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Ian Clark: The art of the underdog

After a breakout performance against the Blazers, it’s still not clear how significant of a role Clark can have.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday night, with about five minutes left in the game and the Golden State Warriors clinging to a five-point lead against the New Orleans Pelicans, coach Steve Kerr made the decision to substitute Ian Clark into the game for David West.

From the moment he stepped onto the court, it was clear that Clark was out to make an immediate impact. His first play was a missed three off a screen, but he followed it with a defensive stop in the post. This is not exactly the type of play you’d expect from the journeyman, but exactly the sort of all-around effort that will help him secure a place on the depth chart.

And it was a telling move for the Warriors. After being down by 16 points, the Pelicans had clawed their way to within five. It was an equally telling move for Clark, who showed enough promise last season to emerge from the bench bloodletting over the offseason and compete with Patrick McCaw for the backup shooting guard spot. Thus, the Warriors need him.

With Klay Thompson slumping, and Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights both gone, this team will need Clark to contribute. So far, Kerr has him averaging about 15 minutes per game and when you look at his 6 points and 1.5 rebounds (and not much else) it begs the question if Clark can play like he did against Portland more often.

He dominated NBA Summer League and was a standout in the development league. Now, the question becomes: Can Clark do it reliably for the Warriors? Or will he end up at the very end of the bench?

Although the offseason brought us Kevin Durant, it came at the price of our bench depth. As the Warriors stumble out of the gate to start the season, Dub Nation has begun to look for someone — anyone — to emerge. For a time, most of us thought it would be Patrick McCaw. But he has now been sidelined with a sprained ankle for six games and Clark has shown some flashes of emergence in his absence.

The funny thing is, looking at his stats, Clark hasn’t really outperformed his career averages, even though he is playing more minutes than ever. For someone advertised as an outside shooter, his sub-35% mark from deep is underwhelming, to say the least. So far this season? He’s only connecting on 31%. Small sample size warning should be noted, but regardless, it’s concerning. Similarly, he’s only scoring about ½ additional point per 36 and rebounding at the same career rate (3.9 per 36) while seeing a decrease in his assists.

And, yet …

22 points in 25 minutes, on a perfect 8-8 from the floor, caught Clark some attention. You see it all in these highlights — driving for the and-1, a nice spot-up three, a solid steal on defense. This is what the Warriors are hoping to see more of, and these are the types of plays that will help Clark slowly climb the depth chart.

However, in the subsequent game, Clark was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Kerr gave him significant minutes again, but Clark only managed a measly 8 points in approximately 20 minutes. And then, last night against the Mavs, Kerr went right back to McCaw, relegating Clark back to garbage time where he was his normal adequate self (4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal in about 11 minutes).

Such is the life of the underdog.

But this is nothing new for Ian Clark, and that’s a good thing. It means he isn’t going to stop working and fighting for playing time — which is exactly what both he, and the Warriors, need right now.

Less adequate, more exemplary.

As always, it’s up to the underdog to beat the odds. But this underdog will have the fans ready to cheer for him whenever he manages to do so.