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Brandon Clarke deserves more touches

The 23-year-old jack-of-all-trades forward possesses the scoring package to justify a larger role in the Grizzlies’ offense.

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

I cannot wrap my head around the reality that 20 teams passed on Brandon Clarke in the 2019 NBA Draft. To suggest he was a steal for the Grizzlies would be the understatement of the century.

Despite his newbie status, Clarke is serving as arguably the team’s most dependable scoring punch off the pine. His 12.1 points per game average on the season is tops among all Memphis reserves. It would be one thing if Clarke was inefficient. A lot of players could average double-digits if handed the green light, but Brandon is historically accurate from the field.

Yes, I said it. Historically.

Since the league’s inception, Mitchell Robinson is the lone rookie who managed to play as many minutes as Clarke and finish with a higher true shooting percentage. Plus, he ranks in the 91st percentile among all bigs this year in points per shot attempt, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Since Brandon is an uber-efficient offensive talent, you would assume he has the ball in his hands quite frequently, right? Well, think again. He’s only fifth on the Grizzlies in average shot attempts (8.2), and Clarke’s usage rate sits at a league-average 51st percentile for his position. Only 15.9 percent of the total possessions Clarke has been involved in ended with him trying to score a basket or get an assist. This is far too low of a number, especially considering the former Gonzaga standout primarily takes the court with the second-unit. It is not as if Clarke would be taking away shots from Ja Morant, should he look to score more often.

The fact that Clarke is underutilized in the Grizzlies’ offensive attack begs two important questions: where and how should he look to score? Let’s break down when he is at his best.

Pick and roll virtuoso

Clarke is already one of the NBA’s deadliest roll men off the pick and roll. In 2.4 possessions nightly as the screener, he accumulates 1.5 points per play (third-best among players who functioned as a roll man at least once per game). Furthermore, Brandon converts an otherworldly 75.2 percent of his shot attempts in pick-and-roll situations, and 11.1 percent of said plays result in him heading to the free-throw line. Clarke is a tremendously reliable source for points when involved in executing the most effective set in basketball. When examining his physical tools, it becomes abundantly clear as to why he is so successful in the pick and roll.

Admittedly, Clarke is a bit undersized compared to your traditional NBA power forward at 6’8” and 215 pounds. He has turned it into an advantage, though. For a big, Clarke is as springy as they come, and his light frame certainly aids him as a leaper. Also, Brandon owns a terrific pair of hands; they allow him to catch passes in traffic, even if slightly off-target. You would be hard-pressed to find a clip of the ball slipping out of his hands. Couple that with his smooth gait, and he is able to devastate defenses as an alley-oop threat off the pick and roll. No space for a lob? No problem. Dump it down to Clarke a few feet from the basket and chances are he will nail his trademark floater.

All things considered, facilitating guards such as Ja Morant and Tyus Jones should ensure that pick-and-roll’s with Brandon Clarke are commonplace. If the Grizzlies are struggling to find the net, they can turn to a rolling Clarke who excels at generating high-percentage looks.

Dynamite in the open court

Brandon Clarke is a major beneficiary of Memphis’ signature run-and-gun play-style. With majestic, long strides similar to that of a streaking gazelle, Clarke effortlessly outruns most other behemoths on the fast break. He scores 4.2 points per 100 possessions on transition sequences alone, which is good for the 91st percentile. Additionally, the team averages 129.1 points for every 100 fast-breaks with Clarke on the floor (80th percentile according to Cleaning the Glass).

The Grizzlies’ collective transition game has been mediocre since the NBA’s resumption, though. They have mustered just 13 fast break points per game over their last three — a far cry from their season average of 17.6. Clarke’s agility and adeptness as an inside finisher can help Memphis get back on the right track in this area. After all, the Grizzlies’ inability to get out in the open court has played a role in their disappointing 0-3 start. So Memphis needs to fix their transition woes soon to recapture some momentum heading into a possible play-in tournament.

An extra aggressive Clarke will serve as a remedy for this issue.


Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Considering Jaren Jackson Jr. is set to miss the remainder of the season with a torn meniscus, Brandon Clarke will take his place in the starting lineup. With Memphis’ leading scorer in Orlando down for the count, the team needs Clarke to assert himself on offense more than ever before. Brandon may be uncomfortable with shouldering the scoring load because he has never been a high-usage player. But there is no denying he has the tools necessary to flourish in an advanced role. Clarke is a rare case of someone who can benefit their squad through selfishness.

Brandon Clarke is as vital to Memphis’ playoff hopes as anyone on the roster. The Grizzlies must make up for the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr. by committee. Clarke’s assertiveness as a scorer will be a deciding factor in whether Memphis can weather the storm without arguably their best player.

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