As NBA offences get more and more complex the need for quality defenders to neutralize scoring threats has become as important as ever and teams looking for a premier stopper will have their sights firmly on Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke.
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One of only five players in college basketball to average three or more blocks per game Clarke was a defensive menace anchoring the Bulldog's stalwart defence and providing the last line of protection if anyone chose to challenge him at the rim.
Clarke's defensive mastery made him a star in the NBA draft community and it wasn't long before his name was mentioned in the lottery conversation. His ability to defend different positions with ease will make him a coach's dream and his unselfish demeanour will allow him to fit seamlessly into any situation.
If a franchise truly believes that defence wins championships, Brandon Clarke could be their guy.
Athleticism like Clarke's is extremely rare even in a league like the NBA where some of the most physically gifted humans on the planet congregate. What makes him so special is that he has the explosive vertical leap to play above the rim and the body control when gliding side to side to stay with speedy players defensive. Most elite athletes are either explosive vertically or flexible laterally.
Brandon Clarke is both.
At the NBA Combine Clarke put up the best time among frontcourt players in the lane agility testing which demonstrated his ability to rapidly shuffle his feet defensively. In the max vertical leap testing his 40.5" jump was fourth highest among attendees and easily the highest among post players.
More than anything this allows Clarke to dominate the defensive side of the floor. For starters, he can take his primary assignment completely out of the game when he wants to dig in. Allows looking to deny his man from getting the basketball Clarke's tireless defensive motor doesn't start just working when he's got to defend dribble penetration, it starts when his check crosses half court. If his man does get the ball Clarke is tremendous at guarding in space, sitting low in his stance and bursting laterally to deny driving angles. For this reason, the 6'8" Clarke is more than comfortable in switching scenarios and he'll happily contain a shifty point guard or lively shooting guard when needed.
While comfortable switching out and guarding on the perimeter Clarke is perhaps best at defending down low where he can use one his best attributes-his shot blocking. In addition to his nuclear leaping ability, he's got an otherworldly sense of timing that allows him to either meet the ball at the apex of his jump or just simply swat the ball away immediately after it leaves the hand of the shooter. He affected a ton of shots at Gonzaga this season and opponents only shot a measly 35.2% at the rim when contested by him. At only 6'8" and 207 pounds, his ability to change shots is extremely impressive and it makes him a top-notch help side defender.
Offensively Clarke plays within himself and usually sticks to playing around the rim which makes sense given how well he finishes down there. He shot an eye-popping 74.3% in the paint this season on heavy volume and his deft touch around the rim allows him to catch tough passes and lay them in around the awaiting arms of a shot blocker. The vertical explosiveness he has makes him a lob threat off any pick and roll and he's always moving tactically without the ball to make an alley-oop target. To have a properly spaced floor in the current NBA you need a player in the dunker spot that's dangerous as a lob threat and Clarke projects perfectly to be the next monster in that position.
Lacking a huge frame, teams are likely going to feel comfortable switching guards onto Clarke instead of allowing him to roll to the rim after screening but if they do that he can go down to the block and punish them with his post scoring. His footwork is well developed and allows him to shake defenders and he's got a hook shot that's seemingly impossible to block. While most of Clarke's offence is near the rim he has been productive and can play within a role.
Offensively Clarke's skillset is fairly limited. While he's made some strides with his jumper he's still not a threat whatsoever from three and the occasional midrange shot he hits isn't going to scare anyone. His ball handling isn't developed and he's not someone I'd project to be a threat off the bounce at the NBA level. Getting buckets on the interior wasn't an issue for Clarke in college but when you ratchet up the quality of competition to NBA levels he could have trouble adjusting.
Clarke's measurements at the NBA Combine certainly didn't help his stock. His wingspan was identical to his height at 6'8¼ " and coupled with the fact he was only 207 pounds he's going to be a small frontcourt player in the league. You could point out that it's possible for him to add more muscle mass but he's already 22 years old and by that point, you'd like to see some more physical maturity. Since he measured so small teams might see him as more of a small forward than a power forward or center but he doesn't have the shooting or perimeter skills of someone you'd want on the perimeter.
Clarke was dominant in college but there are some legitimate concerns about how his game will translate up. He was excellent at protecting the rim in college but there aren't a lot of 6'8" players with a 6'8" wingspan that are elite interior defenders in the NBA. Will Clarke be another tweener or will he be a player that furthers the small-ball revolution of the NBA?
Projected NBA Draft Range: 10-25
Projected NBA Role: Defensive stopper.
NBA Comparison: Andre Roberson
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