NBA Draft 2019: Why Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke could be this year's biggest sleeper

By Ameer Tyree 22 May 2019 216
NBA Draft 2019: Why Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke could be this year's biggest sleeper

NBA teams are evaluating the top talent for the upcoming 2019 draft. While some have managed to secure coveted spots high in the lottery, others are unsure about what player is the best fit moving forward.

Not every franchise feels it has a chance to land a star, but plenty have lucked out with diamonds in the rough like Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell, Pascal Siakam and others in recent years.

Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke is one of 2019's most interesting prospects, and he just might turn out to be the biggest steal of the draft for the team that recognizes his unique traits.

Clarke had his first team workout with the Hornets on Monday, who pick 12th overall. He made it clear his contributions to a team will "start off with defense," but this won't limit his capabilities.

Here are three reasons Clarke could be the biggest sleeper in the draft:

Switchability

Clarke, 6-8, was an undersized power forward at Gonzaga, so many question what his true position will be in the NBA.

Clarke thrived as a rim protector for the Bulldogs and led Division I basketball with a staggering 117 blocks in 2018-19. He possesses the ability to get off the floor fast and can reach tremendous heights. While his underwhelming 6-8 wingspan brought some negative comments, he remains a rarity when it comes to athleticism.

No frontcourt player at the NBA combine soared higher than Clarke, who topped out at 40.5 inches on his vertical jump test. He also finished first among all forwards in the three quarter sprint and second in the lane agility drill, according to NBA.com.

In a positionless league, Clarke provides plenty of flexibility. His lateral movement and top-end speed could be an asset to any team.

“I personally think I can guard some one through fives," Clarke said during media day at the combine. "Obviously, there are some (centers) that I would struggle guarding, but I don’t think there are any one through fours I would have a hard time guarding.” 

Efficiency

Clarke was arguably the most efficient scorer in college basketball throughout his junior season. He averaged 16.9 points per game and shot a staggering 68.7% from the field. 

While Gonzaga's lesser known star didn't shoot very well from behind the arc (26.7%), he only attempted 15 3-pointers. So, there's still plenty of room for improvement there.

Nevertheless, Clarke can fill it up and get to the right spots when he needs to, as he eclipsed 20 points nine times in 2018-19.

Work Ethic

Clarke is simply a grinder with a strong desire to build on his game.

After starting just three games and averaging 8.8 points as a freshman at San Jose State in 2015-16, he started 29 games and averaged 17.5 points per game the following year.

Clarke was forced to sit out for the 2017-18 season, as he chose to transfer to Gonzaga that year. He immediately stepped into a starting role with the Bulldogs — who have become a collegiate powerhouse over the years — the following season.

Clarke cemented himself as a defensive anchor and interior presence, breaking the mold of traditional bigs like Kelly Olynyk, Domantas Sabonis, and Zach Collins that have come through the Bulldogs' program before him. And, he's still working on his weaknesses.

"I've been working out my shot a lot," Clarke said Monday. "I've been working on my dribbling skills. I just hope that teams see that more and that's something I'm going to keep on getting better at. So this is really just the start of it."

He completely recreated his unorthodox jump shot when he joined Gonzaga, and the 22-year-old should only get more attention in the NBA.

ESPN's draft board has Clarke listed as the 12th best player in this year's class, but plenty of unexpected things can happen on draft night. The Canadian definitely is a player basketball fans should keep an eye out for moving forward.

 

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Ameer Tyree

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