Why are the Houston Rockets continuing to pass on Gary Clark?

Houston Rockets Gary Clark (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Gary Clark (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have had a desperate need for healthy bodies and good defenders. Here’s how Gary Clark can be the solution to both problems.

Although the Houston Rockets have started the season 10-3 and are second in the Western Conference, they’ve had their weaknesses. For one, they’ve had legitimate injuries, as they’ve been without Gerald Green, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Nene and Russell Westbrook due to either rest for injury prevention or sustained injuries.

That list includes five players, and the NBA rules require teams to carry at least 13 total players on the roster, so the Rockets are nearly playing without half of the league’s required number of players.

The Rockets’ defense has also been a major topic of discussion, although they’ve had recent improvements. Despite the Rockets’ recent resurgence on defense, they still are allowing 114.2 points per game, which is the third-worst in the league.

Gary Clark is known to be a solid defender, but the Rockets have been avoiding him like the plague, as most evidenced by Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite the Rockets playing without Green, Gordon, Westbrook, Nene, House and Capela, they only played Clark for the final minute and twenty seconds of the game. It begs the question: Why is Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni refusing to play him?

Clark has played three games for the Rio Grande Vipers this season and leads the Vipers in steals and blocks per game, in addition to averaging 23.3 points per game. Clark is averaging three steals per game, and the Rockets currently don’t have anyone averaging that many steals per game.

Sure, the G League is a different level of competition, but that’s all we can go off of since Clark hasn’t been able to land himself in D’Antoni’s rotation during this season. The Houston Rockets could certainly use another shot-blocker, as Capela and House lead the team in blocks and have had health issues of their own.

In addition, during Clark’s three games with the Vipers, he’s tied for a team-high in total 3-pointers made, as he’s made 13 treys during that span, which is an average of 4.3 triples per game. Obviously the Rockets love the deep ball, and Clark has the ability to contribute in that area. During the game against Minnesota, Clark fired away a triple almost immediately after entering the game and drained it, despite being ice cold and having no time to get warm.

During Clark’s collegiate career at the University of Cincinnati, he showed the Rockets plenty of reasons to take a flier on him, as he was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year during his senior year in the 2017-18 season. During that season, Clark led the AAC in rebounds and Player Efficiency Rating, while finishing fourth in steals and blocks.

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In addition, Clark shot 43.5 percent from downtown and finished his four-year collegiate career with an average of 38.3 percent from deep. Clark left his mark on the AAC record books, as he is the all-time leading rebounder and ranks third all-time in blocks and steals while finishing eighth all-time in points.

The Houston Rockets would be hard-pressed to find defenders and solid 3-point shooters on the scrap heap, so why won’t they turn to one they’ve got on their own team, especially with the injury bug hitting them this hard so early in the season?

During Clark’s rookie year with the Rockets,  he averaged 1.5 steals per 36 minutes, which was third on the team behind only Isaiah Hartenstein and Capela, so it’s not like the Rockets haven’t seen what he can bring to the table. So far this season, he’s also averaging 21.6 points per 36 minutes, which is third on the team behind only James Harden and Russell Westbrook and is shooting an insane 50 percent from deep, which leads the Rockets.

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Hopefully, the Houston Rockets will turn to Clark sooner than later, as they could use another 3-point shooter and a lengthy 6-foot-7 defender who can get steals and block shots.