Kris Clyburn was the first recruit to sign with UNLV under Marvin Menzies, and that makes him something of a poster boy for the new coach’s incoming class. The 6-foot-6 swingman also looks to be a building block for the Rebels, as he posted solid numbers for a good juco program and has three full years of eligibility remaining. But what will Clyburn bring to the table during his time at UNLV?
It’s hard to find detailed statistics for junior college players, so I decided to pull out my amateur scouting card and watch some footage of Clyburn from this past season. I could only find two full Ranger College games online, but they were playoff games against (presumably) good competition, so I kept a close eye on Clyburn to see if any particular traits stood out.
Clyburn came off the bench in both games, but played starter’s minutes. He checked in around the 17 minute mark of the first half of both games and never subbed out again, logging 37 and 36 minutes, respectively. During that time, he averaged 20.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while making an efficient 14-of-23 shots from the field (3-of-4 3FGs).
The stats were good, but let’s take a closer look at how the future Rebel performed:
The first thing that stood out with Clyburn was his play on the defensive end. He was his league’s Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 1.3 steals per game as a freshman, so he’s obviously doing something right. Though he’s not bulky, he’s long and bouncy and uses that to disrupt opponents. He’s also willing to work hard on that end of the court.
In the two games I watched, Clyburn played excellent on-ball defense. In the first game, Ranger was trailing by 16 points in the second half until coach Billy Gillispie moved Clyburn from the wing and put him on the opponent’s point guard, a tactic that sparked a big comeback win. Clyburn was able to contain the smaller point guard and limit dribble penetration, while at the same time his size allowed him to switch onto bigger players and cut off pick-and-roll sets. In the second contest, Clyburn defended the opposing team’s top scoring option and consistently forced him to take tough shots. He also forced a few turnovers:
[Note: Clyburn is wearing No. 21 in these clips.]
In addition to his natural gifts (quick feet, length, athleticism), Clyburn also demonstrated a willingness to get his hands dirty under the basket. He averaged 5.2 rebounds per game in 2015-16, and in the two games I watched, he was quick to box out and go after rebounds. Past Rebels teams did not stress boxing out, so adding a perimeter player who seems to embrace that fundamental part of the game should be a pleasant change of pace:
Clyburn wasn’t perfect, however. Like most freshmen, he struggled with some of the more nuanced aspects of playing defense. He has a habit of jumping passing lanes and gambling for steals, which is not necessarily a bad thing—Rebels fans took joy in watching Patrick McCaw turn that into an art form—but Clyburn misjudged too many plays in the two games I saw. He went after passes, missed, and let the ball get behind him, leaving his man in a position to attack the defense:
And while Clyburn played good defense on the ball, he showed a tendency to lose touch with his assignment away from the ball. In one game, the opposing coaches targeted him by calling two alley-oops for his man, and Clyburn got caught on back screens on both plays. A lapse in awareness also cost him when he lost sight of his man and allowed a wide-open corner 3-point attempt:
The good news for UNLV is that those weaknesses are correctable with experience and coaching. The most important takeaway from these clips is that Clyburn has the physical tools and the mindset to be a good defender across multiple positions at the Division I level, and there’s a good chance Menzies can get him to play at a high level over the next three years.
Although Clyburn averaged 14.3 points per game while shooting 59.9 percent at Ranger, his offensive game isn’t as advanced as his defense. Whereas Gillispie used him as a chess piece on defense, moving him around to dictate matchups, on offense Clyburn was usually relegated to spotting up in the corners and waiting for kick-out passes.
The positive is that Clyburn excelled in that role, drilling his 3’s to the tune of 50.8 percent (32-of-63). He also showed good ability to catch swing passes and attack close-out defenders. When given a clear path into the lane, Clyburn is capable of long-striding his way to the basket, and he’s also a surprisingly nifty passer once he gets inside the defense.
Clyburn is also a weapon in the open court. His speed and athleticism allow him to change from defense to offense quickly, and in live-ball turnover situations he is very quick to leak out on the break for easy finishes:
Where Clyburn struggles is when he tries to break down defenders off the dribble. His handle is not tight, and his footwork gets out of whack once he starts trying to string moves together. In the two games I watched, his dribble-drive attempts against set defenses led to multiple live-ball turnovers and traveling violations:
For now, Clyburn is much more effective when he drives against off-balance defenders who are rushing to close out on his 3-point shot. He may develop a better off-the-bounce game to use against set defenses over the next few years, but even if he never becomes the type of scorer who creates his own buckets, his projectable skill set should still make him a valuable player. A top-notch wing defender who can guard multiple positions, rebound outside his area, knock down open 3’s and finish on the break probably stands to earn a lot of playing time under Menzies (or any coach, for that matter).