Chris Clemons: Nate Robinson reincarnate?

Although Deyonta Davis is the Houston Rockets’ summer league prospect with the best chance of contributing in the near future, there’s no doubting Chris Clemons is the most captivating.

Clemons made his name the past few seasons going scorched-earth on a nightly basis for Campbell University to the tune of an NCAA-leading, 30 points per game this past year on 44.8 percent from the field, 36 percent from beyond the arc, and 87 percent from the line.

At 5’9, 180 pounds, with a 44-inch vertical, one wouldn’t be mistaken for believing Clemons is Nate Robinson reincarnate. And it’s not just the physical profile. Much like Robinson, Clemons is an undersized, score-first guard with a deadly jumper and an uncanny ability to finish amongst the trees.

Having developed in a different era, Clemons’ game differs from Robinson mainly in that he shoots far more threes (57 percent of his offense, to be exact). As one can imagine, to approximate that sort of volume at his size, Clemons has a knack for spotting up well beyond the line when playing off-ball and hoisting difficult attempts off the dribble when he needs to isolate—both skills that scream “Moreyball”.

Unfortunately, as befell Robinson, Clemons’ size puts serious restrictions on his upside in the league (hence, why he went undrafted). Clemons’ main knock is his defense, or lack thereof. Despite playing in a porous conference and never drawing the toughest assignments in an effort to conserve his energy for offense, Clemons never cracked even NCAA-average defensive efficiency while at Campbell. Clemons is capable of defending the pick-and-roll well due to his brutish physique and quick feet, but essentially all other actions put him at a disadvantage. In particular, hiding Clemons on supporting players is a non-starter, as his size prevents him from adequately contesting shots from beyond the arc.

Additionally, Clemons is oft-critiqued for his inability to run the offense and distribute for others efficiently—he posted a 1.1 assist to turnover ratio despite playing in a mediocre-at-best conference. Although Clemons’ explosiveness and scoring prowess combine to create plenty of opportunities to produce offense for teammates, his stature vastly shrinks passing windows to big men in the pick-and-roll and/or to shooters when his drives.

However, Clemons shook off a lot of the doubt that followed him by winning MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational during the pre-draft process. An annual event, Portsmouth is a short tournament for college basketball’s under-hyped seniors to compete against one another in front of limitless NBA scouts in hopes of improving their stock. Clemons’ performance was especially encouraging, as he had yet to show scouts his skillset can consistently affect the game against competition superior to that he saw at Campbell.

It’s difficult to project how exactly Clemons will perform in summer league considering he’ll be sharing ball-handling responsibilities with a similar player in St. John’s product, Shamorie Ponds and since the competition is, once again, the best he’ll have ever played against. But, according to a post-draft interview Clemons conducted with Rodd Baxley of the Fayetteville Observer, Rockets’ brass is confident he fits with their style of play and has a real chance to make the roster.

If Clemons’ game at the next level truly is comparable to Robinson—the only player to ever have his jersey retired at summer league—Rockets’ fans are in for a treat. If he pops at summer league, don’t be surprised if he usurps Chris Chiozza as the Rockets’ two-way contract, guard depth next season.

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