CHICAGO - The Memphis Grizzlies' next generation is well-represented at 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke (Vancouver, BC) each taking part in the Rising Stars Challenge.
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While Morant has exceeded some expectations as he's emerged as the Rookie of the Year favourite at this point of the season, it isn't too much of a shock given the fact he was selected No. 2 overall behind only Zion Williamson. The same goes for Jackson, who earned All-Rookie First Team honours after being selected No. 4 overall in 2018.
No real surprises there.
Clarke, on the other hand, was selected 21st overall in 2019. As a result, he did not come into the league with the same lofty expectations as his two teammates. That he has established himself as a key part of Memphis' core by the All-Star Break of his rookie season has taken many by surprise, but not his teammates.
"I've been saying since the draft - after it happened - that he was the steal of the draft," Morant said when asked about Clarke ahead of the Rising Stars Challenge. "He's showing everybody why right now."
In a reserve role, Clarke has established himself as one of the league's best rookies with averages of 12.3 points (on 62.3% shooting) and 5.7 rebounds in just 21.8 minutes per game. He told reporters that, "I love being the guy, coming off the bench, bringing energy for the team - that's something that I'm really good at and something that I think that I've had a really good role doing … I hope I can keep on doing that and bringing that edge for us."
|FG%||62.3||1st (Min. 5 FGA/G)|
He also brings the edge as a nightly threat for a poster dunk or two.
another poster on the wall 😱@brandonclarke23 | #GrzNxtGen pic.twitter.com/dixOqpOmSN- Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) February 8, 2020
"You should never jump with him." Jackson said when asked what made Clarke so special. He added that Clarke's "floater is probably the best I've ever seen … that's something scary, especially for when he was picked."
Per NBA.com Stats, Clarke has hit 65.0% of his driving floaters this season.
Jackson was also quick to touch on how playing alongside Clarke has made things easier for him: "He draws attention, he's able to stretch the floor so we can keep our spacing, and he's just made it easier for me to do things that I wanna do without worrying about help as much because you can't really help off of him."
While he's drawn plenty of attention on the floor, Clarke has still managed to remain relatively under-the-radar despite having a stellar rookie season with the upstart Grizzlies, something Morant doesn't envision lasting much longer: "He's not necessarily in the background, we love him in Memphis. I'm pretty sure his name will get out there even more soon."
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At the time of the All-Star break, the Grizzlies (28-26) hold a four-game lead for the West's final playoff spot. Clarke could very well have an opportunity to put his name out on the playoff stage in the coming months.
It helps that the Grizzlies' recent move to deal Jae Crowder will likely open up even more opportunities for Clarke at the 4. In the final game before the break, Clarke finished with 27 points (on 12-for-14 shooting), six rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes.
Could that be a sign of things to come?
First, he'll go against his two teammates as All-Star Weekend gets started with the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. ET on SN1/E/O/W/P.
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