According to pre-draft sites such as Tankathon.com Brandon Clarke has the highest chance of becoming an All-Star team in the entire 2019 draft class aside from Zion Williams, & yes that includes our very own second overall selection Ja Morant. That speaks volumes for a guy we got with a trade for the 21st pick. Brandon Clarke not only comes in with record shattering metrics from his senior & lone season at Gonzaga. He also comes in with Summer League MVP honors, but if you remember Josh Selby’s faith then that may not be a good trend.
Again, Brandon comes well accomplished. He is 2nd in PER/BPM in NCAA history being he filled up the stat sheet on a consistent basis being active at every facet of the game at all times.
Make no mistake about it, the current version of Brandon Clarke is best served as a Forward-Center, or maybe even a stretch-four. He has potential to be a small forward, or at least play it some, but he can be a star playing next to Jaren Jackson Jr. from the post. Clarke has a rather short 6’8 wingspan, however he lead the NCAA in blocks. That alone speaks to not only how athletic & bouncy he is, but also his awareness & timing. Clarke also thrived as the leading scorer on a team that featured a lottery draft pick in Rui Hachimura. Keep in mind, Clarke is a defensive savant and is best served playing from the middle where he can clean up all of his teammates mistakes. He has also proven to be a reliable scorer who hunts the basket even off ball as a great bail out option for ball handlers in distress.
The obvious concern is that Jaren isn’t ready to play the five spot yet, but he may have to adjust sooner than expected if Brandon Clarke’s run this past college season & in this year's Summer League translates into his NBA career or else Jaren may find himself in a battle with Clarke for the power forward position outright. You heard it here first folks.
The Taylor Jenkins Factor
We all know Jonas Valanciunaswas injured in the preseason & is the day one starter. He doesn’t need to prove anything other than building chemistry. However, after watching Taylor Jenkins himself experiment with Jaren & Clarke starting at power forward & center respectively, I'm inclined to think the writing is on the wall. Jenkins wants to play a "Let It Fly" style, which is a high octane pace being played by mostly young guys that usually think most first looks are good looks. Now that's great for repetition & confidence, but that's not nearly the most effective way of utilizing a traditional bruiser like Jonas Valanciunas.
On the flip side, JV is a beast in a more slowed down system, & would easily outperform his new contract. That slowed down offense won't always coincide well Ja Morant & Jaren Jackson. Both Ja & Jaren will almost surely be looking to run the tires off of opponents on a consistent basis, especially in transitions & fast breaks. Both have athletic advantages at their respective positions, & will look to make their living on that at any given moment.
Jonas has proven he can be a 20 points per game scorer, but it would require slowing the tempo down more than Jenkins likely wants to and would take away so many quick assists opportunities away from Ja Morant. I understand Ja seems to be ecstatic publicly about the idea of starting alongside Jonas, the 7'1 265lbs bruiser is also not a prime candidate for the Alley Oops finisher badge & although he's capable, he hasn't done much of it in the past.
Defensively Jonas is a solid post defender, who is surprisingly active & a proven banger, but has no business switching onto wing players or the perimeter. Problem is that's almost required in today's NBA of position-less basketball. The best way to maximize value is obviously slowing the game down into half court sets & feeding the post to Jonas or hoping he gets to the offensive rebound fast enough for put backs.
Making the case for Clarke
Brandon Clarke is the total opposite of Jonas in theory. As a smaller, faster big man, Clarke like Jaren and Ja will look to run the break as much as possible to utilize his elite potential as an athletic rim runner & fast break scorer.
What's most impressive about Clarke is his intensity and intelligence. Clarke is almost always reliable for cutting to the basket to bail out the ball handler when things go south during a play. That is just a small glimpse of not only his intellect but his thirst for being productive. His mind works like a computer in a sense, always searching for ways to contribute on the court in any situation, which usually leads to high level production. He's actually a natural with that, which is a talent in itself.
I project Brandon Clarke to of course develop behind Jonas and Jaren for the first part of the season, but as time goes on & I say around all star break give or take, Brandon will have proven to be a mainstay in the lineup. The team wont be competing for a playoff spot anyway - as a result, the demand for playing Jonas just won’t be as high. Jaren will need to get more minutes at center anyway if that's possibly his long-term position. I certainly see Clarke's floor being an important Swiss army role player, but I can also see Brandon becoming the star he was at Gonzaga in the NBA. He has that dog in him along with the physical gifts & hoops IQ to match.
The ceiling for Clarke has been projected by many experts to be that of an all star. As mentioned earlier Clarke is ranked by Tankathon as the 2nd highest chance from the 2019 draft class of making the All-Star team. The only person with a higher chance is Zion so that includes Ja Morant who I see as a Magic Johnson-Russell Westbrook hybrid. When it's all said & done this season Brandon Clarke is gonna seize that starting job next to Jaren Jackson Jr.