Grizzlies

Clarke Still A Steal In Memphis

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The 2019 NBA Draft was the beginning of a renaissance in Memphis.

The acquisition of Ja Morant with the second pick grabbed headlines all over the nation before he ascended to superstardom. But that was the obvious choice for Memphis as the franchise dealt away Mike Conley days before in exchange for Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and the 23rd pick in the ensuing draft.

Although only two of those names played for Memphis, the 23rd pick turned out to be rather important.

Steal Of The Draft

On draft night, the Grizzlies made another move.

They traded the rights of Darius Bazley—who they took with that 23rd pick—and a 2024 second round draft pick to the Thunder for the rights to Brandon Clarke. In a draft headlined by names like Zion Williamson and Morant, the Grizzlies nabbed the steal of the draft in Clarke.

Heading into year one of the rebuild in Memphis, the Grizzlies had the sixth-youngest team in the league as well as a new coach and front office. With Ja and Jaren Jackson Jr. quickly becoming the faces of the franchise, Clarke flew under the radar. There wasn’t much buzz around Clarke’s game as his struggles to shoot from the outside didn’t bode well for a player his size.

Yet the Grizzlies’ front office took a liking to his game and saw him as a valuable piece to the squad. Luckily for them, they were right as Clarke earned a first-team All-Rookie selection alongside teammate Ja Morant. Clarke also finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting that season, with Morant winning the award.

Starting Out Strong

In his rookie season, Clarke was fifth in the league in field goal percentage at 61.8% and was only behind Hassan Whiteside, Jarrett Allen, Rudy Gobert and Mitchell Robinson. Out of those five players, Clarke was on average four inches shorter than any of them.

So how could a guy who was 6’8″ and a below-average three-point shooter do this in his rookie season?

Simply put, he knew what he was good at.

While he toyed with a three-point shot his rookie season, Clarke shot two-pointers 86.6% of the time, with 65.8% of twos coming within 10 feet.

Those weren’t just easy, uncontested layups either. In fact, 54.1% of his two-point field goal attempts came with a defender within two to four feet of him. The question still remains, how did someone with his size shoot that effectively?

Sure, it helps that Clarke can jump out of the building, but what really seemed to be the difference maker was his quickness with his shot. 70% of his two-point shots were up less than two seconds after the first touch. In those attempts, he shot a whopping 70.4%.

Because he put the ball up so quickly, bigger defenders didn’t really have a chance to stop it, resulting in immediate success for Clarke.

Sophomore Slump

As a whole, Clarke’s second year wasn’t one to remember. It’s not like the numbers he put up were terrible, but it wasn’t the year he likely envisioned following his stellar rookie campaign.

Looking at the aforementioned quickness in his sophomore year, only 56.7% of his twos were up within two seconds, and he shot those at a 60.7% clip. While the numbers are still very good, there was a slight dip and it makes sense with the year he had as a whole.

In his second year, Clarke’s overall field goal percentage dropped from 61.8% to 51.7%. Additionally, his two-point percentage dropped from 65.8% to 56.5%.

That year also saw a slight uptick in three-point attempts, growing from 64 attempts to 77 attempts in his sophomore season. Adding the ability to shoot the three is something that Clarke was adamant about doing in his second season, but it just didn’t pan out.

With Clarke, it’s not that he was simply lacking confidence in shooting the three—it’s something he just wasn’t good at then. His shooting form left much to be desired, and trying to force those shots was detrimental to the team’s success.

For Clarke, he saw that adding that shot would be a project for the future, and he got back to basics for his third season in a year that would prove to be quite the bounce-back.

Rectifying Resurgence

Year three showed fans prime Brandon Clarke.

He actually got the least amount looks on offense he’s had in his young career. Despite that, he had his best year in terms of efficiency.

He had career highs in field goal percentage (64.4%), two-point field goal percentage (66.6%) and effective field goal percentage (65%). In fact, Clarke was seventh in the league among players who had played in 64 games or more in effective field goal percentage.

He made a living on the glass too, collecting a career-high 134 offensive boards and was fourth among all bench players in the stat. Clarke was just three rebounds shy of tying his career-high of 345 total rebounds in a season.

Those offensive rebounds provided highly efficient looks close to the hoop, which helped with the uptick of those shooting percentages.

In the first round against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Clarke proved to be an X-Factor for the Grizzlies. In the series, Clarke shot 67.9% from the field and averaged 16.5 points per game. Additionally, he was a monster on the boards for Memphis, averaging nine rebounds per game and snagging 15 in the pivotal Game Five.

Needless to say, without Brandon Clarke the Grizzlies very possibly could have lost that series against Minnesota, and the basketball world would have been robbed of the entertaining series against the Warriors.

When the lights were brightest—and with a possible contract extension looming—BC exhibited why the Grizzlies should pay up and lock him down.

A Bag For Brandon?

The success Clarke enjoyed this past season was a result of him sticking with what he was best at—his ability to score inside with quick, efficient shots. And that is precisely what the Grizzlies need him to do going forward.

It would be a tremendous asset to Memphis if he could develop a three-point shot, but the odds of that happening are slim.

The luxury the Grizzlies have is that they don’t need him to become a sharpshooter with the way they have built the team. But what they do need is his high motor and energy off the bench, and he can provide that without needing to worry about his shooting, which was evident in both the regular season and playoffs.

As of right now, Memphis has yet to announce they are moving forward with a contract extension. Even further, there hasn’t been really any news in quite some time, which is odd for a player of his caliber.

However, it would be naive to think that the Grizzlies don’t tie Clarke down after the year he just had and what he did for the team. While he could certainly fetch a pretty penny for other teams, his athleticism and skillset fit a very specific mold. That mold just so happens to fit beautifully with the Grizzlies.

Just as the mold fits beautifully, the money should, as well.

There is much to be seen in the coming future of Brandon Clarke, and this front office has shocked fans before. But for now, it’s still most likely Clarke signs on long-term with Memphis.

Until further notice, the 901 is the home of Air Canada.

Craving More Grizzlies?

Check out last week’s Deep Dive Piece on Tyus Jones by Luke Hatmaker (@luketeno), How Tyus Jones Became The Best Value In The NBA. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss these Deep Dive players and much, much more!

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