The Trail Blazers’ memorable postseason run might be over, but the the 2019 NBA Draft is right around the corner. Portland’s President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey currently has the No. 25 pick in the draft at his disposal and he will look to supplement the Blazers’ roster with a talented prospect in the latter stages of the first round. Today we look at Gonzaga Bulldogs big man Brandon Clarke.
Brandon Clarke - Gonzaga
- Height: 6’8.25”
- Weight: 207
- Wingspan: 6’8 ¼”
- Shoots: Right
- Position: PF/C
- Age: 22
- Projected Draft Range: 11-25
- PPG: 16.9 | Per 40: 24.1
- RPG: 8.6 | Per 40: 12.2
- APG: 1.9 | Per 40: 2.7
- STL: 1.2 | Per 40: 1.7
- BLK: 3.2 | Per 40: 4.5
- FG%: 68.7
- FT%: 69.4
- 3P%: 26.7
Two things stand out about Clarke immediately: his athleticism and defensive ability. He’s an explosive leaper with exceptional timing, which helped propel him to 3.2 blocks per game. Defensively, along with his litany of insane blocks he accumulated throughout the season, Clarke showed off his high defensive IQ. When defending against pick-and-roll sets, the Arizona native showed that he has the athleticism and instincts to switch to smaller defenders. He has the size and speed to keep up with smaller guards and punish them if they try to score on him. More than anything, he’s garnered a reputation for his blue-collar effort on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, Clarke is nearly automatic inside. While his perimeter shooting is subpar, he showed good touch around the rim—both in the post and driving. While moving downhill, his athleticism is so great that he can rise above defenders to throw it down with authority. Over half of his attempts were around the rim this season and he converted an eye-popping 79.7 percent of them. All season long he set tough screens both on and off the ball and showed solid decision making. Clarke is willing to give up a good shot for a better one by making the extra pass.
The biggest knock on Clarke’s game is his shooting. It has improved since his time at San Jose State—where his shot mechanics looked like an unavoidable obstacle. He re-tooled his mechanics since then, but they are still rigid. Shooting only 69.4 percent from the line and 26.7 percent from three this season (on a meager 15 attempts) doesn’t inspire confidence. In a league that loves spacing, he has yet to prove he can space the floor reliably. Besides that, there are concerns about how his length will translate to the next level. Clarke’s 6-foot-8 frame could limit him to small-ball lineups. If he is facing traditional post players, he could become a frequent target of opposing teams.
Clarke had a phenomenal year at Gonzaga. He was arguably the best player on a team that went 33-4, 16-0 in the WCC and made it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Clarke put up an incredible performance of 36 points, eight boards and five blocks against Baylor in the second round. He’s one of only three players to do that in tournament history. The other two: legendary big men David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal. He finished the season with as many blocks as missed field goals (117). Clarke’s stellar play earned him WCC Defensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year honors.
Clarke has the athleticism and talent of a that is typically tied to lottery-bound selections. He is a tremendous defensive player and has the makings of a developing offensive contributor. At the very least, he has a high floor thinks to his instincts in the post. That being said, scouts seem divided on what his value actually is. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie revealed that his discussions with scouts painted a divided picture of Clarke’s placement in the 2019 class.
The concerns are real. Clarkes midrange shot is still a mixed bag and his soft touch around the rim is not a lock to translate to the perimeter. If he is unable to challenge larger players in the post, he could end up on an island. Trouble spots aside, Clarke has a unique skill set and he could fill a defense-first role with room to grow offensively.
Judging by the recent swarm of mock drafts, it is tough to gauge where Clarke will fall in the draft. As Blazer’s Edge contributor Steve Dewald noted before the tournament in March, Clarke could bolster the Blazers’ frontcourt if he were to fall in their range. Clarke’s experience, energy and defensive upside could make him an option for minutes in a Nurk-less post rotation.
Clarke’s lack of shooting hurts, especially since that’s an area the Blazers need to address after enduring a playoff run where opponents loaded up on the backcourt. In a controlled role, his paint-based talents could overcome those concerns. Lineups featuring Clarke and fellow Gonzaga alum Zach Collins would give Portland an unlimited amount of flexibility on defense. Expecting contributions from a rookie big man is a risky proposition, but Clarke’s move to Spokane proved he can adapt to changing expectations.
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