"Situational Analysis" is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Brandon Clarke is a 22-year-old forward from Canada who averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks during his junior season at Gonzaga University. He is expected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 23.
There are a lot of players in college basketball who do a nice job blocking shots and protecting the rim. There are only a few who go out of their way to challenge every possible shot and want nothing more than to erase a would-be dunker in midair.
Brandon Clarke is just such a player.
Clarke doesn’t care if he ends up on the wrong side of a GIF. He has no fear. Of his 117 blocked shots last season, roughly 100 of them completely obliterated the other team’s confidence (not an official stat). Clarke doesn’t so much block shots as much as he eradicates them.
Offensively, Clarke was among the nation’s most efficient scorers, connecting on nearly 70 percent of his shot attempts – many of which were extremely high-percentage dunks. Shout-out to Lauren Theisen at Deadspin for pointing this out – Clarke’s shot-blocking stats equaled his number of missed shot attempts.
A typical Clarke box score would lead one to believe he stands roughly 7-1 with a 7-9 wingspan – Rudy Gobert dimensions. Somehow, Clarke is only 6-8 with a 6-10 wingspan. He’s an explosive vertical leaper with a knack for timing, similar to prime Shawn Marion or Jerami Grant.
Clarke is the sort of player who rarely tries to do anything outside of his comfort zone. He knows his strengths and he sticks to them. He’s a low-ego player willing to do whatever it takes for his team to be successful.
On a scale from 1-10, Clarke’s defensive versatility and athleticism rates at an 8.5.
The main reason why Clarke’s field-goal percentage was so high? He never seems to take a shot beyond 15 feet.
In a three-year college career at Gonzaga and San Jose State, Clarke made only six 3-pointers out of 24 attempts. It’s tough for any 6-8 player – even one as athletic and unorthodox as Clarke – to contribute at a high level without any floor-spacing ability on offense.
It’s also tough to envision Clarke becoming an Aaron Gordon-style playmaker, as he has yet to display the passing ability or the ball handling skills necessary to fill that sort of role.
Prior to the 3-point revolution, Clarke would have fit perfectly as a team’s high-energy power forward who excelled at the dirty work. In today’s game, players like Clarke either develop into passable 3-point shooters from the short corner or bounce around trying to find a spot where their energy can carry them to 12-15 minutes of playing time per night (Kenneth Faried comes to mind).
Clarke isn’t tall or thick enough to jostle with top NBA centers, so even his potential as a small-ball 5 is limited.
He did transition from a terrible foul shooter at San Jose State into a decent one with Gonzaga, which provides some optimism for potentially improving his jump shot. But at age 22 (he’ll turn 23 prior to the start of his rookie season), how much upside does Clarke really have left?
On a scale from 1-10, Clarke’s lack of a clear NBA role rates at a 9.
A Canadian native, Clarke spent his formative years in Phoenix and enjoyed a standout high school career at Desert Vista before committing to San Jose State. He wasn’t the most highly ranked recruit out of high school, but he made an immediate splash with the Spartans, earning sixth man of the year as a freshman and first-team spots on the All-Mountain-West team and the conference’s all-defensive team.
He arrived in Spokane after his mandatory one-year sabbatical just in time for one of Mark Few’s best shots at a title run. The Zags won 33 of 37 games, running the slate in conference play, before losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national runner-up Texas Tech.
Clarke teamed up with Rui Hachimura to form one of the nation’s best forward tandems. Hachimura was the more skilled all-around talent, while Clarke was the athletically gifted defender and glue guy. Hachimura is a likely lottery pick, but without Clarke’s willingness to do the dirty work, it’s impossible to say how far this team would have gotten. Clarke gave this squad an edge and a toughness that it desperately needed.
On a scale from 1-10, Clarke’s junior year at Gonzaga rates at a 9. He may have taken a while to blossom into an NBA prospect, but he landed in the ideal opportunity to showcase what he does best.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Clarke’s best bet for long-term NBA success is an improved jumper, but we can say that about almost every player who isn’t either an All-NBA caliber talent or a shooting specialist. Is there a scenario in which Clarke can thrive in the NBA, exactly as he is?
Oklahoma City loves drafting players in Clarke’s mold. Even if they don’t draft them, they trade for them (Grant). If a team is seeking to become a grittier, defensive-minded club that focuses on speed and athleticism, Clarke could carve out a niche.
Memphis makes a lot of sense, given Jaren Jackson’s unique set of skills and that franchise’s earlier identity. Clarke would also have fit in with that rag-tag bunch in Clipperland.
And if Faried’s career can find second life in Houston – the most analytics-minded franchise in NBA history – there is hope for oddballs like Clarke. The league is much more fun when there is room for all sorts of different skillsets – such as shot-blocking swingmen who thrive three feet from the rim.
On a scale from 1-10, Clarke’s need for the right fit rates at an 8.5.