Will Clyburn is making his NBA case

Feb 20, 2013; Waco, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) and guard Will Clyburn (21) box out Baylor Bears guard Brady Heslip (5) during the second half at the Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2013; Waco, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) and guard Will Clyburn (21) box out Baylor Bears guard Brady Heslip (5) during the second half at the Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Malcolm Delaney has been a revelation for the Atlanta Hawks this season. Delaney came into training camp as something of an unknown, but quickly has taken to filling their backup point guard role. The 27-year old from Virginia Tech hasn’t shot very well (Early promise has dropped off to a true shooting percentage of 47 percent), but he’s second among Hawks rotation players in assist rate, and has been better than Dennis Schroder as an on-ball defender at the point guard position. He still has room for improvement, but the early returns imply that the Hawks should be in a good spot with Delaney as Schroder’s backup going forward.

Delaney’s readiness for a rotation spot is a surprise given how much he had to go through to get to this point. An All-ACC first team member in 2011, Delaney never really got much buzz as a draft prospect. He instead went over to Europe, where he spent five seasons in France, Ukraine, Germany, and Russia. A 2013 Summer League invite with the Detroit Pistons wasn’t fruitful, but he was able to build his game overseas, eventually leading to him averaging 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game for Lokomotiv Kuban during their surprise Euroleague Final 4 run last season. He developed from a score-first shooting guard to a quality scoring point guard, working his tail off through the ranks of Europe’s many leagues to get here.

Delaney is an inspiration to American players who are playing in Europe, and his success finding a role in the NBA may lead to NBA teams trying to unearth more of these types of players moving forward. So who fits this profile, as an underrated American in Europe who could make the jump to the NBA? This year, there’s a good answer: Will Clyburn of Darussafaka Dogus.

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Clyburn has taken a similar path to the one Delaney ventured on along his way to the NBA. The 6-foot-6 wing wasn’t sought after in the 2013 NBA Draft, despite a solid season at Iowa State as a senior. He instead headed to Germany, catching on at ratiopharm Ulm in 2013-2014. He earned Summer League invites with the Kings and Clippers after each of his two seasons with the German club, but neither led to training camp invites. After his tour with the Clippers in 2015, he signed on with Hapoel Holon in Israel, where he broke out, averaging 20.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. That performance earned him a contract with Darussafaka in the Euroleague, where he’s been rock solid. Through 11 games, he’s averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, helping Datca to a 5-6 start that finds them in the thick of the playoff race.

For a Euroleague scorer to transition to the NBA, they’ll need at least one solid NBA-level skill that you know will translate. For Delaney, that was comfort in the pick-and-roll. For Clyburn? It’s his strength. Even though he’s 6-foot-6, Clyburn can play up to the small forward spot, and he translates that strength into a driving game that is Hardenesque in its combined deception and brutality. He has an off-kilter driving style that allows him to get the advantage on opponents if he pulls up for a floater:

Clyburn has an array of moves he uses to get good looks at the basket against larger opponents. In addition to the above stutter-step, he likes to use a strong spin-move to shake defenders off the bounce. He uses his elbow to clear space, and is able to explode up into an attack of the basket:

Of course, Clyburn’s repertoire also includes some raw strength moves. Here he is in a game against Olympiacos, shedding Vassilis Spanoulis like an autumn jacket:

Clyburn is also able to leverage that strength into being a strong rebounder. He’s posted a healthy 16.8 percent defensive rebound rate this season, and he uses his vertical athleticism well on the offensive end, doing a strong job of rebounding his own misses:

Clyburn is able to get to the line a decent amount off of these strong drives. He’s averaging 3.8 free throw attempts per 40 minutes this season, and dominated in Israel, averaging 7.2 attempts per 40 in 15-16. A drawback to this is that he’s not very efficient in converting the opportunities — while he has the strength to finish against contact, he’s struggled from the line in his career, shooting just 71.5 percent from the line.

Clyburn has also been able to leverage that strength into being a strong perimeter defender. He’s an active defender, who doesn’t shy away from defending one-through-four for Darussafaka. While he doesn’t have the best footwork, he fights through screens well in the pick-and-roll, and generally competes well.

Where Clyburn would struggle most in the NBA is in outside shooting. Clyburn has hit 30.8 percent of his 3s this year, and he’s never been a deadeye outside shooter. This is because his form leaves a lot to be desired. He barely gets any lift from his legs, and his release is from above and behind his head:

Where Clyburn is stronger as a shooter is in the mid-range. His mechanics are better off the bounce, as he’s able to use his momentum to generate more lift out of his lower body:

Clyburn has taken the scenic route to where he is today. Between a college career that saw seasons spent in Junior College, Utah, and Iowa State, and his European career, Clyburn has been far from typical when you look at a potential NBA player. However, he’s playing that way right now.

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With his ability to score off the dribble, defend at a solid level, and rebound well for a wing, he brings several skills to the table that should allow him to play the role of a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, someone who can attack off the dribble and defend competently and compete with larger wings off the bench. Whether his shooting and overall efficiency hold him back remains to be seen, but Clyburn should be an enticing player to NBA teams this coming summer if he continues to play this well in Turkey.