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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Film Room: The return of Clevon Brown

After a knee injury ended his 2019-20 season, Clevon Brown returns as an essential do-it-all piece for the 2020-21 Commodores.
Vanderbilt forward Clevon Brown returns for his fifth season on West End this year. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel).

As Jerry Stackhouse enters his second year at the helm on West End, his frontcourt will look very different. The Commodores’ biggest weakness last season was a lack of sizable interior players. Not only did they lack a consistent starting presence down low, but they also lacked depth at both the power forward and center positions.

Throughout the Southeastern Conference (SEC) season, Stackhouse’s team suffered against opposing post players. According to KenPom, Vanderbilt allowed opposing teams to grab an offensive rebound on 29.4% of shots, 243rd nationally. They also allowed opponents to shoot 53% from inside the three point arc, which ranked 297th in the country.

With players such as LSU’s Trendon Watford and Kentucky’s Olivier Sarr expected to be forces on the interior, it will be imperative for the Commodores’ frontcourt play to improve. And this year, Stackhouse has depth to lean on.

One of the reasons for Vanderbilt’s poor interior play last year was the early-season injury to senior Clevon Brown. Brown, mostly known as an impact defender, played just nine games for Stackhouse last season. In those nine games however, he showed incredible offseason growth. After starting just 17 games his previous three seasons, Brown started every game he appeared in while scoring nine points per game and grabbing a team-leading six rebounds per game.

Because of his shortened season, Brown was given an NCAA medical redshirt year, granting him an extra year of eligibility. On Wednesday, Stackhouse indicated that Quentin Millora-Brown, an eligible transfer from Rice, would likely be the starting center, meaning Brown’s return will land him in the team’s sixth man role.

“Probably coming off the bench first with Clevon [Brown] at either the four or the five and that gives us tremendous flexibility,” Stackhouse said Wednesday. “It’s kind of like Saben [Lee] last year coming off the bench for us.”

While this may surprise Commodore fans, Brown’s versatility makes him the perfect sixth man for a team that does not have a ton of bench experience. As a defensive anchor, an improving floor spacer and an experienced frontcourt player, Brown will add a level of security to the team’s second unit and may very well be one of Stackhouse’s most important players.

Versatility on Defense

In addition to blocking shots, Brown does all the little things necessary to round out an effective defensive unit. Whether it be guarding multiple positions, boxing out crashing offensive rebounders or shutting down opponents’ pick-and-rolls, he uses intelligence and craftiness to help bring the entire Vanderbilt defense together.

Because he is only 6’8”, Brown frequently finds himself matched up with oversized offensive players. But to mitigate that size advantage, Brown is always fighting to get in front of opposing post players in order to deflect incoming passes.

Not only does he use this craftiness to be an effective post defender, but his mobility and smaller stature allows him to be an elite pick-and-roll defender. He and Max Evans were an incredibly effective duo against opponent’s pick-and-rolls last season, and they do so with great communication and perfect positioning.

As demonstrated above, Brown has a fantastic understanding of the timing and positioning necessary to defend a pick-and-roll. He is able to quickly identify when his opponent is preparing to set a screen and swiftly moves to first stop the ball. By stopping the ball, he buys his teammate just enough time to move around the screen and return to his matchup. Brown then promptly shifts back to his own defensive matchup, and the pick-and-roll is neutralized.

The clip above demonstrates many of Brown’s best attributes. As Stackhouse’s reaction on the sideline indicates, this is a perfectly played defensive possession by his big man. 

First, Brown notices Liberty’s driving guard and rotates from the opposite block to prevent a straight line drive. Next, he realizes that, amidst the drive, Scotty Pippen Jr. rotated to help on his matchup. He quickly communicates with Pippen Jr. by throwing up his right hand to indicate he has returned to his former matchup and that Pippen Jr. can rotate back to his own matchup. And finally, alongside Saben Lee, Brown completely deflates Liberty’s pick-and-roll attempt. He pushes the opposing guard away from the basket using a double team and eventually forces a turnover. 

Ironically, this was actually the play that Brown was injured on, as he is seen grasping at his knee following the Liberty turnover. But it is a terrific example of the many little things that he brings to the Commodores defense.

Rim Protector

In just 107 career games, Brown ranks seventh on Vanderbilt’s all-time blocks list and five of the six Commodores ahead of him are at least 6’10”. Brown is just 6’8”. He has registered multiple seasons with over 40 rejections and figures to continue moving up that list this season.

He finished as one of the SEC’s top-20 shot blockers in both his sophomore and junior seasons, but his effectiveness as a rim protector has little to do with his size or length. Most of his success at the rim is rooted in fundamentals and discipline.

He is a tremendous help defender who always understands where the ball is. By recognizing where the ball is, he is able to make swift rotations and find the perfect spots on the floor to contest shots. As shown above, he often rotates from the complete opposite side of the floor to impact an opponent’s shot attempt.

Once he rotates to contest a shot, he has a good understanding of timing. Rarely does Brown bite on pump fakes, and his ability to remain on the floor limits his fouls, a problem many of Stackhouse’s younger Commodores struggled with last year.

By always seeing the ball, rotating to the proper spots, and staying on the floor until an opponent shoots, Brown makes a serious impact on opponents’ shots. 

Screener, Crasher, Floor Spacer

While he may not fill up the point column in the box score, Brown is an essential piece of the complicated NBA offense that Stackhouse wants to run. Stackhouse frequently speaks of assigning roles to players, and Brown’s offensive role is to be a versatile cog who helps others create offense.

First, he is a capable screener who thrived last season in pick-and roll sets alongside both Scotty Pippen Jr. and Saben Lee. In the clip below, not only does he set a hard screen, but he then catches a quick chest pass off a roll and finishes high at the rim.

What also stands out from this clip is his willingness to set screens and initiate offense. Stackhouse often places him at the foul line or the top of the key so he can bounce from wing to wing setting screens. Whether it be a side ball screen, off-ball pin-down screen, or a simple dribble hand-off, Brown is both willing and capable of initiating the complex aspects of Vanderbilt’s offense.

Second, Brown is constantly looking to attack the offensive glass. Nearly 44% of his career rebounds are on the offensive end of the floor, a mind-blowing percentage and an element the Commodores were sorely lacking last season.

In Brown’s nine games, he registered 2.4 offensive boards per game. That was almost an entire rebound more than any other player on the Commodores roster. And in both his sophomore and junior seasons, he ranked among the top 17 offensive rebounders in the SEC.

Brown cleans the offensive glass so effectively by playing above the rim and using crafty interior spin moves and cuts to find the ball. His leaping ability allows him to fly in for putbacks as seen in the clips above. But his craftiness allows him to find the perfect spots on the floor for an offensive rebound. His ability to keep Vanderbilt possessions alive will be a welcome addition to this year’s team.

And third, Brown is an improving floor spacer who will certainly take more three pointers than ever this season. Stackhouse has made it clear that he will be playing minutes at both the power forward and center positions, and with that comes a need to space the floor.

Despite only attempting 13 threes last year, Brown hit on five of them and showed a newfound willingness to attempt three pointers. Stackhouse drew up several set plays for Brown to get open three point shots, including on the first possession of the 2019-20 season against Southeast Missouri State, as shown above.

While his fundamentals are not flawless, he has good balance and elevation and has actually shot 100 three pointers in his career, demonstrating he can be more than just a screen-setter. 

Although he will not be in the starting group on Friday when the Commodores take on Valparaiso, Clevon Brown will play an important role in Vanderbilt’s success. He may not be flashy or a go-to scorer, but he does plenty of little things on both ends of the floor that go unnoticed. Don’t be surprised if Brown is on the floor in crunch time this season and plays his way onto an NBA roster one day.

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About the Contributor
Justin Hershey
Justin Hershey, Former Sports Editor
Justin Hershey ('22) was Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Deputy Sports Editor and Lead Sports Analyst. He majored in human and organizational development with minors in business and economics. In addition to writing, he hosts The Hustler Sports 30 Podcast, enjoys playing golf and is waiting for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers to complete The Process. For tips and comments, feel free to reach out to: [email protected]    
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