The eye-test failed me on Brandon Clarke’s 2020-21 season.
For my second player review this offseason, I am once again going across the northern border to Canada. This time, it’s Brandon Clarke. Two weeks ago, I took a look at the leap Dillon Brooks took in his fourth year in the league.
It’s only fitting that I am writing about these two players, because it feels as if the majority of the fanbase has done a 180 on both these guys, and in different directions. Dillon of course had his diehards, but now he has the majority of Grizz Nation behind him. When it comes to Clarke — last offseason, he was considered untouchable. Now, it feels like any trade idea involving the Memphis Grizzlies includes him.
That seems a bit too reactionary to me, unless it’s a deal that nets you a star.
Watching Brandon Clarke this season, it felt as if some things were a bit off. Yes, there was a hitch in his jumpshot, and yes he did find himself on the outside of the rotation when it came playoff time. He still had that hop, that athleticism, and continued to disrupt the passing lanes. And, in a season that was considered one of ‘data accumulation’, Clarke may have gotten the short end of the stick.
I’ll be honest, I did think Clarke did take somewhat of a step back this season, as I am a guy that prefers to rely on the eye test for the most part, instead of digging into the advanced stats.
I feel as if you are trying to push a narrative, there’s always one stat you can find that will support your stance.
Yes, get off my lawn!
To get the full picture of Clarke’s season, I did dig into the numbers, and what I found, surprised me. His per-game numbers, for the most part, were down across the board; but looking at his advanced stats, as well as lineups and player comparisons, he is one of the better players coming off the bench in the league.
It made me think that maybe we, the fanbase and those who cover the team, just expected too much from Clarke this season.
Clarke had an unbelievably efficient rookie season, so it was hard to see him duplicating that in his second year. But, I’m pretty sure the drastic drop from 3-point range (36% to 26%) was not expected. His minutes increased slightly, but we did see a dip in other categories including points per game (12.1 to 10.3), field goal percentage (62% to 52%), and rebounds per game (5.9 to 5.6). It wasn’t all bad though, we saw an increase in per-game averages in assists, steals, and blocks.
Taking a look at his splits, there was a turning point on his usage around the All-Star weekend. Prior to the break, BC had started in 16 of the 27 games — after, he didn’t start once. His 3-point percentage dropped in half from 33% to 16%, and so did his minutes per game and points per game, but everything else showed he was a solid contributor. His field goal percentage was better, despite the 3-point drop, his rebounds per game were nearly identical, and he doubled his block total from the first half of the season.
During the 16 games in which Clarke started, the Grizzlies went 10-6, and had their longest winning streak of the season while he was a starter. During that 7-game win streak, he averaged more than 16 points and 7 boards.
On the topic of lineups, the Grizzlies had ‘41’ 3-man units that played more than 200 minutes together this season. Clarke was in the top-3 lineups when it came to defensive rating (BC, Tyus, and Tillman; BC, Ja, and Melton; and BC, Brooks, and Tyus.) That also goes to the point that Parker Fleming wrote about last month — it doesn’t have to be a case of Clarke or Tillman.
And not only was Clarke in the top-3 defensive rating 3-man lineups, he was also in the top 3-man lineup when it came to offensive rating — BC, Ja, and Melton.
Now to expectations.
The thought of Brandon Clarke being an untouchable piece of the future is not as strong heading into this offseason as it was last season.
But, maybe that shouldn’t be the case.
As the current makeup of the Grizzlies stands, I’m not sure that Clarke can find his way into the starting lineup. But, that’s not a bad thing — for Clarke or the Grizzlies. It shows the depth of the Grizzlies, and Clarke is just fine coming off the bench.
I compared Clarke to 7 similar players in the NBA this season — ‘4’s’ that averaged around 24 minutes a game, while playing mostly off the bench, but also had some starts. Clarke’s numbers were either equal or better than nearly all of them. He was better than the guys around his age — Jaden McDaniels, Cam Johnson, and Isaiah Roby. But, for the most part even with guys who have a number of years in the league — Carmelo Anthony, Thad Young, Doug McDermott, and Danilo Gallinari.
The comparisons showed me that BC is basically Thad Young. For years, Grizzlies fans have clamored for the Grizz to trade for or sign Thad Young. It makes sense, he’s a local guy, and a solid NBA player that would bring a lot to the team. Brandon Clarke may not be local, but he can give you the same production that Thad has given for 14 seasons.
Clarke may not be a guy that will win you a title, but he can be a key piece of the puzzle. Most teams would kill for a guy that makes the most of his minutes like he does.
During the offseason, the Grizzlies could have a tough decision to make, if the right offer comes up. But, I still think Clarke has a lot to give to the Grizz, and think it would be foolish to continue the usage or lack thereof we saw at the end of the season.
And thanks to Clarke, I’ve learned to not always trust my eyes.