Clarkson or Blatche? Who should Gilas run with in the World Cup?

While the entire country is still hungover on Gilas Pilipinas’ miraculous FIBA World Cup qualificiation, a major question looms over the team: Will Jordan Clarkson be eligible to play for Gilas Pilipinas as a Filipino citizen?

In a recent post on Instagram, the Cleveland Cavaliers guard expressed his interest to join Gilas in China. In an ideal world, Clarkson would join forces with Andray Blatche to create a deadly 1-2 punch that would make Gilas an even more competitive squad for the World Cup.

However, because Clarkson obtained his Filipino passport after the age of 16, FIBA rules do not classify him as a Filipino citizen.

This is a puzzling rule, especially considering how lax the FIFA World Cup is regarding the same issue. SBP has already said that they will ‘do everything’ to appeal against the rule that deems not only Clarkson as ineligible, but also 2017 Asian Games standouts Stanley Pringle and Christian Standhardinger.

However, just as in the past, Gilas must prepare for its appeal to fall on deaf ears. In that case, Clarkson could still don the Gilas Blue and White, but this would mean taking Blatche’s spot as the team’s lone naturalized citizen. Under this assumption, should Gilas roster Andray Blatche or Jordan Clarkson in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup?

Jordan Clarkson

The case for Jordan Clarkson orbits around the idea that he is the superior talent of the two. There’s a reason why Clarkson is a role player in the NBA, and why Blatche has been out of the premier basketball league for half a decade.

In the NBA, Clarkson is seen as an enigmatic player: a volume scorer coming off the bench for a Cavaliers team that currently holds the third worst record in the league. His elite athleticism and streaky scoring ability put him in a category of players capable of carrying teams for stretches, but his weaknesses (poor defense, tendency to play with blinders on) make him an average NBA player at best. In other words, he’s the guard equivalent of Andray Blatche back when the big man was in the NBA.

But Clarkson is a professional scorer, and that’s an extremely valuable trait in the international game, especially because he will probably be Gilas’ first AND second option on offense. Getting Clarkson isn’t the same as fielding a Matthew Dellavedova-type player, whose best skills don’t shine in an international setting. Clarkson can flat out get BUCKETS against ANYBODY, and he showed that during his first stint with the national team in the 2017 Asian Games when he averaged 26.0 points on 46% from the field and 39% from three.

Clarkson definitely gives the Gilas offense a lot more versatility. They could turn their offense into a high-octane attack that focuses on fast breaks and three-pointers when Clarkson is on the floor, then work through June Mar Fajardo in the post when Clarkson sits. And for Gilas to stand any chance to win in the World Cup, they’ll need to incorporate an efficient and effective running game. Clarkson gives them exactly that.

In a halfcourt setting, Clarkson presents himself as an all-around threat in the pick and roll. The Philippine Team ran plenty of PnRs in the Asian Games through Clarkson, and while this was largely because they lacked practice time, the action still proved to be extremely effective.

Why was it so effective? Because when Clarkson gets a head start or a little space from his defender from a pick, it’s game over.

He has the ability to take it all the way to the rack.

He can also confidently rise up for a midrange jumper if the defender takes away the lane.

Clarkson is also intelligent enough to find openings to create for his roll man.

The two-man game gives him the freedom to do what he wants to do and if he does play for Gilas, they can trust that Clarkson will produce positive results. He’s just that talented.

However, the downside is that Clarkson ran this action most effectively with Christian Standhardinger, who will likely not be on the Gilas roster. With Blatche also gone in this scenario, Fajardo would be Gilas’ best big man, and the five-time PBA MVP has never been the most effective PnR partner given the post-up nature of his game.

This would mean that Troy Rosario, Japeth Aguilar or Poy Erram will be Clarkson’s primary roll man, and a tandem with one of them just doesn’t sound very deadly (We miss you, RDO).

But with all due respect to Gilas’ current crop of perimeter players, Clarkson is a two or three rung upgrade in nearly every way. The 6’5” guard has the length, speed and athleticism to beat top level players off the dribble, giving Gilas the perimeter shot creator they’ve needed. He even showed enough of a willingness to distribute during his stint in the Asian Games (5.5 assists), and was decent acting as a free-safety on the defensive end.

Jordan Clarkson is a STUD, and that goes beyond the NBA-player label he carries. Quite frankly, Gilas will be hard-pressed to reject a shot at fielding a player of his caliber in one of basketball’s biggest competitions.

Andray Blatche

There’s no way Gilas would be booking its ticket to China if Andray Blatche didn’t carry them for long stretches of the final window of the Asian Qualifiers. He’s taken a lot of flak for his style of play, and perhaps deservedly so, considering ball stopping sequences such as this:

Defensively, Blatche can be destroyed by opponents in the pick and roll or in motion offenses. He’s very slow on his feet, and gets too foul happy when he tries to catch up to his man.

But in spite of Blatche’s obvious flaws, and the fact that Gilas is being gifted a prime NBA talent on its lap, the argument for keeping the big man on the roster is still very strong.

Why? Because in a lot of ways, Blatche is an indispensable piece.

We all know what positives Blatche can bring to the table already: size, rebounding, shooting, and rim protection (when he’s not missing rotations). But to gain a better perspective on Blatche’s value, it’s better to look at what the situation would be like without Blatche.

The Kraken would be our starting center, and that wouldn’t seem so bleak considering how incredible he was against Kazakhstan. But Fajardo comes with similar defensive issues as Blatche, while also being slightly less of a threat on the boards.

On offense, Fajardo does not space the floor the way Blatche can. He’s limited to being a recipient of post passes (which Gilas has struggled with), and Blatche won’t even be there anymore to do play the high-low game with him.

When Blatche is around, he can space the floor to allow Jayson Castro to attack on the opposite side. Castro may not be Clarkson, but you could do a lot worse than giving space for the Best Point Guard in Asia to go to work.

And don’t forget: Whenever Blatche gets into foul trouble, he has JMF to back him up. If JMF gets into foul trouble, we may as well pack it in on the boards.

With Blatche, Gilas is able to plug the holes that come with being one of the shorter countries in the competition. He also brings the experience and familiarity that come from being a member of the 2014 Gilas Pilipinas squad. Most importantly it’d be devastating to pick against Blatche after all he’s done for the country in the five years since he gained Filipino citizenship. He truly loves the Philippines, and deserves to be part of the 2019 FIBA World Cup squad.

Verdict

The above arguments only bolster the dreams I presented in the beginning: This team would be much better of with BOTH Clarkson and Blatche in the fold. Clarkson gives Blatche the extra ball handler and passer, while Blatche can spread the floor for Clarkson to attack in space.

Together, they can also form a world-class pick and roll/pop tandem that will surely give fits to teams that lack rim protection

Unfortunately, despite all of our pleading to FIBA, beggars will have to be choosers.

Clarkson offers excitement and a level of talent that we may have yet to see ever in the Pilipinas colors in the FIBA World Cup. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say he could pull a James Harden and lead the entire tournament in scoring if Gilas were to bring him in.

But for all that Clarkson can offer, the bottomline is that he is a gargantuan upgrade, but not a necessary piece. Meanwhile, losing Blatche would open way too many holes that Gilas may not be able to find solutions for within their current roster. We are still a country that by biological circumstances simply needs size.

Maybe Kai Sotto and AJ Edu will change that in the future. But we’re in the here and now.

This is why I would choose Andray Blatche as Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalized player for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Photos from FIBA.com and Getty Images

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