The “Under 900” Club

-Jim Root

Comparison + scores accurate as of Tuesday night, 1/15

Allow me to introduce you to the inaugural class of 3MW’s “Under 900 Club,” a group of exceptionally unique players with distinct games. Why the “Under 900 Club,” you ask? Well, Ken Pomeroy’s similarity score tool grades on a 1000-point scale, and almost every D-I player has one or more doppelgangers with a score of 900+ somewhere in the past 18 years. The most inimitable players, though, defy the system, blazing their own trail as college basketball unicorns and accumulating fringe comparisons that lie below that magical (read: arbitrary) numerical threshold.

For anyone reading this who doesn’t spend 50% of their waking hours on (a sincere congratulations to you for having a life, from someone who does not), below is a screenshot of a sample player page with the similarity score circled. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trae Young would have headlined this list last year:

Of note – I don’t know of a great way to find and filter for these anomalies, so the below are just the guys I unearthed through exhaustive combing of Mr. Pomeroy’s player pages. If you find more, send them my way! Let’s discover them together, like a team of archaeologists excavating a brand new plot of dinosaur bones…

Quick shout to Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops), whose Twitter conversation about our first player unknowingly inspired this idea. I would include that exchange, but I have been unable to rediscover it; I’ll link to it in the future if it resurfaces.

Zion Williamson, F, Duke, Freshman

Closest comparisons (get ready to laugh): 2015 Jahlil Okafor – Duke (868), 2018 Wendell Carter – Duke (859), 2008 DeJuan Blair – Pitt (852), 2008 Kevin Love – UCLA (850), 2017 Josh Jackson – Kansas (847)

Turns out, there might be a reason why ESPN lost its collective mind over Trae Young last year and is doing so with even greater fervor over Zion this year. They’re both remarkable individual players who did/are doing things we’ve never seen before in NCAA hoops; now I hope you enjoy Zion popping up in Australian Open tennis coverage because you will never escape him on the Worldwide Leader!

What makes him unique?

Zion is less of a unicorn and more of a Yeti/Loch Ness Monster/Dragon hybrid, a monstrous physical leviathan with breathtaking ball skills and an unfair ability to fly. His absurd combination of hyper-efficient scoring, usage, rebounding, and stock rates (steal/block), along with being a 6’7, 285-pound freshman, pretty much breaks the comparison tool. Seriously, if you showed film of Zion and Jahlil Okafor (his closest comp) to a Martian who has never even heard of basketball, even he/she/it would say the two are absolutely nothing alike. This isn’t an indictment of Mr. Pomeroy’s algorithms, by the way, not even close – it’s me pointing out that even an automated system has thrown its hands up and said, “I have no freaking clue what to do with this guy, I’ve never ever seen anything like him.”

Not to unfairly bestow this comparison on Zion, but perhaps if LeBron had played college hoops, we’d have something a little closer? LeBron was listed at 6’8, 250 pounds as a rookie on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster, and he obviously also carried stunning skill along with such a superhuman frame at that age. We’ll never know, but it’s fun to think about.

Quintessential play(s):

Sky for a board, grab it and go, 60-foot pass on the money for an in-stride lay-up - not bad for a man his size…

Tremendous defensive instincts and hands, and then…blastoff

Value going forward:

Not very high, considering he’s only the best player on the best team in the country, that’s all. I mean, what do you do with him? Duke has another top 5 pick on the wing (possibly two) and a true floor leader at point guard (assuming Tre Jones recovers from his separated AC joint), but they’re all taken up to a higher level by playing alongside an anthropomorphic nuclear missile silo. And oh yeah, Zion plays as hard as anyone in the country, so you’re not going to catch him taking off nights. Good luck, I guess.

Ethan Happ, C, Wisconsin, Redshirt Senior

Closest comparisons: 2012 Henry Sims – Georgetown (887), 2012 JaMychal Green – Alabama (867), 2014 Cameron Bairstow – New Mexico (867), 2012 Mike Scott – Virginia (866), 2015 Seth Tuttle – Northern Iowa (865)

What makes him unique?

I wrote about Happ extensively back in November, remarking on how his distinct style makes him a fun barometer on what an observer values in a player, so I won’t go into great detail here. One fun stat, though: of the top 100 players in assist rate, Ethan Happ is the only one who stands 6’9 or taller (he’s 6’10). In fact, only one other player (Cornell’s Josh Warren) is even 6’7 or taller. And yet Happ is 32nd nationally in that stat, a singularly talented big man who can also handle the ball and alertly punish defenses that try to double-team him. No other team in the country funnels its offense so completely through a post player. Just don’t let him shoot free throws.

Quintessential play(s):

5 seconds on the shot clock? 7’3 guy guarding him? Nothing an up-and-under scoop can’t solve…

6’10 PG racing up the floor, makes the easy (but also correct) pass

Value going forward:

He’s #2 in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, and the Badgers’ success is tied closely to Happ’s ability to win his matchups one-on-one, so his value is immense. Wisconsin has uncharacteristically lost two Big Ten home games already, but the Badgers can still contend for a top 4 spot and conference tournament double-bye if their crafty captain can maintain his dominance. 

Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa St., Freshman

Closest comparisons: 2010 Chase Tapley – San Diego St. (882), 2016 Shake Milton – SMU (878), 2008 Steven Gray – Gonzaga (878), 2012 Brett Olson – Denver (878), 2017 Kevin Huerter – Maryland (871)

What makes him unique?

Haliburton’s whacky combination of sky-high minutes totals, ludicrous efficiency, steal/block rates, and invisible usage have the comparison system completely stumped, and frankly, I have to agree with them. Entering a team returning plenty of contributors, Haliburton has firmly planted himself in the starting lineup ever since he went all 40 minutes in the ‘Clones second game of the year (a thrashing of my Mizzou Tigers). Since then, Prohm simply can’t take him off the floor, despite the return of perimeter players Lindell Wigginton and Zoran Talley from injury and suspension, respectively. Haliburton plays his role absolutely perfectly: move the ball with purpose, create havoc on defense with his length, and bury jumpers when he’s wide open. He has 14 turnovers in 550 minutes and ranks fourth nationally in assist to turnover rate, carrying on the “astronomical basketball IQ” legacy of Monte Morris in Ames.

Quintessential play(s):

The IQ, the vision, the craft all in one play - find the soft belly of the zone, and a touch pass for an and-one

Value going forward:

Surprisingly large! Haliburton is a perfect complement to the rest of the Cyclone roster, willing to do the little things all over the court and to take a back seat on offense, which allows the other scorers to get their buckets. Iowa State is well-equipped to make noise in March, and Haliburton’s intelligent and efficient game will be the fuel the rest of roster needs.

Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga, Redshirt Junior

Closest comparisons: 2017 Jordan Bell – Oregon (902), 2010 Rick Jackson – Syracuse (893), 2016 Dane Pineau – St. Mary’s (889), 2018 Ray Spalding – Louisville (888), 2011 Laurence Bowers – Missouri (888)

Editor’s note – Clarke’s comparison score to Jordan Bell was under 900 when I started drafting this article; it obviously has since risen to 902, but I wanted to write about him anyways, so I did!

What makes him unique?

You mean, other than his legs being made of super bionic Flubber? Pomeroy’s statistical model doesn’t capture max vertical in its comparisons, so let’s focus on his statistical abnormalities – of course, many of those are fueled by his otherworldly athleticism. He ranks in the top 30 in multiple categories, including effective field goal percentage (he dunks a lot), offensive rebounding rate (he’s extremely active), and block rate (please don’t bother challenging him at the rim), while also nabbing a significant number of steals and using a high portion of the Zags’ possessions. He’s a two-way destroyer who is largely underrated by the general public due to playing next to Rui Hachimura, admittedly a delight as well, but whose game falls short of Clarke’s in nearly every aspect except scoring.

Quintessential play(s):

One minute left, close game, on the road…you’re not getting that past Clarke. Incredible timing

Value going forward:

I am very much on the side of “Clarke is Gonzaga’s best player,” the defensive wizard that erases mistakes at the rim (both on the ball and as a weak side helper) while also providing a viable offensive weapon via his intelligent cutting, off the bounce skills (sneaky good passer), and work on the glass. Gonzaga is completely loaded with basically every weapon imaginable, but no player can truly replicate the defensive impact that Clarke has, and he’ll be a key as Mark Few makes another run at his first national championship.

Ja Morant, PG, Murray St., Sophomore

Closest comparisons: 2017 Jordan Davis – Northern Colorado (888), 2015 Kris Dunn – Providence (870), Darius Morris – Michigan (869), 2018 D’Marcus Simonds – Georgia State (868), 2015 Cameron Payne – Murray State (855)

What makes him unique?

Morant is total anomaly, a mid-major sophomore on a rocketship to the NBA lottery via vicious dunks and an absurd, nation-leading 56.4% assist rate. He ranks 7th in the country in minutes and 6th in usage, and he sits on the fringe of the KenPom player of the year rankings (10th) despite playing for the 48th-ranked Racers. His workload is massive, and his efficient output is especially impressive given that Murray only has one true floor spacer (Tevin Brown) playing alongside him.

The story of him ending up at Murray is worth reading, by the way - told well by ESPN’s Jeff Borzello here. Must be nice to find someone like Morant in a spare gym in Spartanburg, South Carolina…

Quintessential play(s):

Required viewing:

He has a knack for throwing one-handed lefty passes - pretty solid read

Value going forward:

Considering he averaged 21.5ppg and 15.5apg in two wins last week, I’d say he’s relatively important. Morant has the Racers atop the Ohio Valley and on the fringe of the at-large discussion at 13-2 (4-0), and their KenPom (48) and NET (41) ranks support that notion. My heart’s hope is that Murray goes something like 28-4, losing in the OVC final to Belmont (I <3 the Bruins), and the Racers enter the field as an at-large squad, giving a 5- or 6-seed nightmares by having the best player on the court.

Jalen Pickett, PG, Siena, Freshman

Closest comparisons: 2017 Dennis Smith – NC State (893), Juan’Ya Green – Hofstra (886), 2017 Markelle Fultz – Washington (884), 2012 , 2014 Cameron Payne – Murray St. (873), 2018 Colbey Ross – Pepperdine (861)

What makes him unique?

Pickett is getting plenty of love from our site – preseason MAAC Freshman of the Year, a blurb from Matt’s Mid-Major Freshman Focus – and it’s all deserved, and then some. He blends a sky-high assist rate (3rd in the country at 44.3%) with superb steal numbers, significant usage, and quality efficiency for a 6’4 freshman. Three of his five comparables being lottery picks is certainly intriguing for a MAAC rookie.

Quintessential play(s):

Set up the PnR, draw the triple team, throw a perfect skip pass to a corner shooter to beat rotations. Perfection

Value going forward:

Siena sits at a dismal 6-11 (1-3) thus far, as the Saints’ lack of athletes around Pickett and wing Manny Camper has derailed Jamion Christian’s usual “Mayhem” defensive style. As such, Siena ranks 342nd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, likely sinking them as a true conference threat, even in the beleaguered MAAC. Pickett may get sneaky NBA Draft looks this year, but the more likely scenario is him returning and having a Ja Morant-esque year (in terms of mid-major profile) in 2019-20.


Cam Reddish, F, Duke, Freshman

Nearest score: 2010 Jordan Hamilton – Texas (894)

Brief Notes: Size/age + high  steal rate + high usage + inefficiency is peculiar.

Bol Bol, C, Oregon, Freshman

Nearest score: 2008 Kosta Koufos – Ohio St. (889)

Brief Notes: His injury and subsequent low minutes percentage is affecting comparisons.

Sagaba Konate, F/C, West Virginia, Jr.

Nearest score: 2012 Keith Clanton – UCF (898)

Brief Notes: Same reason as Bol.

Just Missed

Jon Teske, C, Michigan, Junior

Nearest score: 2017 Jo Lual-Acuil – Baylor (900)

Brief Notes: Miniscule turnover rate + solid big man rebounding and block rates + starting to hit some threes = very nearly hits our threshold.

Lamine Diane, F, CSUN, Redshirt Freshman

Nearest score: 2010 Chris Gaston – Fordham (902)

Brief Notes: We discussed Diane on our most recent podcast, but his jaw-dropping usage (third in the entire country as a redshirt freshman in the Big West) bears mentioning again. Clearly, Mark Gottfried is still rolling the balls out on offense, and Diane is asserting his will on a gargantuan share of possessions.