This is the start of a new series here on Empire Sports Media, where I’ll look at sixteen potential New York Knicks draftees, both in the first and second rounds, ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20th. Next up is Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke.
You may be wondering what a man with that shooting form is doing in the conversation for the third overall pick. But Brandon Clarke is firmly in the conversation in my mind, and where there are myriad questions about his game, and specifically his fit with the Knicks, he’d be no consolation prize if New York looked to trade back as has been reported.
Clarke was just a two-star recruit coming out of high school and played at San Jose State for two years before transferring to Gonzaga for his senior year. Clarke, once a popular “sleeper” prospect, exploded onto the scene in 2018-19 and became an analytical darling.
With per-game averages of 16.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks, along with a slash line of .687/.267/.694, Clarke was a dominant force for the Zags. He was a star two-way player who played an important role on the team ultimately reaching the Elite Eight.
The pros and cons regarding Clarke for the New York Knicks:
Clarke is extremely, extremely athletic, and he uses it to his advantage. On the offensive end, he explodes to the rim, consistently throwing down dunks and laying the ball in. Defensively, he was the premier shot-blocker this season and alters many attempts around the rim. That athleticism helps make up for his size (6’7, 6’8 wingspan).
Clarke also offers potential as a high-low creator. Gonzaga often puts him at the free throw line, letting him get to the rim with a dribble, or pass to the low man (often fellow prospect Rui Hachimura). Clarke showed great touch and these passes, and it is easy to picture him being the one hitting Mitchell Robinson on lobs.
Clarke is just so darn small for the position. While the NBA is trending small, Clarke has almost-identical measurables to Klay Thompson, and he will have to become significantly more skilled to make up for it. Right now, he just isn’t. Draymond Green, who has similar measurables, is much faster and a superb ball-handler and passer. Other players are better shooters than Clarke.
Speaking of which, Clarke’s shooting is a total wild card. What was once the ugliest form in college basketball is now fairly smooth, but he didn’t show any sort of three-point prowess at Gonzaga. It could get much better, but if it doesn’t, he is borderline unplayable next to another poor shooter in Robinson.
Clarke had the second-highest PER in college basketball history this past season (Zion Williamson has the highest). He was second in the NCAA in defensive plus-minus.
Clarke was insanely productive, and while it sounds simple, so many of the currently projected lottery prospects just weren’t (I’m looking at you, Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes, and Sekou Romeo Langford). He’d be a weird fit next to Mitchell Robinson, but I’ll bet on his shooting, defensive impact, and versatility at the next level.