Coming into the 2018-19 season, Rui Hachimura was supposed to be the Zags’ apex predator. By the time the dust had settled in March, the name on the tip of many a NBA head’s tongue was Brandon Clarke. The Gonzaga Bulldogs junior arguably was one of the best college basketball players this season not named Zion Williamson, and his one year provided the spotlight to transition from relative unknown commodity to first round draft pick.
Clarke’s season can best be described as “not named Zion Williamson.” He is a freak athlete as well, and he demonstrates it as a human trampoline, something Gonzaga fans have appreciated all season long.
Followup to our Brandon Clarke measurements discussion. No surprise who is leading the pack early in the vertical leap testing. Both running and standing. The Gonzaga product is an elite athlete and is blessed with incredible timing as a shot blocker. pic.twitter.com/hjKcSw9jjw— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 16, 2019
This jumping prowess is the reason Clarke led the NCAA in total blocks last season (117). The man is a human highlight reel, and it doesn’t just start and end with the block. Clarke has a relentless motor, so it isn’t ever the first jump, but the second and the third jumps in which he does his most damage. Defensively, Clarke is probably one of the most ready forwards for the NBA. His elite-level shot blocking ability comes from all sides. He changes the game with his weak-side rim protection. Players tried, and died, going one-on-one straight to the hoop all season.
I have committed a travesty by not including Brandon Clarke's beyond mondo block in the favorite sequence of the year thread and I am a bad blogger. pic.twitter.com/Qq9biXUUuX— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) January 4, 2019
He has lateral quickness to help him defend virtually all positions. He won’t necessarily be locking down guards like Stephen Curry, but he also won’t be left out on an island to die by himself. Clarke’s defense is more than enough to give him a long and solid NBA career.
On the offensive end, Clarke had a season for the ages that just happened to coincide with Zion Williamson. If not for Williamson, Clarke’s PER of 37.2 would’ve been the highest number in the past 10 years. He led the NCAA in both offensive rating and defensive rating, the first player to do so since Anthony Davis. He is able to create at the rim, shooting 79.7 percent and only assisted on half of those shots. He had the fourth-highest points per possession of all players in overall half court offense at 1.238, according to Synergy Sports.
For any sensible GM on any lottery team, Clarke is someone you can slot into the rotation and see an immediate impact from, especially on the defensive end. He has the athletic ability for put-back dunks and transition plays while the rest of his offensive game adapts to the speed of the NBA. In his rookie season, he will be ready to play.
Clarke completely overhauled his shot while at Gonzaga to attempt to incorporate more range into his game. The work was never reflected in the box score. Throughout his college career, Clarke has shot just 24 three-point attempts.
“It wasn’t good. It needed a lot of work,” says Michaelson, categorizing Clarke’s shot as “fundamentally flawed.”
When you watch it, it is still rather ugly, not quite Joakim Noah ugly, but think of that as a baseline. It often looks more like a rock being hurled at the backboard than a basketball with a high arc. All of this goes to say that Clarke has legitimate range issues in terms of the NBA. He hasn’t established yet that he can help spread the floor in that regard.
Clarke’s overall skill set is a prototypical NBA center, yet he only stands at 6’8. Defensively, it will be a question if his limited height and wingspan will be an impediment into guarding larger centers. Otherwise, Clarke will need to be paired with a taller human to assist on the defensive end, and that taller human will need to have range to help spread the floor.
In the right NBA system, he can flourish. The perfect example is former Gonzaga Bulldog Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis’ first year in the big leagues on the Oklahoma City Thunder was a total afterthought because he was forced into a big man shooting role. Last season, with the Pacers, he averaged 0.2 three point attempts per game, and is one of three finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year.
What to expect
Just on defense alone, Clarke will probably end up as a lottery pick. He is arguably the best defender in the entire draft, and he is one of the most efficient offensive players this season not named Zion Williamson. Clarke opened eyes at the combine, but for those of us who have watched college basketball all season, his raw numbers are no surprise.
Of the three potential Gonzaga draft picks this season, Clarke is the one who will have the most immediate impact. He is old for a draft pick, but the amount of work he put in during his red shirt season showcased that the work ethic is still there. If Clarke is able to consistently demonstrate long range shooting, it will help turn him more so into the standard NBA forward. Until then, he needs to be paired with a big man with range, otherwise the two players are going to clog the post at the exact same time.
Either way, whichever team takes Clarke is drafting an immediate defensive highlight reel and one of the more exciting players in college basketball this season. That in itself should be rather fun to watch.