Ian Clark has already won one kind of championship as a bench spark for the Warriors. It was in 2013 at the Las Vegas Summer League, when the event hosted its inaugural tournament.
Through a series of unique circumstances, not only did Clark go undrafted in 2013, but he also scored 33 points in the title game (the most of any player in Vegas that year), was named the tournament’s MVP and in the fall, he became the first-ever player from Belmont University to participate in a regular-season game (with the Jazz).
Now, the shooting guard is aiming for his first NBA championship in his second season in Golden State. Speaking with the NBPA, he shared insights on the Warriors’ standout season, his and the team’s Finals mindset, the special qualities of his squad, his nicknames for each member and much more. His conversation is presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.
The night we celebrated as a team going to the Finals, it was an exciting feeling for sure because you never take it for granted, but also guys felt like we weren’t finished. Guys enjoyed the moment—this was the first time for some guys, this is my second, some guys have been there multiple times—but we also knew that it was time to lock in and work and get ready for the Finals. We knew we were playing for something bigger.
Now that we’re here, we want to take care of business. We know we can play better. And guys definitely have a chip on their shoulder from last year.
To compete in my second straight Finals, I’m blessed to be in this position to be on this team with a group of guys that care and want to win, and want to pull for each other. But it’s also knowing that you want to relish the moment because not a lot of people make it to the Finals, let alone two years in a row. So I’m taking advantage of this moment and enjoying it with my guys that I’m in the locker room with.
This year, I’ve been playing with more confidence. The more opportunities that you get, the more you get to learn about yourself—what you can and can’t do, where you can be effective. And with the guys we have on the team, we’re so unselfish. My teammates and my coaches give me confidence to go out and play my game.
In preparation for the Finals, my role is a little different this year being able to be in the rotation and help contribute in any way possible. So I’m preparing to do what I’ve been doing all season: be ready when my number’s called. But also it’s just to be a good teammate. We’ve got four superstars on this team, so it’s being able to trickle down from those guys and be one of the guys that contributes.
I’m not putting too much pressure on myself; I’m just getting my work in. We had a long time off between the last game and the first Finals game, so I didn’t want to break my routine that I had all year. I still get my work in early. I get my shots up after shootaround and get my treatment, including the cold tub.
Also for us as a unit, it was good for us during the time off to be able to practice against each other and play 5-on-5, and get up and down the floor to stay sharp and stay in sync. Our practices are fun because you have a balance. You’re locked in and ready to play, but also having a little fun, being able to relax a little bit and be loose. The coaches talk about all the time for us to be “fast, loose and disciplined.”
It’s a fine balance in between that because when you stay loose, you tend to be relaxed and not play as hard and let your guard down, but we’ve got guys on this team that hear what the coaches have been saying. It’s being able to be disciplined to know that Steve Kerr wants us to take shots and be loose and have fun. And with that comes responsibility, so we have to make sure that we take advantage of that.
My favorite moments in practice this year have been between me and Steph Curry. We always have a little competition we do. We just shoot halfcourt shots before practice starts or while we’re warming up, and we keep score. And we’ve been doing that since last year and we carried over to this year. So that’s something I’ll always remember.
Steph’s got me right now. He’s up about I think five games right now in the competition, and it’s coming down to the end of the season. So I’ve got to make sure I get on a roll before we’re all said and done.
Heading into the Finals, we have the same motto like last year: “strength in numbers.” It’s the next man up and be ready, and we’ve shown that in the playoffs. Guys went down, guys have been hurt, guys have missed games, and we don’t miss a beat because guys are ready to step up and ready to play.
Our offense is unselfish.
We know we’re talented, but talent doesn’t always win championships. You’ve got to be able to come together and play as a group, care for one another. This group gets that. We have a lot of guys on this team that can make plays, and can come down the court or get the rebound and just go. Any guy can push it, any guy can make a play and everybody can go score. That’s a luxury to have. You don’t have that on a lot of teams, so we’re always looking for the extra guy, we’re always pinning away and being able to find good to great shots. That’s what we do.
Our defense is versatile.
One of the luxuries we have on this team is being able to switch. We have a lot of like-sized guys. When we’ve got our small lineup, we can almost switch 1 through 5—whoever’s on the court. And I think that helps because it takes a lot of teams out of their offense, out of their initial punch, being able to line up behind the ball and be locked in. So that’s just one of the things that helps us. For me, it’s being able to be a pest on defense when I get in the game.
Our second unit, with me, is disciplined.
We know that we’re a different unit than the first group; those guys can get any shot that they want at any time. When we come in, we want to be able to be disciplined, take care of the ball and get easy shots, and that’s what we do. We’ve got a lot of movement, a lot of cutting with the second unit. David West has done a great job of being able to find guys for easy buckets, and that does nothing but help our team because now when the stars come back in, we gave them the boost and they can take it from there.
Off the court, we enjoy being with each other. Mostly we’re an open book with each other—we’re really friendly. Lots of guys have known each other for a long time, so it’s more than just basketball. So off the court, on the road, we always go to dinners, we go to movies or we just do things to hang out, like Topgolf. It’s a luxury to have that on the team because you actually care about the guys in the locker room. It’s not just basketball-related.
Here’s how I would describe each guy in one phrase: Steve Kerr is “Alpha,” Mike Brown is “Alpha 1,” Steph Curry is “Silent assassin,” Kevin Durant is “Easy bucket,” Klay Thompson is “Automatic,” Draymond Green is “Heart and soul,” Andre Iguodala is “Teacher,” Shaun Livingston is also “Teacher,” Zaza Pachulia is “Savvy veteran,” JaVale McGee is “Spontaneous,” David West is “OG,” Matt Barnes is also “OG,” Patrick McCaw is “Wise beyond his years,” James Michael McAdoo is “Diligent worker” and Damian Jones is “Smiles; he’s always smiling.”
As for the Cavaliers, those guys have been playing great all season, especially in the playoffs. You can see the way they play has turned up, so it’s going to be handful; it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to come down to competing. Are you going to want to step up and guard the man in front of you? Are you going to want to do the little things to help your team win? I think that’s what each team is probably talking about.
Personally, it would be a dream come true to win my first championship. That’s what you work for and once you win one, you’re put in a special category, a special group that you can never be taken out of. So you want to be a part of that for sure.
The first thing I’ll do if we win is thank God for sure first. But that exact moment, I probably won’t know what I’ll be doing. I’ll just be really excited.