Charlotte Hornets

Why Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke has Charlotte Hornets attention in NBA draft run-up

Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke says his initial meeting with the Charlotte Hornets couldn’t have gone much better.

Except no Michael Jordan. Not yet, anyway.

In all likelihood, Clarke would have to be drafted by the Hornets, with their No. 12 overall pick, to meet the team’s iconic owner. Clarke is definitely under consideration; the 6-foot-8 forward said his first predraft workout will be in Charlotte, presumably next week, in preparation for the June 20 draft.

Whether or not Clarke is ultimately the Hornets’ first-round selection, it makes sense to explore his skill set. General manager Mitch Kupchak and coach James Borrego both identified interior defense as a weakness this past season. The Hornets were 16th among 30 teams in that area, allowing an average of 49 points per game in the lane.

Clarke was the third-most productive shot-blocker in college basketball last season, averaging 3.16 per game. He says he also has the defensive versatility to guard multiple positions, which is at a premium when the Hornets and so many other teams want to switch through pick-and-rolls.

“I personally think I can guard some 1-through-5 (point guard through center). Obviously, there are some (centers) that I would struggle guarding, but I don’t think there are any 1-through-4s I would have a hard time guarding.” Clarke said during a media session at the NBA Draft Combine.

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“There are some really tough small forwards obviously, but I think I’d be just as good as anyone else guarding them.”

Defense won’t be the hurdle in his move to the NBA. The flaws are on offense.

Little shooting range

In the modern NBA game, power forwards are tasked as much to take 3-pointers as to grab rebounds. Think of the Hornets’ Marvin Williams, who averaged more than six attempts from 3-point range last season and made 37 percent of them.

Williams wasn’t always a 3-point threat; he averaged fewer than one per game his first three NBA seasons. But Clarke enters the league at a very different time and his shooting isn’t there. He made just 25 percent from college 3-point range.

“If I can prove to them that I can shoot it somewhat, I think they’ll be pretty happy with me,” Clarke said.

“Teams want to know how my game will translate (from college to the NBA). Teams know I can jump high and I’m quick.”

‘Longer path’

Patience and work have never daunted Clarke, a Canadian whose family migrated to Phoenix when he was 3. He was 16 before he ever dunked, then a growth spurt raised his height from 6-foot-2 to 6-8.

He wasn’t widely recruited, spending his first two college seasons at San Jose State. He played so well his sophomore season (averaging 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds) that national power Gonzaga took him as a transfer. Now he’s a sure-thing first-rounder with a 40-inch vertical leap.

“It was a different path for me and it was definitely a longer path,” Clarke said.

“I’m 22 and there are some guys here who are only 18 years old. That being said, I’m still here.”

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