New York Knicks: RJ Barrett’s top five challengers for NBA Rookie of the Year

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5. Brandon Clarke

Rarely is the No. 21 overall pick mentioned in the 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year conversation, let alone anyone after 20th. These players are usually written off as reserves or just those without a chance to leave an impression in their first year. Few players from the New York Knicks taken that low entered that conversation.

Well, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke has the chance to shatter this in his six-month rookie campaign.

Jaren Jackson Jr. is the new leader of that frontcourt, with Ja Morant ready to dish to him and the other young players. That might remove Clarke from the conversation immediately, but after an NCAA Tournament performance that put him on the map at Gonzaga, along with an impressive summer-league run, this player’s stock is high right now:

  • 2019 NCAA Tournament Stats: 32.0 minutes, 20.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 3.8 blocks, 64.7 percent shooting
  • 2019 Summer League Stats: 22.0 minutes, 14.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.8 blocks, 55 percent shooting (won the Summer League MVP award)

No matter how long Clarke played in either part of his basketball year, his numbers were difficult to scoff at. Sure, at 6-foot-8, he plays like an undersized center, given the absence of a three-point shot, and he potentially fell down the draft due to this and being an “old” 23-year-old rookie once the season starts.

Talent trumps all, though, and if Clarke carves a role on a mostly-open Grizzlies team, he could sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation by season’s end. At least, watch for him to enter the All-Rookie conversation.