Scouting Report: Jaylen Clark
Jaylen Clark is the lone incoming freshman for UCLA men’s basketball next season. Clark was a four-star prospect and averaged 18.5 points per game as a senior at Etiwanda High School last season. (Courtesy of Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)
By Ryan Smith
June 4, 2020 4:06 p.m.
Five-star point guard Daishen Nix spurned UCLA men’s basketball for the NBA G League in April, leaving four-star forward Jaylen Clark as the Bruins’ lone incoming high school recruit for the 2020-2021 season.
Clark – who transferred from Corona Centennial to Etiwanda High School for his senior year – averaged 18.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Eagles this past season, leading the team to a 30-4 record before its eventual elimination at the hands of Sierra Canyon in the CIF Open Division regional finals.
Clark’s role for the upcoming season remains in question given the uncertainty of junior guard Chris Smith’s pending NBA Draft decision. Regardless, it will be difficult for Clark to crack an already-crowded rotation.
Measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Clark has the size to play both shooting guard and small forward for the Bruins, but he will have to beat out rising junior guards Jules Bernard and David Singleton – as well as rising sophomore guard Jake Kyman and rising sophomore guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. – if he wants to earn extended minutes.
Because of the loss of Nix, Singleton will likely slide into the backup point guard role as he did on multiple occasions this past season, which could give Clark a better window of opportunity to see the floor.
If there is one thing that separates Clark from the players in front of him on the depth chart, it’s his defensive potential.
Clark has a wide build and plays with a sense of urgency and toughness on the defensive end, something the Bruins have been lacking in recent years and the type of player that coach Mick Cronin has been known to covet.
“I think he’s a perfect fit for me,” Cronin said in an interview in April. “He’s a tough guy, he’s a hard worker, he’s a winner. He can play all over the floor.”
Perimeter defense is not the strength of anybody in the Bruins’ most recent backcourt rotation, and UCLA struggled with stopping the dribble penetration for much of the 2019 season because of it.
Given Clark’s elite lateral quickness and physical play style, he should have no issues guarding the 1-3 positions and filling that defensive void if need be. It wouldn’t be surprising if Cronin eventually uses him as a designated defender at some point in his career, either.
Offense in progress
Clark is far from an elite scorer, but he has the tools to grow into a formidable offensive weapon for the Bruins down the road.
Clark’s size gives him the ability to attack the basket downhill, despite not being the most prolific ball-handler. He is also a strong finisher around the rim with plenty of strength to absorb contact and finish plays.
Like much of UCLA’s current roster, Clark is at his best offensively while running in transition rather than being in the half-court set. Clark’s verticality and explosiveness make him a lethal weapon in the open court and a highlight reel waiting to happen the second he arrives in Westwood.
Outside of the paint, Clark isn’t known to be much of a shooter. He shot just 26% on 364 3-point attempts during his first three years of high school.
However, the form on his jumper appears to be fundamentally sound. With proper coaching and development, there’s no reason Clark shouldn’t be able to add the 3-pointer to his arsenal eventually.
While it’s unlikely that Clark ever becomes a true isolation scoring option for the Bruins, he certainly could become a consistent double-digit scoring slasher by the end of his collegiate career.
The transition from high school to college basketball isn’t always easy for players because the game speeds up and the stage becomes greater.
However, Clark has plenty of big game experience and has proven to be unafraid of the moment. He finished high school with a 13-9 postseason record and has regularly gone toe-to-toe with some of the nation’s top prospects – including the No. 7 recruit on the 2020 ESPN 100 and Stanford commit Ziaire Williams.
As a junior in December 2018, Clark scored 33 points to Williams’ 31 en route to a nine-point victory. Clark also erupted for 32 points in a postseason loss to Williams – who finished with 23 points – and Sierra Canyon earlier this year on Feb. 21.
Player comparison: Matt Barnes
Clark won’t be lighting up defenses with a polished offensive game, but he will be giving every ounce of energy he has on the defensive end.
Despite being a few inches shorter than Matt Barnes, Clark brings a similar skill set to the table. His long arms and exceptional lateral quickness make him a nuisance on the defensive side of the ball, giving him opportunities to create turnovers that will get UCLA out and running.
The Bruins finished eighth in the Pac-12 in turnovers forced per game this past season, so the addition of Clark should move them up the ladder in 2020-2021.
Like Barnes, Clark will be doing most of his scoring through dribble penetration and with effort plays. Barnes never shot better than 29.4% from beyond the arc until his senior season, but managed to increase his scoring output every year of his collegiate career.
While Clark may never shoot that low of a percentage from long range in college, the majority of his points will still be coming from inside the arc. Expect him to be aggressive, using his size and strength to his advantage.