Since SJSU, Brandon Clarke has continued to develop
The Memphis Grizzlies are not the top team in the NBA at the moment, but its young roster has sprung some surprises along the way. Ja Morant is the NBA Rookie of the Year favorite, but he is not the only first-year player making noise for the Grizzlies.
Brandon Clarke is contributing with an average of 12.1 points per game. More impressively, he is shooting at 62.0% from the field, fifth best in the league. That shooting percentage is also putting him on track to break the rookie record, currently held by Steve Johnson at 61.34% during the 1981-81 season.
Clarke almost didn’t finish the season on the court. He suffered a quadriceps injury late February but the NBA pause gave him enough time to heal.
Prior to becoming the No. 21 pick in 2019, the Vancouver native was a college basketball standout at Gonzaga University. But before that he actually started his career at a less high-profile school. After graduating from Desert Vista High School high school in Arizona in 2015, he spent his first two college years in California with the San Jose State Spartans.
His freshman year he averaged 8.8 points per game and was named Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year after putting up 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in conference play.
The following year he more than doubled his scoring average. He was registering 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, which got him into the All-MW First Team and Mountain West All-Defensive Team.
The Spartans, not usually at the top of the conference, held a 23-38 losing record through 2015-17 even with Clarke in the roster. Head coach Dave Wojcik resigned in July 2017 and Clarke entered the transfer portal not long after. He landed at Gonzaga that August and sat out for the first year.
As a redshirt junior during the 2018-19 season, Clarke made 37 appearances, 36 of those as a starter. He averaged 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting at 68.7% from the field. He showed off his shooting abilities against North Dakota State on Nov. 26, 2017 going 9-for-9.
Clarke was first in the West Coast Conference in field goal percentage and made it into The All-WCC First Team. He earned both the WCC Defender and Newcomer of the year honors.
Clarke was part of a Bulldogs roster that went 33-4 overall and 16-0 in the conference and made it to the Elite Eight in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. He set the single game record in an NCAA Tournament game for Gonzaga with 36 points when the Bulldogs played Baylor in the second round of the Big Dance.
Now at the next level of his basketball career, Clarke continues to stand out. He was the 2019 NBA Las Vegas Summer League MVP, and also made the first team All-Summer League.
He has done enough during the regular season to get his name mentioned as a potential member of this season’s All-Rookie Team, one of these mentions coming from ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s ballot.
Clarke has also been talked about for Rookie of the Year and 6th Man of the Year award. When asked about the latter during his media availability on July 22, Clarke didn’t try to hide his confidence but also expressed gratitude.
“Just me as a player, I have a lot of trust in myself. I’m not shocked to have my name there but it is really cool to see that because obviously it’s my first year and there’s so many other great players that come off the bench,” he said. “Just to have my name even near them is something that’s really cool to me and I’m very grateful about it.”
Five Memphis players are scoring in double figures, and four of those are under 25 years old. Morant leads with an average of 17.8 points and 7.1 assists per game.
Jaren Jackson Jr. followed closely with 17.4 points per game while leading the team in blocks with 1.6 per game. The team won’t count with him anymore as he’s out due to a meniscus tear, but they have the third most consistent scorer in 24-year-old Dillon Brooks with 15.7 points per game.
Memphis is still in the running for a spot in the playoffs, but injuries and inexperience are making it more difficult as the Grizzlies have yet to get a win since the restart.
Even though Memphis has been getting itself into an uncomfortable situation, Clarke was still positive on Thursday afternoon.
“Our group is also very, very resilient and able to fight back,” he said in a post-practice press conference. “It’s something that we’ve done pretty much the whole season… We just gotta keep on doing our thing and tune up the things that we were doing wrong and then we’ll be fine.”