Chris Clemons is a 5’9” lead guard for the Campbell Fighting Camels, and one of the most prolific scorers in NCAA history. Currently sitting at 2,930 career points, Clemons is likely to crack the top ten all-time Division 1 scoring list in the Camels’ next game against Hampton, and has the chance to pass the likes of Oscar Robertson and Hersey Hawkins as he climbs toward the top five over the remainder of the season.
The undersized, under-recruited scoring phenom has tested the NBA Draft waters each of the past two offseasons, has gone through workouts with the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets, and has returned to Buies Creek on a mission to lead Campbell to its second ever NCAA tournament appearance, cement his NCAA scoring legacy, and prove to NBA scouts that he has what it takes to make it in the pros.
Tale of the Tape
Campbell runs a screen-heavy, motion-oriented iteration of the Princeton offense. Within the context of this offensive scheme, Clemons has thrived at creating separation as a cutter. Clemons’ match-up is often up in his jersey pressuring him as a means to keep the ball out of his hands to deter his self-creation and three-point shooting prowess. Clemons leverages this ball-denial defensive tactic to his advantage by setting up his defender with hard flashes to the ball and utilizing his low center of gravity to quickly shift his momentum, change directions, and burst past his man toward the paint. He does an excellent job of selling this action and reading when his defender either overcommits or is too high in his stance to adequately react to a back-cut.
Clemons’ effectiveness as a cutter doesn’t end with the set-up and cut itself, but is made functional by his strength and creativity as a post-cut paint finisher. Clemons fearlessly attacks the rim with purpose, and is unwavered by the presence of lengthy rim-protectors. He utilizes his momentum and the quickness of his gather to launch himself into the chest of help-side defenders, bounces off of them to create separation, and acrobatically finishes at the rim.
The intersection of Campbell’s offensive philosophy and Clemons’ athleticism and off-ball IQ make him, perhaps, the most effective cutter in the nation. He converts on cut opportunities at a rate of 1.759 PPP, ranking in the 99th percentile.
In the clip below, we highlight Clemons’ deceptive, lightning-quick change-of-pace to set up his cuts, and his ability to use his athleticism and in-air body control to finish over help-side rim protection.
Dribble Hand-Off Scoring Versatility
As noted above, Campbell’s offensive sets are founded upon motion, screening, and cutting. After a few looks for potential quick-hitters to cutters, Campbell’s offense often flows into ball-screens or dribble hand-off (DHO) looks with Clemons as the featured handler. Clemons has been highly efficient over a large sample of DHO/pick-and-roll derived looks this season, and throughout his career. Clemons has become particularly deadly as a creator following DHO actions, converting at a rate of 1.582 PPP, ranking in the 98th percentile.
Clemons excels at rounding the corner with a low center of gravity and coming right off the hip of the hand-off big, which gives him an initial separation advantage. Clemons capitalizes on this space and makes great reads as a scorer/shot-creator dependent on how the defense reacts to this action.
Clemons has a quick-trigger release and is capable of fluidly aligning his feet for off-movement NBA range threes if the opposing big doesn’t show following the hand-off . If the big does hedge out and help, Clemons has a clear speed/athleticism advantage to turn the corner, get down hill, and burst past the switching big. He has even mastered the counter-move of dragging out the help-defender, making him hesitate and think about switching back, creating space with a step-back or side-step, and launching a pull-up jumper. This versatile post-DHO scoring arsenal is an essential piece of Clemons’ offensive profile as a prospect, and gives him a chance to translate to a DHO-heavy NBA.
In the clip below, we highlight Clemons’ scoring versatility following dribble hand-off actions.
Clemons is not your typical small school sub-6’0” volume scorer. We have seen waves of undersized scoring guards at low-to-mid-major programs post high scoring clips without ever amounting to anything at the NBA level due to the lack of translatable aspects of their overall prospect profile. Clemons brings more to the table than those undersized prospects before him. His combination of shooting range, shot creation, explosive burst, strength, and creativity give him a chance of fighting his way to an eventual shot at the NBA.
Following his 2017 workout with Boston, Celtics’ General Manager Danny Ainge’s advice to Clemons included working to get more rise on his jumper to combat close-out length, improving reads of hedging big-men in the pick-and-roll, speeding up his shot release, stepping into his shot more frequently rather than relying on the step-back, being more active and engaged as an on-ball defender, and tightening up the efficiency of his overall game.
Clemons has shown tangible leaps in multiple of Ainge’s areas of constructive criticism, particularly on the offensive end. He gets his shot off more quickly, is converting at career-best clips from both two-point and three-point range, and is posting the lowest TOV% of his career. Clemons’ offensive game has become more refined and more clearly translatable to the next level. Further improvement as a passer and as an overall defender throughout the remainder of the season and into offseason training/workouts would likely help NBA decision-makers solidify their comfortability with his overall prospect profile.
Clemons’ route to the league is likely to entail a stint in the G League, but Clemons has a good chance of being an upper echelon G League performer, earning a two-way contract, and overcoming the odds, yet again, in pursuit of his NBA dreams.