CHICAGO — Brandon Clarke was viewed as a bit of an enigma entering the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
There was no doubting the Gonzaga forward’s skill set at the combine, which wrapped up Friday evening after two days at Quest Multisport near United Center.
Clarke, who averaged 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds and led the team with 117 blocked shots at Gonzaga last season, finished first among frontcourt players with a 40 1/2-inch max vertical and was top two at his position in lane agility and standing vertical.
Standing 6-foot-8 and with a wingspan of around 6-foot-8, Clark is considered a sure thing defensively.
The lingering question is whether he can shoot consistently enough to make it at the next level.
“I’ve worked really hard on my shot,” Clarke said. “Pull up threes. Isolation. It’s been coming along great. It’s just going to get better and better.”
Clarke, 22, met with 15 teams in Chicago and was particularly jazzed about a sitdown with his hometown team, the Phoenix Suns. The Suns pick sixth, and general manager James Jones said the more intimate workout and interview at team headquarters is always the most important.
Clarke is currently projected as a lottery pick but understands his final standing will be determined by private team workouts starting next week.
“I wasn’t very nervous,” Clarke said, adding that he views Shawn Marion as a decent player comparison. “Just putting my best foot forward. I feel like I could fit with almost every NBA team.”
Clarke did not play in the full-court, five-on-five games Thursday or Friday, but Gonzaga teammate Zach Norvell Jr. got the experience of playing with Larry Bird courtside. He didn’t let the opportunity slip away, scoring 18 points while taking on a team that included Virginia guard Kyle Guy and Auburn point guard Jared Harper.
The only member of Duke’s outgoing freshman class to stick around to meet the media at the combine was Cam Reddish, who also is a projected lottery pick behind Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Williamson is projected to be the first player drafted, while Reddish could be selected third to the New York Knicks.
Reddish said he “absolutely” has chip on his shoulder and has something to prove, but he felt it was valuable to show NBA teams he learned how to share the spotlight.
“They’re two of the best players out there, they’re phenomenal,” Reddish said. “We all wanted to get better. That was the ultimate goal.”
Reddish said he’s been told he needs to be more consistent and work on his body.
“I’m extremely confident right now,” Reddish said. “I’m extremely happy for them, too. They’re great guys. I’m sure they’ll get what they deserve.”
Tacko Fall is used to being a head-turner at 7-foot-6, but the UCF center is getting positive attention at the combine this week. The thing is, he has something you can’t teach.
“I don’t think I’m going to keep growing, but we’ll see,” Fall said. “For people my size, the biggest thing they’re looking for is: Can he move? Can he guard? Can he get up and down the floor?”
Fall’s wingspan was measured at 8-foot-2 1/4 — yes, he can dunk flatfooted — but he was not an aggressive presence in five-on-five Friday during the final game of the afternoon session.
Fall appeared overwhelmed by the moment at times, going an entire 10-minute pregame warmup session without attempting a shot while glaring toward the bleachers full of scouts and coaches.
“I thank God that I’m in this position. I’m blessed to be here,” Fall said. “I’m doing everything that I need to do.”
Croatian teen Luka Samanic could be the top international prospect in 2019, but he is not yet certain he will remain in the draft even though buzz around his status has been largely positive. He said the most important thing for him is going to the right organization, not being drafted at the top of the first round.
“Guys are bigger, much more physical. That’s one of the problems,” said Samanic, measured at 6-9 1/2 barefoot in Chicago and officially weighed in at 227 pounds. “I’m playing as a power forward. There are some big boys here, also in the NBA. Just fighting and not backing down.”
Samanic said he went from 208 to 230 pounds during the course of the past season with Petrol Olimpija of the Slovenian League and ABA League.
Samanic, who doesn’t turn 20 until January, moved well in five-on-five games in Chicago, with ball-handling skills that imply his ceiling hasn’t been met.
He scored 13 points with seven boards on Thursday before deciding he was satisfied with his showing and didn’t need to play Friday.
–By Jeff Reynolds (@ReynoldsJD), Field Level Media