Monday’s Charlotte Hornets draft workout comes down to two questions:
Is the Hornets’ interior defense deficient enough that it’s an urgent need? And would Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke fill that urgent need?
Clarke finished last season third in college basketball in shot-blocking at 3.16 per game. He isn’t particularly long for a “rim protector” with a 6-foot-8 1/4 wingspan. But he’s a fine leaper (40.5-inch vertical jump) and has the quickness and instincts to change shots at the NBA level.
“I’m going to be able to block anyone’s shot,” Clarke asserted to media following his workout Monday with the Hornets.
“I bring (shot blocking) to any team, and I’m going to get better at it, too, As I get stronger, i feel like there’s room to jump higher”
The Hornets weren’t terrible defending in the lane, but they weren’t good. Opponents averaged 49 points in the lane last season, which was 16th among 30 teams.
No Hornets player averaged a block per game. Marvin Williams finished the season 43rd in the NBA in blocks at 0.81 per game (Cody Zeller averaged 0.84 blocks, but didn’t play enough games to count among league leaders). Center Bismack Biyombo’s traditional strength has been rim protection, but he averaged 0.76 blocks last season.
Unlike so many draft candidates, who turn pro off one season of college basketball, Clarke spent four seasons in the college system. A Canadian who grew up in Phoenix, Clarke spent two seasons at San Jose State before transferring to national power Gonzaga (which meant red-shirting during the 2017-18 season).
In his one season with the Zags, Clarke averaged 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds, in addition to totaling 114 blocks. He has offensive skills, but he needs to improve on his perimeter shooting (just 25 percent from the college 3-point line). Right now, he has an unorthodox jump shot, with a launch point closer to his throat than his nose. It’s similar to how former NBA player Shawn Marion’s shot was. That launch point will make Clarke’s shot easier to defend.
Clarke turns 23 in September, which would make him one of the oldest rookies in this draft class. He contends that can be a plus, rather than a minus, in an NBA that leands to youth and potential.
“I feel like I’ll be ready to play right off the bat,” Clarke said.
“There are some players who are going to have to go through a longer stage than I will to play. I feel like all of the experience I’ve got will really come in handy.”