Brandon Clarke never thought he would become an NBA player until March of his last season at Gonzaga. He started at a smaller school in San Jose State in 2015 where he began the evolution to become the player he is now. He transferred to Gonzaga and redshirted for the 2017-2018 season. Clarke wasn’t on any draft boards until the very end of his tenure at Gonzaga. He quite literally never thought he would be here in the NBA. He was selected 21st overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder on that fateful night in 2019 when he was shipped over to Memphis for the draft rights to forward Darius Bazley and a second-round pick. The Grizzlies got themselves a steal in that draft and Clarke found a place he knew he could call home.
Clarke made an immediate impact during his rookie year, earning a spot on the All-Rookie First Team along with fellow Grizzly and first-round pick Ja Morant. Clarke averaged 12.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG while shooting 61.8% from the floor and 75.9% from the line in 58 games (22.4 MPG). He also converted 35.9% of his 64 three-point attempts on the season. Clarke also showed the ability to space the floor at times, though it was in low volume percentages. In year two, Clarke was still productive but developed a hitch in his shooting motion which caused his average percentage across the board to drop slightly. In 59 games (24.0 MPG), he averaged 10.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.0 SPG, and 0.9 BPG on .517/.260/.690 shooting. He only attempted an average of 1.3 three-point attempts per game, dropping his season percentage down to 56.5%.
In the 2021-2022 season is where we really saw Clarke start to hit his stride and find his own. Instead of focusing on his weaknesses, he decided to play up to his strengths and this worked fairly well for the Grizzlies. His shooting percentages picked up slightly and he was a crucial piece in the Grizzlies getting past the Timberwolves in their first-round playoff series. Clarke took advantage of second-chance points and shooting 67.9% from the floor and 65.7% from the line, this was something that the Timberwolves had no answer for. While Minnesota didn’t have an answer for Clarke, the Golden State Warriors did. The Warriors’ defense was much more effective in neutralizing Clarke during the second-round playoff series where the Grizzlies would end up being knocked out of contention.
We’re officially 26 games into the 2022-2023 season and Clarke has shown that he’s improved on his weaknesses while building up his strengths. Though Clarke lacks the bulk to compete down low he has somehow found a way to get past that and utilize it. At 6’8” and 215 pounds with a 6’8.25 wingspan, Clarke still has a size disadvantage a vast majority of the time. It’s a good thing that he has a best friend in 6’10” forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr, who offers plenty of size and versatility options. When Jackson Jr and Clarke are on the court together the chemistry that they have is dynamic and stunning. Each of them can do things that the other may struggle with, it’s simple complimentary basketball. They elevate each other on both sides of the court, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Clarke has been dynamic on defense this season, and we call Jaren Jackson Jr. the Block Panther for a reason.
Clarke’s evolution is not only paying off for him but for his teammates as well. His role has seen him in the starting lineup and coming off the bench as a reserve this season. No matter what unit he’s played with he adds an extra level of energy, attitude, and confidence, which is something that the Grizzlies are becoming known for with the likes of All-Star leader Morant. When Morant sits, Clarke has been the one to bring energy to players like Tyus Jones, David Roddy, and Santi Aldama. The scariest part of Clarke’s evolution is that he’s just getting started. Clarke just signed an extension locking him in as a Grizzly for four more years in October, a very well-deserved contract for a player who won’t hesitate to put the Grizzlies on his back when they need a pick-me-up.