The No. 21 pick in June out of Gonzaga, he averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in leading the Grizzlies to the championship game, and for that he was named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP.
Clarke had 23 points – including four in overtime – and 14 rebounds to lead eighth-seeded Memphis. Tyler Harvey, whose 3-pointer tied it in regulation, added 13 points, and Bruno Caboclo had 12.
“We had some moments in the game today where we couldn’t score, things weren’t going the right way, we were trying (but) our legs were not there,” said Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins, the only NBA head coach to also coach his summer league team. “(Brandon) was just being super verbal with the team … I’m really proud of how he kept the team together. Obviously, the plays he makes down the stretch are very impressive.”
Clarke, who was taken with the 21st pick in the draft via a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, wasn’t able to participate with the Grizzlies until the NBA cleared the deal and it became official July 6. In four games, he’s averaging 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds.
“It’s pretty much getting off all that rust I kind of had on me,” Clarke said. “It was tough at the start because I couldn’t really do much with the team. Every time that I play basketball I want to win. I think that we all just kind of feel that as a team. Even though this is not like a real NBA tournament versus the big NBA dudes, we also want to win.”
The Grizzlies will face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the title game Monday after Minnesota beat Brooklyn 85-77 behind 20 points from Naz Ried.
New Orleans reached the final four despite missing No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, who took a knee-to-knee hit in the second quarter of the team’s first game on opening night and was shut down for the remainder of the league.
“We started this Summer League off being about Zion Williamson; once he was out, then it became something different,” New Orleans summer league coach Fred Vinson said. “This group really bonded together. They supported each other. Guys who were playing on the floor, guys who weren’t playing on the floor, they supported each other. I wanted those guys to become a team.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams
This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.
Three Things to Know: Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, for him and Trail Blazers
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, both for him and the Trail Blazers. This was just stomach turning.
With 2:22 in the second overtime between Portland and Brooklyn, Trail Blazers’ big man Jusuf Nurkic went up for an offensive rebound and when he came down he landed awkwardly, his left leg bending in ways legs simply should not ever bend. (We are not running the video in this story, if you want to see it check out our original post on the injury, but be warned this is one you may want to avoid.)
Nurkic has suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also the recovery will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this, but as Jeff Stotts of the injury blog In Street Clothes noted, the only thing like this is Paul George‘s Team USA injury, and it took him eight months to get back on the court and much longer to regain his form).
This is devastating for Nurkic personally. The Bosnian big man signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer, then came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was playing at an All-Star level (it’s just making that team in the West is like climbing the Matterhorn because of all the talent in the conference, including at center).
This is also devastating for the Trail Blazers — a year after getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round by New Orleans, there has been real optimism this year’s Blazers were better built to make a postseason run. Nurkic’s improved play was at the heart of that optimism.
On offense, he is the primary screen setter for Damian Lillard — the Lillard/Nurkic pairing is the second most used pick-and-roll combination in the league via NBA tracking data (D’Angelo Russell/Jarrett Allen of Brooklyn is first). Nurkic not only sets a big, solid screen, but he’s also become much better as a playmaker, meaning when teams inevitably trap Lillard to get the ball out of his hands he can dump it off to the rolling Nurkic and the big man can find the open shooter or score himself. Portland’s offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better this season than a season ago and Nurkic is at the heart of that improvement.
Defensively, Nurkic drops back off picks and does a good job using his size to clog the lane. When opponents try to drive on him, he’s adept at blocking and altering shots.
The problem is the drop off in talent after Nurkic at the center spot for Portland. Enes Kanter was brought in and has played the most backup minutes recently, and he is a good scorer on offense but not the playmaker that Nurkic is. However, the bigger issue with Kanter (and Meyers Leonard) is he struggles mightily to defend the pick-and-roll, something any opponent will attack in the playoffs. We may see more Zach Collins thrust into the backup five spot (he has played more four lately), he’s more mobile as a defender and can both roll or pick-and-pop on offense, but there’s a reason he’s fallen back in the Portland rotation, he is young and inconsistent.
Portland clinched a playoff spot by still getting the win over Brooklyn on Monday night, however, what seed they can hold on to is up in the air. Portland is currently the four seed in the West, 2.5 games up on the Jazz and Clippers (the Blazers are three games up in the loss column on both). Without Nurkic and C.J. McCollum as they head out on a four-game road trip (McCollum could be out much if not all of the rest of the regular season with a knee injury), the Blazers could stumble and lose out on home court in the first round.
Wherever they start the playoffs, advancing past that just got a whole lot tougher on Monday night.
2) Devin Booker puts on a show scoring 59, but Jazz dunk their way to win anyway. There were two very different offensive shows going on in Salt Lake City on Monday night. On one end, Devin Booker was just hitting everything on his way to 59 points.
Utah got the win handily, 125-92. They even fouled Booker at the end of the game so he couldn’t get to 60 points (Jimmer Fredette helped with that, the new Suns’ guard jacked up some shots even when Booker was put back in the game late just to get to 60).
3) Oklahoma City’s struggles continue, this time in a loss to Memphis. A couple of months ago, Oklahoma City looked like the second-best team in the Western Conference, a team poised to make a deep playoff run — they have two elite players in Paul George (an MVP candidate) and Russell Westbrook, a stout defense led by Steven Adams, and they create matchup problems.
Or they used to. OKC has lost 5-of-6, the latest to Memphis — without Mike Conley — on Monday night. The Thunder have fallen all the way back to the eight seed (tied with San Antonio for 7/8) and could well get their nightmare scenario of facing Golden State in the first round.
The problem has been on the offensive end, where Paul George has gone into a slump, Westbrook is still putting up numbers but is not efficient, and at least Dennis Schroder seems to have gotten out of his funk. That was the case in Memphis: George had 30 points but needed 29 shots, Westbrook had 16 points on 20 shots, and Schroder was the man with 25 points on 14 shots.
Meanwhile, the star of the game was Bruno Caboclo with a career-high 24-points.
This is the second season is a row George has struggled after the All-Star break. Last season he shot 38.5 percent overall (32.4 percent from three) after the break. This season it’s 38.6 percent shooting overall and 32.9 percent from three.
George and the Thunder have eight games to get this figured out or it may not matter who OKC faces in the first round of the playoffs.
This is a one-year minimum-salary contract Houston can convert in a two-way deal. It could also include a bonus of $5,000-$50,000 if the Rockets waive him and assign him to their minor-league affiliate.
Caboclo washed out in Toronto and still struggled when receiving more – though still little – playing time with the Kings late last season. Attitude issues with the Brazilian national team don’t engender confidence, either.
But Caboclo is still just 22 and possesses the athletic tools that made him intriguing in the first place. He’s a longshot, but it’s too soon to give up on him completely.