Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 75 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This editions centers on Gonzaga big man Brandon Clarke.
Brandon Clarke sits reasonably in range of both of Atlanta’s first two first-round selections in the upcoming NBA Draft. Barring unforeseen events, Clarke should be on the board when the team’s No. 8 overall selection rolls around, and if they elect to go another route with that pick, there’s obviously a decent chance he’s there at No. 10 (or even No. 17) as well. While he will be 23 years old before he ever plays an NBA game, the former Gonzaga Bulldog still retains a ton of upside, specifically on the defensive end of the floor. Clarke was one of five players in all of NCAA’s Division I to average more than three blocks per game. Of the other four, only one played in a Power 5 conference. While the Zags don’t play the toughest in-conference schedule, their overall schedule was more than adequate when you factor in non-conference play, as well as an extended NCAA Tournament run.
Clarke represents a rare combination of a block rate over 10% (11.3%) and a steal percentage of over 2% (2.3%). He excels in help situations, often soaring for rejections when his teammates got beat off the dribble or in roll action. Clarke uses his 6’8 frame and elite explosiveness to reach shots would-be scorers likely think he can’t get to. On top of the pure athleticism, Clarke possesses the body control to get his hands on almost anything at the rim in help situations.
One defensive weakness with Clarke is his 6’8 wingspan, but it feels like his intangibles and combination of raw speed and leaping ability will be able to make up for most of his relative lack of length. This obviously puts a big dent in his chances at being even a small-ball center for any extended period, which is why most pumped the breaks on putting him too high on their boards following his combine measurements. At some points during the college season, Clarke had entered the top five on multiple boards from highly-thought-of draft people in the industry.
Clarke possesses a few weaker areas on offensive end, as he represents one of the better defensive prospects in the class in most circles. He seems like mostly a straight line dribbler, with the ability to put it on the floor to get to the rim, or to finish a break, but not much more in the way of ball handling. In this area, he’s similar to many forwards around the league. Given his ability on the defensive end and Atlanta’s backcourt situation, this shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Hawks. He’s fine in this area, just not exceptional by any stretch.
The 22-year-old can make the right pass within the team system, evidenced by his ability to seamlessly fit into Mark Few’s offense at Gonzaga despite spending just one season at the program after transferring from San Jose State. He did sit out a year following the transfer, so he had time to learn the system, but it’s worth giving him a pat on the back for how fluidly he meshed into an already very good Bulldogs attack. While he is notably not an elite offensive prospect (with the exception of his finishing and burst), he was still one of the more efficient players in the country on that end.
The junior ranked ninth in the draft class in points per possession (PPP) in transition, 14th in PPP in 27 isolation possessions, 19th in PPP when passing out of isolation, fourth in PPP in post up situations, and 2nd in PPP when passing out of the post. All of this is obviously aided by the fact that he played with one of the best teams in the country, with a lot of games against inferior competition, but the consistency across the board is impressive nonetheless. Clarke also ranked 2nd in PPP in put-back situations, 12th in PPP as the roll man in the screen-and-roll game, 22nd in PPP on cuts and 12th in limited possessions as a spot-up shooter.
Shooting is a big question (possibly the biggest) at this stage with Clarke. The fact that evaluators still feel he’s worthy of a lottery pick despite the lack of certainty that he will ever be able to shoot threes at a respectable clip in the NBA is encouraging in a way. A lot of taller guys figure out jump shots once they get to the league, once they realize it’s adapt or die. Clarke isn’t the youngest prospect, but there’s still plenty of time for his shot to progress to at least the 30% range, which is obviously below average, but good enough for someone with the defensive profile he’s expected to carry to the next level. Even if he never gets to that level with shooting, he’s good enough in the shorter shooting ranges and around the rim to get by in the league if he’s guarding multiple positions at a really high level, like many expect.
Clarke is currently sitting at 13 on ESPN’s board, while he also sits at 13 on Sam Vecenie’s (subscription required) most recent update. This places him reasonably in play at the 10 spot for Atlanta, which makes any trade moving the Hawks further up the board involving either top-10 pick (No. 8 or No. 10) especially tough. While there are some interesting prospects higher on the board, getting a combination Cam Reddish and Clarke, as opposed to just a Jarrett Culver or De’Andre Hunter feels like a significant downgrade, despite the (expected) high floors represented by the latter pair of prospects.