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2019 NBA Draft Profile: Brandon Clarke

Aaron profiles a young prospect and potential Orlando target as the NBA Draft quickly approaches

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Regional - Anaheim Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

For the first time in six arduous years, the Orlando Magic fan-base will not be toiling over who their beloved team selects with their lottery pick in next month’s NBA Draft. The Magic figured things out late in the ‘18-’19 season, and broke-through en route to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in seven years. They even found a way to steal a game in Toronto, who has gone on to win the Eastern Conference.

Since franchise center Dwight Howard was traded in the summer of 2012, the Magic have been a habitual “lottery team”. The organization drafted Victor Oladipo (‘13, 2nd), Aaron Gordon (‘14, 4th), Dario Saric (‘14, 12th - traded for the rights to Elfrid Payton), Mario Hezonja (‘15, 5th), Domantas Sabonis (‘16, 11th - traded along with Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova for the rights to Serge Ibaka), Jonathan Isaac (‘17, 6th), and Mohamed Bamba (‘18, 6th) with their seven lottery picks in the last six years. Of course, only Gordon, Isaac, and Bamba remain with the team.

Now the Magic find themselves on the outside of the lottery looking in, and that’s obviously a good thing. The organization has seemed to turn a corner; they have the right coach in place, they have a player who was recognized as an NBA All-Star for the first time since Howard, and they have some promising young players to continue to build-around for the foreseeable future.

Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross are set to become unrestricted free agents for their first time in their respective careers, so the NBA Free Agency period (beginning on June 30th) will clearly be Orlando’s primary focus this summer. But that’s not to say that this year’s draft should be completely ignored. The Magic are slated to pick 16th (and 46th, 2nd round), and a quality player should still be there available for the organization to select. Finding a hidden gem at #16 won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.

NBA Hall-of-Fame point guard John Stockton was drafted 16th in 1984. Dana Barros (‘89), Chris Gatling (‘91), Metta World Peace (‘99), and Orlando’s own Nikola Vucevic (‘11) are all former 16th overall picks who have gone on to make an All-Star appearance in their careers. Hedo Turkoglu, Marreese Speights, Nick Young, Jusuf Nurkic, and Terry Rozier are all former 16th overall picks who have also carved out significant roles for themselves in the NBA at one point or another.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together a scouting report profiling some of the players who will likely be available at #16 when the Magic make their pick. Included in these pieces will be some notes from player film review, talking points, and the player’s draft outlook.

We continue in this series by now taking a look at a dynamic leaper and defensive force - forward Brandon Clarke.

Brandon Clarke
Height 6-8
Weight 207 lbs.
Wingspan 6-8 (+0)
Standing Reach 8-6
Max Vertical Leap 40.5 inches

NBA Comparisons

“Probably won’t happen” comparison: Kenyon Martin (similar defensive instincts, rim-running abilities. Not as long as Martin)
“Possibly could happen” comparisons: Jordan Bell, Khem Birch (plays similar to him, but doesn’t possess Birch’s length), Larry Nance Jr. (but higher defensive upside)

Eye in the sky

— Leaping ability makes him an available lob threat, good hands
— Runs the floor well, often cleans-up missed fast-break opportunities as trailer
— Adequate ball-handler, uses spin-move to beat his defender to the rim
— Efficient finisher, was used a ton at Gonzaga as a screener
— Energy guy: big blocks, loose balls, diving on the floor, taking charges, etc.
— Exceptional shot-blocker, elite defensive instincts
— Moves his feet extremely well, should be able to effectively defend pick-and-rolls
— Will he develop a jump-shot? Seemed hesitant to shoot at times (outside of 15 feet)
— Plays like an NBA “5”, probably won’t be able to play there at the next-level

Best films of the season:
11/21 vs. Duke: 17 points (7-10 FGA’s), 6 blocks (23 minutes)
12/9 vs. Tennessee: 21 points (8-12 FGA’s), 9 rebounds, 3 steals (30 minutes)
3/23 vs. Baylor: 36 points (15-18 FGA’s), 8 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 assists

Video Credit: Tremendous Upside

Video Credit: House of Highlights

Talking Points

1) What position will he play in the NBA?

I have a lot of good things to say about Clarke in this piece, so I’ll just get the elephant in the room out of the way up front. What position will he play in the NBA?

I guarantee that’s the first thing on the minds of NBA scouts and executives regarding Clarke. His game seems to be modeled towards fitting a modern NBA “5”. But that’s not happening with a 6-8 wingspan and an 8-6 standing reach. Those measurements don’t stack up against NBA power forwards, let alone centers in the league. These dudes are big, and frankly - Clarke is not (he’s also only 207 lbs. - not a big deal, but he’s already 22).

In a perfect world, Clarke would have to be drafted into a situation where he could develop next to a perimeter-oriented floor-spacing center (Brook Lopez, Karl-Anthony Towns, perhaps Al Horford, etc.). He would basically need to be an undersized “four” on defense (where I actually think he could thrive), and a very undersized “five” on offense.

Not impossible, but certainly not ideal. The team scheme/philosophy that Clarke is drafted into is extremely important; there may not be a player in this draft whose outcome is more determinant on fit than the Gonzaga forward.

2) Elite defender, elite athleticism

Clarke is hands-down the most gifted defensive big in this draft class. The Phoenix-native makes up for a lack of length with superior athleticism, defensive instincts, and defensive positioning. At the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Clarke tested as the top big in this class in lane-agility testing (10.6 seconds) and three-quarter court sprint testing (3.15), scoring-out ahead of the majority of guards that went through testing as well. And his 40.5-inch max-vertical leap was the fourth-highest jump at the combine, again topping all other “bigs” that were tested.

The athleticism that Clarke displayed in Chicago confirmed what a lot of scouts and draft pundits that have been following him already knew: he’s the best run and jump big-man in this class. And those abilities show on the versatile forward’s film: the blocked shots when he meets an opposing player at the apex of his release, when he gets down-hill on a fast-break and cleans up a teammate’s missed shot with a follow-up slam, the lobs at the rim after screening and diving, etc.

Clarke used his athleticism to pull down four or more offensive rebounds in a single contest 13 times this past season (including six against Tennessee). He also grabbed ten or more rebounds in a game 13 different times this year (including 12 against Florida State and 12 against Texas Tech in the NCAA Tournament).

Of course, Clarke’s best skill is his shot-blocking ability. He blocked four or more shots in a single-game 15 times this season (including 4 against Arizona, 6 against Duke, and 5 against Florida State). He led the West Coast Conference in block percentage and blocks per game, and led the entire country in total blocks (117) in 2018-2019. Clarke played at San Jose State for two years before transferring to Gonzaga, and there he led the Mountain West Conference in block percentage as well (‘16-’17).

Clarke had a Defensive Rating of 84 for Gonzaga in 2018-2019, the top defensive-mark in the country (also led the WCC in DBPM).

3) Shooting efficiency, BIG yes. Shooting range, BIG question-mark???

Most ridiculous stat of all-time, are you ready for it? This past season, Clarke missed the same amount of field goals (257-374, 117 missed attempts) as he had blocked shots (117). That’s just incredible.

The San Jose State transfer isn’t just a defensive stalwart, he possesses elite finishing ability as well. Clarke is the West Coast Conference's all-time leader in two-point field goal percentage (70.5%). His 68.7% field-goal percentage and offensive rating of 127.9 both led the nation this past collegiate season.

Clarke also led the WCC in PER (37.2, second in the nation), eFG% (69%, second in the nation), true shooting percentage (70%), and OBPM (8.9).

The catch? According to his shot chart from The Stepien, only 11 of his 374 attempts this year came from NBA three-point range (he went 3 for 11). 235 of those 374 attempts came at the rim (he finished at a rate of 79%, absolutely incredible).

Not only does Clarke possess questionable NBA length, but to this point he has shown very questionable NBA range (he’s attempted 24 three-point field goals in over 2,700 collegiate minutes). He was a sub-60% free throw shooter at San Jose State to boot, although he improved to just under 70% this season at Gonzaga.

I’m more confident that Clarke can get by defending at the next-level without NBA length (due to his instincts and athleticism) than I am in his ability to develop an outside shot. He kind of is who he is as a player, and some team out there in the first round is going to understand that.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Regional - Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Draft Outlook

When the Magic clinched a playoff berth back in late April, eliminating themselves from draft lottery discussion this June, I essentially thought (then) that previewing Brandon Clarke would be a moot point. Clarke arrived on the scene at Gonzaga this year, emerging from a completely off-the-radar prospect at San Jose State into a presumed top-ten pick throughout most of this past season. But here we are, profiling Clarke as the Magic are set to pick 16th overall.

Clarke’s stock took a bit of a hit after his less than favorable measurements at the NBA Draft Combine in May. Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) still lists the Gonzaga forward as his eight best prospect in this draft class on his big board, but other pundits have slightly taken a step back with Clarke. ESPN currently lists him as the 13th best available prospect on their board; Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) has Clarke as the 13th best prospect on his board as well. And Jeremy Woo of Sport Illustrated currently has Clarke listed outside of his top-20 available prospects in this draft class.

According to Josh Robbins of the Athletic, Clarke has worked out for the Hawks (8th/10th), Hornets (12th), and Heat (13th), and has workouts scheduled in the future with the Suns (6th), Bulls (7th), Timberwolves (11th), Celtics (14th), and Pistons (15th). The Magic brought him in to Orlando for a group workout last week; it appears Clarke’s group accepted a workout invitation in an attempt to set his draft floor (16th pick).

Orlando’s forward rotation is already pretty full with Gordon, Isaac, and second-year swing-man Wes Iwundu all likely to be back and receiving minutes next season (Iwundu has a team option for 2019-2020 that the organization will likely pick-up). I’ll admit, the thought of pairing Clarke with Mohamed Bamba is a fun one (albeit, not for opposing players who are trying to get a shot-attempt off without it getting swatted into oblivion). Yet in reality, Clarke probably isn’t a great fit in Orlando. We know how “in love” Jeff Weltman (President of Basketball Operations) and John Hammond (General Manager) are with positional length/reach, and that’s just not Clarke at all.

I’m pulling for the young man, and I think he can be a high-impact player for a team desperately in need of shot-blocking and athleticism. But I don’t think the perfect fit for Clarke is in City Beautiful, not with the other guys who are projected to be available at sixteen capable of filling some more pressing needs there for the taking.

This is the fifth in a series of NBA Draft previews coming over the next few weeks on Orlando Pinstriped Post. Aaron previously profiled Kevin Porter Jr., Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Romeo Langford, and Grant Williams.

You can follow Aaron Goldstone on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.