Without question, Brandon Clarke has had a phenomenal rookie season. He’s been an unbelievably efficient scorer all season, acting as a stabilizing anchor off the bench and can make plays with the starters. He plays superbly in the pick and roll, often opting to go to his patented floater in the lane where he ranks among the best in the league. He’s a respectable shooter from the outside, connecting on nearly 37% of his threes although he’s only taking roughly one per game. He’s able to attack closeouts off the dribble and shows his high basketball IQ with his underrated passing abilities.
With the offseason approaching, trades across the league are inevitable. The Grizzlies may decide that they want to swing for the fences and trade for a star player. In the event that this happens, should Brandon Clarke be involved in negotiations? Or should he be untouchable? I dove into the film to find out.
What’s his ceiling?
To decide if Brandon Clarke should be an untouchable piece of the Grizzlies’ future, we have to decide where his ceiling is. Ever since he emerged as this uber-efficient sixth man in just his first year, I’ve pondered how much better he can get. Though he is already a special player, I don’t feel that his ceiling is too much higher than his current level of play. He is an older rookie, turning 24 in September, and has carved a niche for himself in his set role on the team. As time goes on, his minutes and touches will go up which will cause his per-game averages to go up as well (though his efficiency may dip). Though his numbers may improve, I don’t feel that Clarke will ever be a much different player than he is today.
Clarke’s shooting has been a big question mark for me while watching him this season. He shoots a respectable percentage but on very low volume. 45 of the 57 threes he attempted this season were “wide open” threes, defined by the NBA as the closest defender being 6+ feet away from the shooter. On these shots, he connected at a solid 42.2%. However, when considered “open” (defender 4-6 feet away), Clarke shot only 18.2% on 11 attempts.
He certainly has the ability and potential to improve these numbers, but I feel that his shooting form will hold him back from becoming a very good shooter. He takes a long time to gather and release his shot which may allow defenders to contest the shot more effectively. His two-motion shot along with the fact that he releases the ball at the apex of his jump makes him prone to inconsistencies with his shot. Most elite shooters have a one-motion shooting form (where the ball never pauses during the shot) and the ball is released as their feet leave the ground to optimize power. Clarke’s unorthodox form may prevent him from taking the leap as a shooter in the future.
When it comes to dribbling the ball, Brandon Clarke is limited. He’s not the kind of player that is going to be taking defenders one-on-one and breaking them down off the dribble. That’s not in his bag. What IS in his bag, however, is a simple drive to his left to beat a defender closing out poorly. He rarely drives right as he he likes to use his right hand for his floaters and it is much easier to shoot those when driving left as opposed to driving right. He will occasionally throw in a spin move as he gets into the paint, but other than these simple moves, he doesn’t have much to work with. As a big man, this isn’t a big deal but there is definitely room for improvement.
In his rookie year, Brandon Clarke was a very solid defender. He’s switchable, capable of holding his own on the perimeter. He’s a quick leaper with tremendous verticality that helps him contest or block shots without fouling, but he’s not without his faults. He sometimes falls asleep when the ball is on the other side of the floor, meaning that he is not in position to help when the play begins to come his way. Even though he is switchable and quick on his feet, he can still get blown by EVEN by slower guards if he’s not completely locked in. Luckily, these things are coachable and can be fixed over time as the game slows down for him and he becomes a smarter player.
Bearing everything in mind, I think Brandon Clarke is a special young player and is going to continue to be an excellent player in his role for a long time, but I can’t imagine him ever blossoming into a player that is going to excel outside of his current style of play.
But what does all this mean? Should he be untouchable in trade negotiations going forward? The short answer is no. He shouldn’t be untouchable. The Grizzlies obviously shouldn’t be actively seeking to move him and he shouldn’t be included in any deal for a player that is not in the future plans of the team. But if he is the piece that must be added for the Grizzlies to swing for the fences and land a star player, that’s alright. It may just pay off in the long run.