for a few more years -- it's sad that he got his 2012 season snatched away from him, especially since he could've helped the Celtics numerous times throughout the run. But he'll be back, and so will the Celtics.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. First-time guesser Jkim got a 3/3 on yesterday's riddles. Great call on Nolan Smith there. Smart fellow, this one.

  • While he was a decent bench-chained three point bomber for the 2012 Lakers, with Jodie Meeks in the fold, you have to wonder if Player #148 sees the floor at all.
  • He's essentially gone from the game now that he's taken that Boston job. But Player #149's memory will live on forever. (Not really.)
  • One of my favorite old hands to the game, and one of the most successful undrafted players ever. May be a lawyer someday, too! "Better call [Player #150]."

Now I've just got one long Friday left and I can sleep for a weekend. Until we meet again, dear readers.