By John Raslowsky, PSO Asst. Director of Basketball Scouting
Aug 05, 2019

Pro Sports Outlook’s ‘Under the Spotlight’ series takes a look at players who may be going under the radar, but won’t be for long. Catch up on players who are showing they deserve more attention for their performance and shouldn’t be getting overlooked much longer. 

Today’s Under the Spotlight: PF Brandon Clarke

Clarke was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, but moved to Phoenix, Arizona at the age of three. He grew up in Arizona and attended high school at Desert Vista High School. Although he averaged respectable numbers in one of the top leagues in Arizona, Clarke was under recruited for a few reasons. He was skinny and still coming into his frame by his senior season. There was also a large influx of talent getting national recognition in the state of Arizona, and the arrival of Marvin Bagley took some hype away from all the other recruits. 

ESPN had him ranked as the third highest recruit in the state of Arizona and a 3-star overall. 247 sports did not even have a recruiting profile for Clarke. Clarke eventually landed at San Jose State which was the only scholarship offer he received. During his first year at SJSU, Clarke came off the bench with modest numbers, but broke out his second year with averages of 17.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 2.6 BPG. This led to Clarke being named to the first team All-Mountain West and first team All-Defense in the Mountain West. The team still finished below .500 which led to Clarke’s decision to transfer. He chose Gonzaga over Washington State, Utah, Oregon, and Iowa.

After sitting out a year in Spokane, Clarke became one of the focal points of Gonzaga’s Elite Eight team. He led the NCAA in field goal percentage, defensive rating, and total blocks in one of the most complete 2-way seasons in recent memory. Clarke made tournament history by becoming only the third player to total 35+ points and 5 plus blocks in a tournament game, joining David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neil. After the season ended with a loss to National Runner-Up Texas Tech, Clarke declared for the draft along with teammates Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell.

Clarke was selected 21st overall by the Memphis Grizzlies and was recently named Summer League MVP while leading his team to the Summer League Title. This was done without the other main pieces of Memphis’ young core Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Clarke will look to be an essential piece to the Grizzlies future plan and improve certain aspects of his game in a season that looks to be a non-playoff season for Memphis

  • 3rd team AP All American (2019), 1st Team All-WCC (2019), WCC Newcomer of the Year (2019), WCC DPOY (2019), 1st Team All Mountain West (2017), Mountain West All-Defensive Team (2017), Mountain West 6th Man of Year (2016)
  • 2019 season: 117 Blocks (led NCAA), 68.7% from the field (Led NCAA), 1st in NCAA in defensive rating (82.9), 7th in NCAA in offensive rating (138.1)
  • Clarke has not suffered any major injuries, but he did sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules in 2017-2018
  • 3rd player in NCAA Tournament History to record 35+ pts and 5+ blks in a single game (David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neil)
  • Broke the Gonzaga NCAA Tournament single game scoring record with 36 vs. Baylor
  • Aggressive Style of Play

Clarke was able to bring intensity to every game, despite the lack of competition the Zags faced throughout conference play. He will fit right in with the Grit and Grind mentality that the Grizzlies have maintained during their time in Memphis. He’s constantly attacking the rim ferociously, daring defenders to contest him when he is in the paint. Keeping his intensity level high will be a major key to Clarke’s success, especially as he plays through the mistakes of his first few NBA seasons. The Grizzlies will be willing to give him playing time and opportunities to develop his game if he continues to hustle at all times.

  • Athleticism

Clarke’s calling card has always been his athleticism, whether it be hammering down dunks on the offensive end or meeting opposing bigs at the rim, Clarke has the potential to do it on both ends of the floor. There’s a couple of defensive highlights in the clip below of him blocking Tennessee forwards, Grant Williams and Yves Pons. Clarke has the innate ability to get his hand on the ball without fouling, something that will help him at the next level. Offensively, Clarke will need to lean on his athleticism while the rest of his game is still developing. He should be very active in the paint and on the offensive glass.


 

  • Running the Floor

Although the Grizzlies had the slowest pace in the league last season, Memphis will most likely change that style with the new, young pieces they’ve added. Ja Morant will be at the forefront of this shift in offensive systems, but Clarke will have the opportunity to showcase his skills as a rim runner in the open floor. Both Morant and Clarke naturally fit better into a run and gun style of offense, as opposed to the monotonous half-court sets the Grizzlies have utilized in the past. Clarke is also very good at coming from behind plays and putting back missed layups at their highest point. This is something that he’ll likely continue to do more often as he gets more comfortable in the NBA and it should make for plenty of posters. 

 

  • 3-Point Shot

Today’s NBA revolves around the 3-pointer and everyone knows it. In a recent shift that took place over the past decade, being able to shoot from the perimeter has become a top priority on every team’s list. Clarke is aware of this and knows that he needs to improve in this area the most. He only attempted 24 threes throughout his college career and made only 6 of them. At the moment, Clarke’s offensive game is strictly based on his athleticism in the paint, with some mid-range jumpers added for variety. While this will work when Ja Morant is pushing the pace and looking for lob threats in the fast break, Clarke will most likely struggle in half court sets in the early part of his career. Adding a respectable 3-point jumper to his game will most likely be a multi-year process, but once it is developed, BC will have multiple weapons to choose from his offensive arsenal. This would elevate him from a fringe starter to a high-caliber player for any NBA team.

  • Ball Handling
During his time at Gonzaga, Clarke’s ball handling ability was not necessary for success. The Zags guards handled the ball well, which allowed Clarke to play a very one-dimensional offensive game. In the NBA, Clarke will need to develop moves to beat people off the dribble from inside the arc. No one is expecting him to blow by defenders, but his lack of handles will present problems if they don’t show signs of improvement. BC will also need to get better at handling the ball with his back to the basket. He has the length to dominate smaller guards when they are switched onto him, but veteran defenders will pick his pocket if he does not learn to protect the ball consistently.
 
  • Stronger on Defense
Clarke’s defensive game is precisely what teams want from a prospect in the modern NBA. He should be a great compliment to front court teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. who is taller than Clarke, but less bouncy. The one aspect for improvement on the defensive side of the ball for the Zaga product would be to develop more of a solid base by adding muscle to his lower body. Clarke potentially could start at center with the small-ball style becoming more widespread in today’s NBA. The concern is that he is not nearly heavy enough to guard bigger players such as Embiid or Jokic. If he is able to put on 15-20 pounds while maintaining his leaping ability, Clarke’s stock will surely rise.
  • Clarke has experienced no significant injuries in his high school or college career.

For a developing player like Clarke, Memphis is going to be a great landing spot for him for a multitude of reasons which can be summed up by the following 3 points. 

  1. The current situation of the Grizzlies: Memphis is very clearly in a rebuilding and developing stage due to their lack of established talent and the high competition level in the Western Conference. Memphis has a great group of young players and various draft picks in the coming years. Despite Memphis being two years away from playoff contention, it will still be exciting to watch this young Grizzlies team develop. Clarke is in a situation where he will be able to play through his mistakes and learn from them, while being mentored by some NBA veterans along the way.
  2. The culture of the Memphis organization: Grit and Grind has been the culture of the Grizzlies since the hardworking teams of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph. Players who would give their bodies up to make their team better. Clarke fits right into that mold and will have the opportunity to become the interior heartbeat of a team through his effort plays. Clarke was consistently diving on the floor for loose balls back at Gonzaga, despite being one of the most valuable players on his team. That will be very well received in a place like Grind City.
  3. Players that Clarke will be developing alongside: Clarke is just one of the many under-25 pieces that Memphis has, which includes #2 overall pick Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Bruno Caboclo, and Grayson Allen. Clarke and Morant should be a great run-and-gun duo, the type of system that Morant thrived in at Murray State. Memphis had the slowest pace in the league last year, but that should change with Morant running the point. Jaren Jackson Jr. is not as quick as Clarke, but they will complement each other nicely as an inside-out front court threat. Jackson Jr. also has the potential to defend true centers while Clarke will be able to focus on more athletic forwards.

Role: Clarke will most likely come off the bench to start his career, but will soon have the opportunity to carve out a role in the rotation and begin building chemistry with his young teammates. 

After winning Summer League MVP, Clarke is now on more people’s radar, but is still relatively unknown when compared to the big names in the 2019 draft class such as Zion, Ja, and RJ. Clarke will take a few years to develop into an all-around NBA player, but his ways to improve are similar for almost every young NBA player and has the athleticism to make-up for his lack of technical skill in the early going. More importantly, Clarke knows how to play on a team where he is not looked at as the best player, with most of the media attention during his time at Gonzaga directed to Rui Hachimura, the superstar from Japan.

If all the stars align correctly, we could be seeing the emergence of a defensive force for years to come, along with an offensively productive player. Clarke should become a starting-caliber player within the next two years, and there’s a chance he makes the jump as a rookie. He has the potential to become a fan favorite with his passionate style of play and highlight reel potential. Ja Morant will be the headliner of this draft class for the Grizzlies, but sleeping on Clarke would be a mistake for any opponents Memphis takes on this year. 

Outlook: Potential All-NBA defensive team and a 3rd/4th option on a Championship caliber team.

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