Brandon Clarke is all the rage across Grizz Nation right now, and for the good reason. The 21st pick in the 2019 NBA Draft took the Las Vegas Summer League by storm, combining highly effective effort with highlight reel plays. His efforts earned him the Summer League MVP and the Grizzlies the Summer League Championship.
Clarke did not join the Grizzlies team until July 6th due to league rules regarding trades and transactions. However, once he joined the roster, he was a significant boost to their expectations. Overall, he has been a significant boost to the Grizzlies off-season, as his selection in the draft and play since has helped the Grizzlies have one of the best off-seasons in the NBA.
In fact, for a man without a proven nickname, Brandon “Boost” Clarke has a nice ring to it. Just like Dominic Toretto, Clarke’s play is fast and furious. And save your cold water takes that the Summer League is the NBA’s version of Tokyo Drift. Clarke’s play should translate just fine to the NBA itself, as he should provide the Grizzlies with a needed boost anytime he is on the court.
Despite his incredible debut, Clarke’s initial role with the Grizzlies will likely be one of their first options off the bench. With the signing of Jonas Valanciunas in June, the Grizzlies seem to have their starting bigs in place with Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. Valanciunas and Jackson Jr.’s skill sets compliment each other well, and they should be featured as the strength of the Grizzlies offense, especially early in games.
While a bench role for Clarke may seem underwhelming, it actually is a very logical strategy. The NBA Summer League and the NBA regular season are two completely different things. While Clarke clearly has a lot of natural talent, he likely will experience a learning curve that will require time for him to be a significant contributor, as is the case with most rookies. The Grizzlies know they are likely a few years away from being a playoff contender, and know the path to contention is properly developing their players.
The idea of using Clarke off the bench has a significant precedent across the NBA over the past few seasons. Several teams have used their young post talents off the bench at the beginning of their careers. Many of these examples have proven quite successful, both immediately and over time.
Over the past five years, many of the NBA’s best young post players first had to succeed as a reserve before that starred as a starter. In their first or second season, 17 players 80 inches or taller have played more than 1,200 minutes, started less than half their team’s games, and produced a PER of 15 or higher along with 3 or more Win Shares. Some notable names on this list are Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Rudy Gobert, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Aaron Gordon. A few of these players were lottery picks, but many of them were not. While talent is the biggest reason for their success, teams easing these players into their NBA careers also played a significant role.
Beyond individual success as a reserve early in their careers, the other common theme on this list is that several of the players were have developed into significant contributors for playoff teams. 8 of the 17 players were on playoff teams in the 2018-2019 season. Capela and Gobert are big reasons the Rockets and Jazz are viewed as contenders in the Western Conference. Sabonis, Turner, and Jarrett Allen will play significant roles for playoff hopefuls in the Eastern Conference.
The initial success of these players off the bench and their transformation into key starters for playoff teams proves that a cautious yet strategic plan to begin their careers was a successful approach. In the case of several of these players, they were either drafted or acquired by their current franchises while the franchise was thought to be rebuilding. The successful development of these players individually was a big reason each of their respective franchises became a playoff contender quicker than most expected.
Obviously, the hope for the Grizzlies is for Clarke to follow a similar path as the players mentioned above. Many envision Clarke and Jackson Jr. as anchors for the Grizzlies that will make them contenders for the next decade. However, over time, Clarke’s play and production could indicate that he is more effective as a reserve or in limited minutes instead of being a starter playing 35 to 40 minutes a night. If that is the case, that actually is perfectly fine. It actually could benefit the Grizzlies to keep him in a reserve or limited role if that proves to be the case.
Montrezl Harrell, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Sabonis were all players who either started less than half their teams games or played less than 25 minutes per game. Each of these players produced a PER over 19, registered 5 or more win shares, and helped their teams reach the playoffs. While their role was limited in terms of minutes, their impact was significant in terms of production. They each played a major role in many of their teams’ wins during the season.
This shows that the successful development of a talent such as Clarke is not just based on how his individual talent evolves, but how the Grizzlies will utilize him. Clarke likely could be a starter now for multiple teams across the league, but that may not be the best situation for him. As Clarke grows as a player, the Grizzlies will develop strategies of how to best utilize him. This is how a franchise becomes successful: they develop a player’s individual talent and then figure out the best ways to use that talent to win consistently.
Like Thanos, Brandon Clarke may very well be inevitable. That is the hope anyone involved with the Grizzlies should have. However, even Thanos had to gather the Infinity Stones before he was ready to take over. Clarke already possesses talent, intelligence, and desire. He now simply needs time, experience, and an identity.
The Grizzlies should in no way put a limit on Clarke’s future. However, for the benefit of their roster and their culture, the evolution of Clarke’s utilization will be just as important as the evolution of his talent. Finding success with both could result in Clarke boosting the Grizzlies to a level of significant success quicker than anyone expected.