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It’s time to free Brandon Clarke

The bench isn’t working. Time to give it a potential jolt that can revive the second unit.

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

Brandon Clarke didn’t have the sophomore leap many expected or hoped for. When you have a historically efficient rookie season like he did for the Memphis Grizzlies, the bar is pretty high. A new hitch in his jumper has played a giant factor in his rollercoaster season. The biggest one has been injuries, as he missed all training camp and preseason with them, as well as some time in April.

Clarke was struggling after the All-Star break. Before his first DNP-CD stint, he was averaging 8.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 52.3% shooting over 25 games — while being a non-factor on the perimeter. He admitted to the media that he had nagging injuries but didn’t want to make excuses for his play.

Clarke found a groove once he returned to the rotation, converting on 4 or more field goals in 5 of 6 games. Then, he was a part of the bench unit that was on the other side of the Warriors avalanche in the final regular season game, leading to his removal from the rotation.

So yes, he’s been struggling, but I’ve also had enough of the alternative.

Jenkins has started deploying lineups with Grayson Allen, Desmond Bane, and De’Anthony Melton across positions 2-4. He would even sprinkle in Tyus Jones in those lineups, too. Not only should they roll that in postseason basketball, they didn’t even have those 4 together in the regular season. They only played 4(!!) minutes together, and it wasn’t even a net positive.

You don’t experiment like that in the postseason!

In addition, both Melton and Allen have been struggling mightily over the past month. Melton gets the nod with better regular season play and with defense, but Grayson Allen shouldn’t be playing at all if he’s not a factor from deep — and aside from the Warriors play-in game, he hasn’t shot well.

It’s asinine for these guys to get passes and immunity for rough stretches of play over the past month, and Brandon Clarke — who’s considered untouchable by people smarter than you and me — didn’t get similar treatment.

But I digress.

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

There are even strong basketball reasons for Clarke to be in over this new, wacky alternative.

The Jazz are bigger through positions 2-4 than most second units, as they usually go with Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, and Georges Niang. When you add in Derrick Favors too, the Grizzlies need extra help on the glass and inside. Brandon Clarke provides that better than Grayson Allen, who’s literally being targeted on defense. He’s also more of a defensive playmaker, getting into passing lanes and providing secondary rim protection. Surely, Clarke can check Niang while switching and defending in space.

Offensively, Clarke would provide a bit more surefire production than what’s happening off the bench. No, he’s not a factor from deep, and 3’s are worth more than 2’s. However, with how the bench has been shooting thus far, I’d rather just take the 2’s over 0’s. In addition, the Grizzlies have found a nice attack in the pick-and-roll, where Clarke could use his spring and paint efficiency to get the bench going offensively. He’d have a mismatch against someone like Niang or Bogdanovic (his presumable matchups) with his quickness and burst going to the basket off the roll.

Lately it’s always been “Brandon Clarke or Xavier Tillman” on most media fronts — columns, blogs, podcasts, Twitter banter, etc. Sure, it may be a valid conversation for the future. Right now though, the Grizzlies are better with both players on the floor. Their ability to switch, defend in space, rebound, and take care of the ball makes them an effective tandem together. In 911 possessions, the Grizzlies have outscored opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with Clarke and Tillman on the floor together, per Cleaning the Glass.

When you’re in the postseason, would you not want to go with what worked over the past 5 months?

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Brandon Clarke needs to be in the rotation from game 3 on. What’s going on with the bench right now isn’t working, and isn’t exactly a position-less basketball tactic I’d deploy.

He could provide juice that’s needed in the playoffs. He could get a rejection or a dunk that generates momentum towards the Grizzlies’ side in these home games this weekend, or silences a road crowd in Utah once they hit Salt Lake City again.

In addition, if they’re going 10-deep, Clarke shouldn’t be excluded from this rotation — especially when there are counterparts that have been struggling mightily for weeks. He’s a guy that’s important to this team’s future plans (whether it’s on the court or in a move). He could grow in these moments.

It’s time to let Brandon Clarke get that shot to grow. It’s time for him to prove to everyone that he’s still the impactful young player that makes winning plays and is a key to the team’s success now and going forward.

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