Zion Williamson is going to be the Player of the Year. Perhaps someone else will win it, but the way you read many of the national writers, you’d be hard pressed to think there is anyone else that has a legitimate shot.
That point is rather unfortunate, because while writers whip themselves up into a salivating frenzy to extoll the endless virtues of Zion the god, the best basketball player to ever exist in college basketball, the Zags’ Brandon Clarke, a player having an absolutely phenomenal year, is somehow quiet, despite the fact he is one of the nation’s most prolific shot blockers and can put up a highlight reel dunk with the rest of ‘em.
I like Matt Norlander. I respect him as a writer and think he does a great job on most any topic he picks up. In this article, he rates Clarke as the No. 10 person in the race. TENTH! Andy Katz, a great mind in college hoops, didn’t even list Clarke on his list.
I’m going to just put up some numbers for poops and chuckles, using per 40 minute averages to help offset minute differentials (from Sports-Reference.com).
Player A: 30.9 points, 13 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.8 steals, 2.6 blocks, 3.4 turnovers
Player B: 24.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists 2.1 steals, 4.5 blocks, 2.3 turnovers.
Player A: 69.5 eFG%, 134.3 ORtg, 82.4 DRtg, .365 Win Shares per 40 minutes
Player B: 69.5 eFG%, 137 ORtg, 84.5 DRtg, .331 Win Shares per 40 minutes
I will cut the intrigue: Zion Williamson is Player A and Brandon Clarke is Player B. Clearly, the gulf between the two players is as large as the Pacific Ocean. Sarcasm aside, this is not the Williamson is not a great player post, because he is. Zion Williamson is absolutely electric to watch and is a complete game changer. But guess what, in many of the same ways that people ring the Zion Williamson for World Leader bell, Clarke excels in the same fashion.
Williamson’s PER is through the roof. There is no denying he is a special talent. But Clarke is third in PER at 36.3, which is higher than any player in the previous two seasons.
The easiest reason to figure out why Clarke is somehow running a bit under the radar, or why it has taken so long for everyone to pay attention stems from the classic MVP issue: Rui Hachimura is also on the same team. Coming into this season, it was supposed to be Hachimura as the player of the year, not Clarke. The narrative in Spokane has changed and everyone locally knows that, but news still somehow trickles out slowly in this information day and age.
Other common POY candidates, such as Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) are second in the nation in percentage of possessions used (%Poss). Williamson, although not sky high in this metric, is also higher than Clarke, seeing the ball 28.7 percent of the time. On Duke, that is second to RJ Barrett, a guard.
Clarke is second on Gonzaga for %Poss at 23.9. Hachimura is first at 26.6, and this is a very key point to make. Clarke has put up very comparable numbers to Williamson, all the while being the second option in the post. Williamson’s major partner down low, Marques Bolden, has a %Poss of just 13.1. Williamson is unequivocally the top option at Duke. Clarke is not at Gonzaga.
For this completely unbiased author of posts on a Gonzaga blog, what Clarke has done this year is more impressive because of that. Clarke stepped on to a team where, prior to Killian Tillie’s injury, he was the third scoring option in the post. Most likely, at the beginning of the year, once you factored in Zach Norvell’s propensity to shoot the ball the moment he touches it, Clarke was perhaps the fourth (?) option for the offense.
All of that is just touching on Clarke’s offense as well. His defense is what has shot him up NBA Draft big boards, and it is an important piece to keep in mind as well. The player of the year isn’t just the best offensive player of the year (sorry Adam Morrison). Clarke is on the shortlist for Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. He is the whole package.
Barring the world rotating in the opposite direction or some freakish thing like that, Clarke is not going to win the player of the year award. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t beat the drum for him. He has been one of the more exciting players to watch in a Zags’ uniform in quite some time and that is some high praise considering the caliber of individuals who have rolled through this program.