2019-20 Rookie Review: Is Brandon Clarke The Steal Of The Draft?

(image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

Nothing brings on self doubt more than seeing the player you have ranked 7th on your Big Board fall to the 21st pick in the draft. That is exactly what happened to Brandon Clarke; a 6-foot-8 trampoline with deceptively good touch.

Earlier in the year, The Playgrounder dove a little deeper on Clarke’s specific fit with Jaren Jackson Jr, arguing that Memphis has the best young frontcourt in the NBA. Although he lacks good positional length, Clarke is a vertical pick and roll threat, versatile defender and developing shooter. Plus, his touch on floaters is heavenly. Let’s outline his rookie year plusses before covering the minuses.

Athleticism Making Plays That Others Cannot

Clarke does not have a Zionesque physical profile but he is in the tier below. He overcomes his 6-foot-8 wingspan by using quick twitch athleticism to spring above others. This is particularly noticeable on the pick and roll. An improving screener, Clarke has learned to better time his rolls or slips.

This is a key development for Memphis. Surrounding Ja Morant with floor spacers and pairing him with the gravity of Clarke will make for a potent offense in time. Defenders are forced to focus on protecting the paint rather than the perimeter.

Above, Clarke displayed how he makes finishes possible than others simply can’t. His two-footed leaping can turn any pocket pass into a dunk. He avoids contesters in the air by hanging there like Prince in Chappelle Show. The Grizzly’s ballhandlers can toss that ball in the vicinity of the rim and feel confident that Clarke will make a play. For his team, Clarke unlocks scoring chances that opponents don’t have the luxury of having.

His Midrange Game Though…

Our friends at Cleaning the Glass tell us that not only is Brandon Clarke in the 75th percentile for all midrange attempts but, he is currently in the 94th percentile for midrange makes. How does he convert so well in this area?

Clarke combines both his vertical leaping ability and floater/push shot mechanics to excel in this range. 7-footers are quick to close out on him when he opts for these short roll shot attempts. When this happens, the undersized Clarke knows he must explode off of the court and use a high release to avoid the block. Watch him do so below.

He routinely made this play against Mitchell Robinson, and I could have included more clips but decided to spare the Knicks center! What’s more, Clarke does not only mitigate the rim protection skills of 7-footers but, he does so off the dribble while moving to his left. Impressive stuff!

These short roll opportunities should come more frequently for Clarke. Opposing bigs will scheme to blow up these floaters by meeting Clarke early during the roll. Perhaps help defenders will tag him. Either way, it’s another example of his awesome paint gravity. There are areas for him to improve, however.

3-Point Shooting, Especially From The Corner

Please…please watch this video of Brandon Clarke taking jumpers at San Jose State University. Once you watch that and then learn that he sank 40.4 percent of the 52 3-pointers he took this year, you’ll be amazed.

Clarke has reworked his shooting form more than an aging Hollywood star reworks their face via plastic surgery. The results have started to pay off. Unlike most bigs when transitioning to perimeter spacing, he chose to take more attempts from above the break than from the corner.

Confusingly, Clarke is in the 98th percentile for non-corner triples yet remains in the 44th percentile on corner treys (CTG.) This is a tad bit concerning. Watch the tape and see for yourself how clunky his corner 3-pointer looks.

The last 3-pointer in the video is the most disconcerting. Clarke has developed a little bit of the old Lonzo Ball shooting form. His shooting hand placement points too far away from the target, causing him to loose accuracy during the release. The good news? This is fixable. The bad news? You may have to watch some ugly left/right misses in the meantime.

Offseason To-Do List

Clarke’s progression as a floor spacer is nothing but encouraging yet, I get the feeling it could be fool’s gold for now. Don’t get me wrong, he is trending in the right direction. His free throw percentage – a positive indicator of perimeter spacing – has improved by over 20 percentage points since his rookie year of college.

Rather, I’m suggesting that coaches could push for Clarke to take a higher volume of triples next year. If that’s the case, expect his percentage from deep to lower into the 34-36 range. Defenders will be prepared to close out on him, which could be challenging for Clarke.

According to NBA.com, he took the majority of his 3s with a defender at least six feet away from him and nailed 45.2 percent of them. When a defender was between four to six feet away, that number dropped down 22.2 percent. Yikes.

This offseason, Clarke must continue his positive growth as a floor stretcher. This means constant monitoring of his shooting mechanics. Plus, he needs to practice taking shots when not wide open. With a great work ethic, however, Grizzly fans will be impressed in the long run. Just don’t get upset if his percentage drops with a larger volume next year!

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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