It has been just over two weeks since the NBA draft lottery and the Grizzlies seem to already be “locked in” on Ja Morant, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Although it would be shocking if the Grizzlies pass on Morant at #2, they should do their due diligence on all prospects projected to be selected in the lottery.
With the Morant selection, the Grizzlies are expected to trade Mike Conley at some point this offseason, a trade that could come to fruition on draft night. Phoenix, Chicago and Minnesota could be potential trade destinations for Conley as all need upgrades at the point guard position and aren’t going to be free agent destinations for players like Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. If the Grizzlies do get the 6th, 7th or 11th pick in the draft (or any other lottery selection) they would be wise to take a look at Brandon Clarke out of Gonzaga.
Clarke played a key role in Gonzaga’s Elite Eight run this past NCAA season. The junior big man averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks this past season for the Zags. Clarke is a bit older than most prospects, as he’s already 22 years old, but that shouldn’t stop the Grizzlies from checking him out in the pre-draft process.
Brandon Clarke had as many blocks as missed shots during the regular season for Gonzaga. That’s a testament to his shot blocking ability as well as his finishing ability down low. Clarke also sets solid screens to either get the ball handler open and in space, or set himself up for a nice roll to the basket. Clarke also has steady ball-handling and passing ability for a big man, which could open things up should a roll to the basket be cut off by a help defender. Clarke also looks to pass when grabbing an offensive rebound, instead of forcing up a contested shot.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Clarke is that he plays his tail off every time I watched him play. That 110% effort would fit well in Memphis, where guys like Tony Allen and Joakim Noah became fan favorites simply for their effort and energy.
Clarke isn’t much of a 3-point threat, shooting just 4/15 from beyond the arc last season for the Zags. His inability, and sometimes unwillingness, to shoot the 3-ball would create major spacing issues for a Grizzlies team that already struggles with spacing and shooting 3’s. With his lack of 3-point shooting, Clarke would project better as a small-ball 5 but being just 6’8” he would get bullied down low by guys like Enes Kanter and Joel Embiid. Clarke also shot under 70% from the free throw line, which could make him unplayable late in close games. Clarke had a great stat line his junior year at Gonzaga but he projects more as a role player in today’s NBA, which could be a reach depending on where he is drafted.
Brandon Clarke may not have a high ceiling as an NBA player, but he also has a high floor. I simply don’t see any way he is a bad NBA player. At the very least he should have a serviceable NBA career. Clarke has the potential, similar to Jaren Jackson Jr., to be an elite defensive player in the NBA and could show plenty of flashes in just his rookie season. Imagine trying to score down low on a frontcourt of Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Clarke has his limitations for sure, but his defensive upside is enough to take the risk on, especially after selecting Ja Morant #2 overall. Clarke is a safe pick, even if he’s picked a little higher than he’s projected. Assuming the Grizzlies have Jaren Jackson Jr. play both the 4 and 5 position next year, Clarke doesn’t necessarily fit super well with the team constructed for 2019-2020 but would be a nice piece next to JJJ once Jaren moves to the 5 spot permanently. At that point, you would hope that one of JJJ or Clarke would have developed a consistent outside shot. Clarke clearly would be a solid fit next to JJJ defensively, but Clarke’s passing and ball handling ability would fit well with Jaren offensively too. The duo could have a dynamic high-low, similar to Marc and Z-Bo, as well as some big man pick and roll (think what Denver did with Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee).
If the Grizzlies land another lottery pick in a trade, Clarke would be an excellent option for the Grizzlies. They have their potential stars in Morant and JJJ, and although Clarke doesn’t have star potential, his high floor would fit well as Morant and JJJ grow into their star-like potential.
Stats provided by The Ringer and sports-reference.com