Redshirt Junior forward Brandon Clarke has thrown his name in to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. How does he project into the NBA and how does he fit with the Philadelphia 76ers?
Fun Fact: Brandon Clarke blocked Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish. In the same game.
Brandon Clarke’s rise from virtual unknown who barely earned a scholarship to a low mid-major to first round NBA draft pick is nothing short of astonishing. After coming off the bench as a freshman at San Jose State, he earned a starting role as a sophomore, where he took a huge leap forward. However, after his sophomore season, SJSU’s coach “resigned” and Clarke decided to transfer. Gonzaga came a-calling and Clarke wasn’t going to pass that up.
Still, it looked like Clarke would be a backup until an injury opened a starting lineup spot. Clarke grabbed it and never let go. He emerged at the Maui Invitational, putting up 15 points per game on 82.6% shooting and 5 blocks per game in only 25.3 minutes per game. In the NCAA tournament, Clarke put up 20 points, 10 boards, and nearly 4 blocks a game.
The only real question is which NBA team will see what is right in front of their face.
Brandon Clarke the College Player
Any way you slice it, Clarke was an elite+++ (that’s the highest possible rating!) college player. Here’s one easy way to encapsulate it: over the past decade, only 5 players have had a college BPM of 17+ Zion Williamson, Brandon Clarke, Anthony Davis, Karl Towns, and Victor Oladipo. Clarke’s company is 3 #1 overall picks and a #2 overall pick. So why isn’t he in that range?
I…don’t know? Clarke was a 22 year old this season, but age doesn’t seem to be a major problem this year, with Hunter and Hachimura both projecting as lottery picks as 21 year olds. You typically want to see older players dominate, and Clarke was as dominating as dominating gets.
On offense, Clarke shot over 70% on 2P attempts. He shot a truly insane 79.7% at the rim and a fantastic 52.8% on 2P jumpers. For a point of comparison on the first number, Tacko Fall shot 80.5% at the rim. Clarke finished at the level of a guy 10 inches taller than him. Admittedly, his FT% and 3P% were poor, though his FT% improved as the season went on. On a worse team, Clarke likely would have been the focal point on offense. On Gonzaga’s stacked team, it’s fair to ask if they didn’t lean on him heavily enough. His secondary indicators were great as well. He averaged more assists than turnovers in all three of his seasons. He grabbed a ton of offensive rebounds. The team scored most efficiently when he was on the floor.
On defense, Clarke was a monster. There’s no other way to put it. He was an elite shotblocker. He cleaned the defensive glass. He even stole the ball at a rate that would be nice for a wing defender. Clarke can defend on the perimeter, easily navigating screens, and near the basket. Most impressive his is help defense and awareness. Clarke is seemingly always exactly where he is supposed to be. Help defense is a hugely important skill in the modern NBA and nobody does it better than Clarke.
Age is hugely important NBA potential. Elite older prospects should truly dominate the game. Clarke did exactly that.
Where can we expect Brandon Clarke to go in the 2019 NBA Draft?
ESPN (big board): 13
NBADraft.net (mock draft): 23
Tankathon (big board): 4
SI.com (mock draft): 23
The Athletic (mock draft): 14
Clarke’s draft range is all over the place. Both Vecenie (The Athletic) and Woo (SI.com) acknowledge that some draft analysts are higher on Clarke than some NBA executives, and that is reflected by almost every big board having Clarke ranked higher than he goes in almost every mock draft. Clarke’s realistic draft range seems to be somewhere between sixth overall and the end of the first round.
Brandon Clarke’s Strengths
Playing basketball: I could re-write the entire section above here. Clarke is an elite inside scorer and finisher, an elite help defender, and a multi-positional defender. In fact, Clarke will likely be able to guard 4.5 positions at the next level, struggling with only the bigger post brutes in the NBA. For any team that needs any interior help at all, Clarke is the man for the job, but for teams with stretch bigs, Clarke could even slot in at a smaller position to shut down opposing wings. He already has consistent range out to the elbow, so opposing defenses will have to respect him even if he’s not a full stretch.
Ridiculous athleticism: Clarke’s combine athleticism measurements reinforce what is obvious to anybody who has watched him: Clarke is a capital A Athlete. 8th in agility, 14th in shuttle run, 7th in three quarter sprint, 3rd in standing leap, 4th in max leap, 15th in bench press. Clarke basically tested out as if he was a 6’ guard. But he’s a 6’8 forward. That’s terrifying.
Watching his tape, two additional things really stand out, the types of things that aren’t tested for at the combine. First, he has incredibly coordinated hands. He can catch the ball at any angle and get the ball to the rim in one motion. An elite rim runner needs to have elite hands, and he does. On defense, he will use both hands to block shots and disrupt dribbling. Second, he has a seemingly supernatural ability to hang in the air. Maybe it’s just seeing a guy his size leap as high as he does, but it always seems like he stays up in the air an extra split second. It’s pretty incredible.
Brandon Clarke’s Weaknesses
Height/length/weight: Clarke measured in at 6’7 (without shoes), with just a 6’8 wingspan and weighing in at only 208 pounds. That puts Clarke firmly in small forward range. Guys that size just aren’t shot blockers in the NBA, and is probably the single biggest reason why NBA teams are lower on him than draft analysts. He probably won’t be asked to play center except any but the smallest or most limited guys, and that hurts his value.
3 point and free throw shooting: Clarke has nice form, but his shots just don’t get in. There’s hope for the future, but right now, neither are where they need to be. Practice practice practice. Pascal Siakam shot 22% from 3 and 62% from the line in his age 23 season and 36.9% and 78.5% in his age 24 season. There’s reason to believe Clarke can make a similar jump, but it’s not a guarantee.
Brandon Clarke is a truly unique player. He’s a forward with guard athleticism who ideally would play center. Whatever team drafts him is going to have to figure out how to best utilize his various talents. A bad coach trying to shoehorn Clarke into an established system may not get good results. But Clarke is good enough that you work to build a system around him.
His ability to hit just about everything from 15 feet and in and to provide help defense from everywhere and switch on to everybody is simply too valuable to pass up. 4 years ago, a whole lotta teams passed on Brandon Clarke. History should not repeat itself.
Brandon Clarke’s Fit with the 76ers
Despite his lack of 3 point shooting, I think Clarke fits perfectly on the Sixers. Why? Help defense may have been the Sixers’ most glaring flaw this season. I lost count of how many times I yelled at Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons for completely failing at their responsibilities. Clarke has no such issues. He could completely stabilize the bench defense, and because he can hit the mid-range jumper, he can’t be completely abandoned. A Simmons-Clarke elbow PnR against a sagging defense could be absolute murder. And if he develops even a passable corner 3, he’d be a perfect starter.
As a bonus, Clarke will already be 23 next year. He’s ready to contribute and compete now. Even if the Sixers need to trade up for him, he’s the ideal target for a team looking for ready-now help.
How do you feel about Brandon Clarke on the Sixers? Let us know by leaving a comment below or reaching out on Twitter!