Caitlin Clark debate rages over whether Fever teammates should protect her amid physical defense

Caitlin Clark is getting the business.

Through her first 11 WNBA games, Clark has faced persistent physicality from veteran defenders in what has been a welcome-to-the-league moment for the touted Indiana Fever rookie.

Already the focal point of every opponent’s gameplan, Clark was most recently held down Sunday by the Liberty’s Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, whose tenacious defense helped limit the 22-year-old to a career-low three points on 1-of-10 shooting.

Opponents’ physical treatment of the sharp-shooting guard commanded national attention on Saturday when Chicago’s Chennedy Carter body-checked Clark to the ground on an away-from-the-ball foul that was later upgraded to a flagrant 1.

That attention included former NBA enforcer Matt Barnes, among other media personalities, questioning why Clark’s teammates aren’t sticking up for her.

“Throughout the season, she’s been getting beat up,” Barnes said in an Instagram video. “Hard screens. Elbows. Knocked down. It is what it is. She’s not the first. She won’t be the last. My issue and my question is: Where the f–k are her teammates?”

Barnes continued, “I’ve seen a couple girls smirk when she’s got knocked down. Half-a– to pick her up. Like, y’all are supposed to protect the asset, protect the star.”

The debate marks the latest controversy involving Clark and her teammates. With Indiana off to a slow start, fellow Fever star Aliyah Boston received abuse on social media, much of which came from fans of Clark and featured racial undertones.

Boston, the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year, confirmed last month that she had deleted X from her phone.

“I’m off it so it’s not really any worries for me,” Boston told reporters last month, according to USA Today. “It’s just been something that I prefer just not to see.”

Clark has not directly addressed that controversy.

A physical welcome to pro sports has often been a rite of passage. Steph Curry needed to bulk up after being drafted by the Golden State Warriors at 172 pounds in 2009.

The “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons employed the “Jordan Rules” during the late 1980s and early ’90s, hampering a young Michael Jordan with hounding defense during their matchups with the Chicago Bulls.

The experience is no different for female stars.

“The larger story that the WNBA needs to be protecting Caitlin Clark and that she’s being targeted at an intense level negates the rookie experience in a league with the very best players,” Monica McNutt, a former Georgetown basketball standout and now an ESPN analyst, said Monday on the network’s “Get Up.”

“[Clark] is not physically dominant at this level,” McNutt said. “She’s a guard. She’s going to have to get stronger, and she’s being guarded by some of the best defenders in the league. That makes it look a little bit more aggressive if you just got here and you are following her along.”

Clark, who left Iowa as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, is off to an uneven start to her professional career.

Her 15.6 points and 6.4 assists per game lead the Fever, but her 35.7% field-goal percentage and 29.7% on 3-point attempts are well below what she shot in college. Her 5.4 turnovers per game lead the WNBA by a wide margin.

With Sunday’s 104-68 loss to the Liberty at Barclays Center, the Fever fell to 2-9.

“I feel like I’m just at the point where you accept it and don’t retaliate,” Clark said Saturday of the physicality. “Just let them hit you, be what it is, don’t let it get inside your head, and know it’s coming. I think at this point, I know I’m going to take a couple hard shots a game.”