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Switching it up with Brandon Clarke

Brandon Clarke has brought a unique edge on the defensive side of the ball

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NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It has certainly been quite the postseason for Brandon Clarke. After appearing in just 2 games and totaling 9 minutes against the Utah Jazz last year, he has blown up in a big way this postseason. Clarke was arguably Memphis’ second best and consistent player in the their first round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He averaged 16.5 points on 67.9% shooting from the field while also hauling in 9 rebounds per game, including 3 offensive rebounds per game. His energy and bounce was much needed to put away a scrappy Minnesota team.

The series against Golden State has been a different story for BC. Clarke was solid in Game One, scoring 12 points to go along with 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Clarke struggled in Games Two thru Four, totaling 18 points, 10 rebounds and just 2 blocks. Clarke picked up 10 fouls in those games as well. He looked back to normal on Wednesday against Golden State, going off for 11 points and 7 rebounds (5 offensive!) in just 14 minutes of action.

While Clarke has had some high’s and low’s offensively this series, his defensive switch ability is what has really stood out to me. In the series agains the Warriors, Clarke has limited his opponent to 3-10 shooting from the field, with opponents shooting 2-7 from beyond the arc. Clarke has been getting matched up against guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole and has held his own against that trio and limited their firepower.

Opponents are shooting 23-46 with BC is the primary defender in the series, which isn’t great, but part of it is matchup based. Kevon Looney isn’t an offensive monster, but he’s 3-3 being defended by BC, using his size as an advantage. Draymond Green uses his high basketball IQ to shoot 2-2 against him. Even Andrew Wiggins, comparable in size, uses his athleticism to 4-7 splits against Clarke. When Golden State attacks Brandon Clarke off the dribble, especially when he’s the 5, they have found some success. He has done a solid job though throughout the series into forcing the Warriors into tough shots.

Clarke’s defensive performance was put on full display in his 14 minutes in Game Five. Clarke limited the Warriors to 3-10 shooting from the field and 2-7 from beyond the arc. When available, Dillon Brooks has been the primary defender on Steph Curry, but the Grizzlies have been comfortable with allowing Brandon Clarke to defend Steph when switched onto him. In Game 5, Curry was 0-4 defended by BC, including 0-3 from deep. In the series, Curry is 5-14, 2-9 from deep, when being defended by Clarke.

He has done an excellent job of staying in front of Steph and not biting on his dance moves in attempts to get an open triple. Dillon switches off of Steph pretty easily, something you don’t see often, and allows BC to defend Curry. Curry tries a flurry of dribble moves to get open, but Clarke does a great job of staying in front and not trying to reach, forcing Steph into a tough step-back jumper.

A few possessions later, Curry decides to attack BC off the dribble after getting Ziaire Williams switched off of him. Clarke does an excellent job of cutting of Curry’s lane to the basket matching Curry’s quickness. Curry then is forced to settle for a mid-range step back as the defense crashes to help. Melton does a great job of showing on the Curry drive, as does Kyle Anderson. Ziaire Williams takes away any potential pass to Looney and does a good job boxing him out on the rebound attempt.

Brandon Clarke playing the 5 hasn’t been as successful this series as the last, as guys like Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. have been great with the size advantage against the other Grizzlies on the floor when BC is at the 5. In the clip below, BC does a good job of sizing Kuminga up and blocking the shot. Otto Porter does a good job getting a solid position on Ja, and Kyle is late to crash the glass leading to Porter getting the shot off and heading to the free throw line.

In a way, sometimes Brandon Clarke helping on defense has given the Warriors easier looks on the offensive end due to their excellent ball movement when they are clicking. Below Clarke does a good job of showing on the dive by Kuminga, but it leaves Looney wide open with a head of steam heading towards the rim. Clarke actually does a good job of getting back in good defensive position and not fouling Looney on the drive and making it a relatively tough finish. Still, there are plenty of plays like this where Clarke helps, then has to recover to his original man late. That’s a partial reason why opponents are shooting 23/46 against Clarke in the series as he’s often gotten caught defending multiple guys at the same time.

Brandon Clarke isn’t the most fleet of foot player on the Grizzlies roster, but he’s got good instincts and is quick enough to recover in chaos. In the clip below, Clarke fights through the slip and pop screen from Thompson but is able to recognize quickly that Bane came over to help or switch onto Green. Clarke recovers and makes his way over to Klay to at least get a hand up on the shot attempt. It’s ultimately still a pretty good look for a guy as lethal as Thompson, but BC impacts the shot attempt instead of letting it be a wide open shot.


Despite Game 5’s blowout victory, there are still downsides to Brandon Clarke’s switching ability. When he’s the 5, there’s very little size to combat the likes of Andrew Wiggins or Otto Porter Jr. on the boards when he’s spending his time defending the perimeter.

The Grizzlies started to use their size to their advantage, however in Game 5. The Warriors went back to the zone that messed with the Grizzlies offense in San Francisco, and Brandon Clarke proved to be the perfect zone buster in Game 5. Typically against a zone, you want to have someone front at the free throw line and “let the ball touch the paint” to get the defense moving to open up driving lanes. With BC as the big, you don’t even really need to do much else but get him the ball when his floater is dropping. In the clip below, the Grizzlies use excellent ball movement to shift the defense. Ziaire Williams has a nice pass to him at the free throw line, and Clarke is able to get into his floater range easily and quickly.

With the Grizzlies struggles at times offensively, particularly against the zone, Clarke figures to be a key weapon to get the Warriors out of it. Defensively is where Clarke can continue to be an x-factor of sorts as the Warriors haven’t really been able to punish him in any individual matchups. Not getting off good shots, or being able to really take him to the rim, is one of the many factors that has forced Golden State into so many turnovers.

Regardless of how tonight’s Game Six outcome, it’s great to see Brandon Clarke making such a huge impact in the playoffs after a disappointing, injury riddled season last year.

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