From redshirt to superstar player, Gonzaga men’s basketball forward Brandon Clarke has had quite the collegiate basketball journey. Last week, it came to an end.
The redshirt junior from Phoenix announced his plans to forgo his senior year and declare for the 2019 NBA Draft.
Clarke finished his only season with GU averaging 16.9 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds per game, while leading the nation in field goal percentage at 68.7 percent, yes, even beating out the Herculean Zion Williamson of Duke. Clarke was ranked second in the nation behind only Williamson for Player Efficiency Rating, a statistic regarded highly by NBA scouts.
Recent NBA mock drafts from ESPN and CBS Sports have projected Clarke to be selected as a lottery pick, ranging from the 11th to 14th overall selection.
During the second half of the season, Clarke seemed to be the chief offensive force for the Zags, including leading GU in scoring during the NCAA tournament with 20.3 points per game average.
Besides his visible offensive improvement, Clarke’s shot blocking ability is the most astonishing skill the big man brings to the table for NBA teams. He turned away a GU program record 117 shots last season. No matter how radically the NBA game changes, there will always be a roster spot for an athletic shot-blocker like Clarke.
Although Clarke has gifted athleticism for the collegiate level, the NBA is a whole different league, featuring freak athletes like Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and countless others.
Clarke’s heavy reliance upon athleticism in college may scare off some NBA executives as he will be unable to simply jump over or muscle through defenders at the next level.
Moreover, Clarke’s jump shot is unreliable at best, limiting his offensive game in a NBA that is now unapologetically tied to the 3-point shot. His extraordinary field goal percentage is largely a product of monstrous dunks or second-chance putback baskets at the rim.
But Clarke’s NBA potential is far from hopeless. Current NBA stars like Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins and Joel Embiid all had similar college skill sets to Clarke; athletic shot blockers with little-to-no ball-handling and shooting skills. Now, all of them are full-fledged all stars, who can easily step out to the 3-point line and drain it.
He may not have the height of his aforementioned comparisons, but that may be an advantage as the NBA shifts toward position-less basketball. Simply put, Clarke’s ceiling is still to be defined.
I believe teams selecting in the late lottery vicinity would be passing up a player with considerable potential if they don’t select Clarke. He could easily turn out like Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic.
Gordon is a freakishly athletic power forward with a semi-reliable jump shot and solid ball handling skills, not to mention he has some nasty highlight dunks. The University of Arizona product struggled to formulate his offensive game during his first few seasons, as he seemed to rely too heavily on his athletic ability. He now averages 16 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, his improvement a factor of his improved jump shot.
Clarke has a solid foundation to become a adequate NBA player, but his progression over his first few seasons, especially in ball handling and shooting, will determine if he has star potential.