#7 on the PB Big Board
F/C – Gonzaga
Junior, 6’8, 215 pounds
What he does well:
Athleticism in space
Two years ago, Brandon Clarke was a good but not great player at San Jose State. He was on NBA radars, but far from a hot name. He transferred to Gonzaga and sat out the requisite season. Like several Zag redshirts in the past, like Kelly Olynyk, Nigel Williams-Goss, and Kyle Wiltjer, this proved to be a fruitful decision for Clarke.
His year as a practice player became the stuff of legends around Spokane. Zags coach Mark Few described Clarke’s athleticism and defensive capabilities as simply too good for the scout team. Per a profile of Clarke from The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil, Few would often have to remove Clarke from practice because he was too disruptive for the active Gonzaga lineup to accurately learn new offensive sets.
“There’s bouncy, and then there’s whatever he is,” said Few of his do-everything big man.
Clarke stands just 6-foot-8, but plays like a 7-footer around the rim. He finished the season averaging 3.2 blocks per game, with the 15th highest block rate in the nation. All 14 players ahead of Clarke in that statistic are listed at 6-foot-9 or taller, with 6 of them standing at least 7-feet.
Clarke’s leaping ability is remarkable. He skies jumping off of one foot or both. His ability to rapidly jump just as high after landing from a previous jump (often referred to as “second jump”) is perhaps his strongest skill.
Beyond simply jumping into the rafters, Clarke is an elite athlete. His foot speed, for a player who plays as big as Clarke does, is otherworldly.
This season, in addition to blocking shots at high level, Clarke nabbed 1.2 steals per game. Just 13 players in Basketball Reference’s database that dates back to 1993 have matched Clarke’s feat of posting more than 110 blocked shots and 40 steals in a season.
If you believe in Brandon Clarke’s future in the NBA, you can envision a Draymond Green type defender, capable of not just anchoring things in the paint but also fully willing and able to switch on to any offensive threat when needed.
Finishing in the paint
Clarke is not a prolific scorer. He’s far from the type of big man you can toss the ball to on the block and expect buckets.
His efficiency, however, makes him a valuable offensive cog for whichever team inserts him into the lineup. At times, his success scoring in the paint looked like a typo.
Clarke shot 70.9 percent on 2-point attempts. When defined even further to looks at the rim, he made nearly 80 percent of his attempts. Clarke used to most of his offensive game. Compared to other power forwards in this class, that’s clear:
Zion Williamson stands alone for good reason, yet Clarke’s offensive efficiency finished just a hair behind the presumptive top pick. When the two squared off in Maui, Clarke played Williamson as well as anyone all season, with the Zags picking up a win and Clarke posting six blocks.
Where he struggles:
Brandon Clarke took only 24 outside shots in his college career, making under 25 percent of those attempts. At the next level, he’ll need to at least be a threat to shoot on a pick-and-pop. His stroke isn’t necessarily broken and he saw great improvements at the free throw line this season.
In two years at San Jose State, Clarke made less than 60 percent of his free throws. This season, after his year off, taking his most attempts yet, Clarke sank just a tick under 70 percent from the charity stripe.
That should provide a foundation for an NBA coaching staff to build upon. Clarke isn’t going to be a high-level stretch four. That’s not his game. But if he can shoot even 31 percent from NBA range on about 100 attempts per season, the rest of his offensive game will open up.
Without the ability to be the kind of offensive player that a team can rely on for scoring on a nightly or even possession-by-possession basis, there’s questions about Clarke’s potential value. Draymond Green is the obvious example of an All-Star who is not a score-first type player.
Clarke isn’t Draymond.
Green is an elite passer, capable of playing pseudo point guard at the center of the Golden State offense. Clarke finished the season with just 70 assists. He’s not a black hole, but not an offensive creator.
So if you’re getting 75 percent of Draymond Green, what are you getting? A starter? Or a super-sub, coming off the bench to wreak some defensive havoc and throw down some alley-oops? That’s a really fun player to have on your team, yet not the type of guy you select high in the lottery. This is especially true when considering Clarke’s age. He’ll turn 23 before he ever plays an NBA game. What you’ve seen is essentially what you’re going to get.
How his game translates to the NBA:
The size of the NBA should give Clarke a touch more trouble than he saw in college. Often he played center at Gonzaga. While he may be able to do that in spots in the NBA as part of small ball lineups, it isn’t where he’ll be able to spend most of his time.
Other than that, Clarke should be able to slot into the next level fairly easily, producing right away. This is especially true defensively, where he should thrive.
- 75% of Draymond Green,
- Ben Simmons without any of the fun point guard stuff
- Is, like, 6-foot-8 Willie Cauley-Stein a thing?
- Maybe, like, athletic Jared Dudley. This is a hard one.
- This isn’t a specific player but just prepare for national NBA writers like Zach Lowe to fawn over Clarke’s defense when he’s only scoring 7 points per game next year.
Next up: #8 Rui Hachimura
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.