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Don’t give up on Brandon Clarke

From untouchable to out of the rotation in less than 18 months. What’s playing into this?

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Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Brandon Clarke is officially out of the rotation.

This development isn’t necessarily new either. Clarke found himself outside the healthy rotation at the end of last season, and he was also left out of the 10-man group in the team’s preseason opener this year. After playing this way into the opening-night rotation from his preseason performance, Clarke is once again not consistently playing.

It’s not just a story out here, but plenty of people outside the Memphis Grizzlies sphere. And from the number of people that quote-tweeted this, there are various fans that want Clarke on their team.

And the topic of what would be the best fits and trade packages surrounding Brandon Clarke is for an entirely different post. Probably something GBB Site Manager — and trade machine advocate — Joe Mullinax will tackle down the road.

But yes, let’s circle back to why Brandon Clarke isn’t playing.

First off, Taylor Jenkins wants a 10-man rotation. It makes sense, as most teams operate within 8-11 players for their regular season rotation, and 10 is the cleanest rotation to deploy. When the team is deep, and there’s [knocks on every piece of wood around me] clean health, good players aren’t going to get into the game.

And that guy right now is Clarke.

Secondly, and probably the most importantly, there’s a logjam at his position. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the starter there, and that was going to be likely regardless. Kyle Anderson’s emergence last year plays the biggest part of that. During this year’s Media Day, Taylor Jenkins identified Anderson’s success at the 4 as something they want to build on this season. And that’s smart, since there was a 4-point swing in point differential between Anderson at the 3 and the 4 last season (+2.5 vs. -2.2), and a 12-point swing in the year prior (+6.0 vs. -6.1) — per Cleaning the Glass.

When it comes to the comparison between Clarke and Anderson, both forwards possess great defensive versatility, as they can both defend in space and create plays and turnovers. However, Anderson’s length allows him to cover more positions and wreak havoc defensively. Offensively, Clarke has more pop that makes him a great roll threat. Anderson though is more of a 3-point weapon in terms of accuracy and volume, and he can also initiate the offense and create for himself and his teammates better.

That positional overlap puts Clarke in a weird bind, as he’s more suited to play the 4 than the 5. Because of that, Xavier Tillman has gotten the nod recently, since he’s the more physical player that bodes better against opposing centers. He saw the recent repercussions from those minutes in his game against the Portland with Jusuf Nurkic — which has been the last time he was in the rotation.

Lastly, Brandon Clarke’s tumble from the rotation is predicated on his game as well. Everyone will point to the change in his shot mechanics, which are wonky and have played a factor in his shooting regression — alongside injury woes last season. Honestly, no one expected him to become a knockdown shooter on medium volume, and that’s okay. One thing that’s limiting him offensively is his limited shot portfolio. He’s a great roller to the basket, and he has that floater as well. However, if a team keys in on it, he’s become easier to limit.

Listen for the “FLOATER!” here.

So for Clarke’s offensive evolution to crack the rotation, he’s going to need to add more to his bag — and last year, he attacked closeouts really well with a spin move.

Those factors are included in Clarke’s fall from the rotation. He needs to deepen his offensive bag to offset a 3-point deficiency — whether it’s from the mid-range, attacking closeout’s, or creating for his teammates with his passing — while returning to his elite form as a roll-man and in the floater zone.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

While Brandon Clarke is out of this rotation right now, all isn’t lost for him.

He had gotten off to a pretty solid start. Though the raw averages aren’t great, he’s the only bench player with a positive on/off point differential among bench players (+2.9), per Cleaning the Glass. He’s simply looked healthier and closer to his normal self — skying for lobs, running the transition lanes in the fastbreak to make himself a threat, and activating a strong roll game.

In addition, aside from Steven Adams, Brandon Clarke has been the fit alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. in minutes where the newly-extended big man has been at the 5.

Guess it’s that twin telepathy.

  • Brandon Clarke / Jaren Jackson 4-5: +47.1 point differential per 100 possessions in 52 possessions
  • Kyle Anderson / Jaren Jackson 4-5: -26.1 point differential per 100 possessions in 69 possessions
  • Jaren Jackson / Xavier Tillman: -27.5 point differential per 100 possessions in 64 possessions
  • Jaren Jackson without Tillman, Clarke, Anderson, Adams: +32.9 point differential per 100 possessions in 21 possessions.

So there’s evidence that when he’s played this season in regular minutes, it’s been productive and the team benefits.

They’ve made this work in a 10-man rotation as well. On opening night, the Grizzlies staggered Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams’ minutes well enough throughout the game where one of them manned the center spot for all 48 minutes. That startegy hasn’t been deployed since then.

Nonetheless, there isn’t a wrong answer to what Taylor Jenkins is doing.

And these are tough decisions that Jenkins wanted to make with the rotations — as he told the media before the 1st preseason game. The decision to sit Brandon Clarke is one of them.

It doesn’t change the fact that he’s a good NBA player, one worthy of being in a rotation. Maybe he’ll get the chance to prove that...whether it’s in Memphis, or elsewhere.

From an All-Rookie untouchable part of the core, to one on the outside looking in of the rotation — whatever happens with Brandon Clarke will be an interesting development to follow. And hopefully in the midst of it, he’ll get the opportunity to prove that he’s the good role player that impacts winning.

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