Earl Clark's Defense is Key to Orlando Magic Playing Time

(Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

In general, Orlando Magic fans reacted positively to the news Orlando re-signed Earl Clark on Thursday, welcoming the young forward's athleticsm, energy, and defense. Clark appeared in only 33 of a possible 56 games after the Magic acquired him from the Phoenix Suns last December, but many of those same fans contended coach Stan Van Gundy needed to make him a regular part of his playing rotation.

Though Dwight Howard, Glen Davis, and Ryan Anderson are the only power-position players sure to log heavy minutes in the coming season, Clark has a great opportunity to carve a role for himself on this team, perhaps becoming an everyday player for the first time in his career. As is usually the case with Van Gundy, the key to playing time is defense. From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

"We want Earl to guard the 3s and 4s who are primary scorers, seeing if he can guard Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki … the bigger wings and the 4s," Van Gundy said. "That's where I see Earl coming in and getting his minutes."

The NBA has no shortage of high-scoring forwards against whom Clark could see time. In the Southeast Division alone, Orlando must contend with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Andray Blatche. The rest of the East is similarly gifted, with Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, David West, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Andrea Bargnani also matching up with Orlando more than twice in a regular, 82-game season.

Van Gundy gave Clark chances last season against several of the above players, as well as scoring champion Kevin Durant and NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.

Though it's true Orlando already has one 6-foot-10 player who can defend small forwards--that'd be starter Hedo Turkoglu--Clark is longer, quicker, and has better footwork. Though Turkoglu's a bit better defensively than his reputation suggests, his diminished jets force him to sag off his man more than a more athletic defender would. Putting Clark in Turkoglu's place gives Orlando a better shot at blanketing opposing high-scoring wings.

Until he develops some sort of offensive utility, Clark won't play heavy minutes. But he can still count on seeing the court nightly if he's able to continue developing as a defender. Very rarely will Orlando face a team without at least one forward capable of scoring big.

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