Zion Williamson. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard his name in the last 3 years, I’d have enough money to pay my university tuition. In that time, he went from an internet sensation to most hyped draft pick since LeBron James. While he didn’t land in New York like many had hoped – Knicks fans, I’m so sorry – Zion is now the face of the New Orleans Pelicans, a team that has a very bright future following the Anthony Davis trade that brought in most of the Lakers’ highly touted young core.
In a very top heavy draft class, Williamson is far and away the favourite to win Rookie of the Year. However, with all the hype surrounding Zion, there are still numerous questions surrounding him. Here’s a deep dive into exactly who Zion Williamson is and can be.
When you hear Zion Williamson, you immediately think “athleticism personified.” Standing at only 6’7, Williamson weighs in at 285 pounds – making him the second heaviest NBA player – yet he’s lightning fast and boasts a 40-inch vertical, making him a terror in transition. Everyone has seen his crazy high school dunks, and while he didn’t try anything too crazy during his time at Duke, he still made several highlights on a nightly basis. He’s also skillful in the halfcourt; he has a quick first step – and a good enough handle – allowing him to blow by larger defenders, and with his size, he can finish over and/or through anyone, including 7’7 Tacko Fall.
Defensive Talents & Motor
On the other side of the ball, Zion is nearly as elite as he is on offense. He pairs his athleticism with unending effort to be a stalwart defender. He uses his quickness to stay in front of even the quickest of guards, be active in the passing lanes, and recovering to either the rim or the perimeter to block a shot. He’s also very active on the boards for his position.
Lack of a Definite Position
Speaking of which, that’s a good transition into some of the murky parts of Zion’s game. First, what position does he play? He’s a tweener of sorts; he’s not a traditional small forward or a new age small ball four. Though, in this era of virtually positionless basketball, this is likely the least of his concerns.
Inability to Shoot
As great an athlete Zion is, he is not a very good shooter. Yes, he shot 33.8% from three in his time at Duke – including some big ones during March Madness – but his form still needs work. Also, he only shot 64.0% from the free-throw line. It’s possible that he becomes a decent shooter at some point, but I doubt he will ever be “lights out”.
I’ve raved about Zion’s athleticism this whole piece, but this can often be seen as recklessness. Like a superhero, he doesn’t look before he leaps, which has and will continue to lead to awkward landings, backboard collisions, and freak accidents. Sure, we shouldn’t expect to see him break out of another shoe, but if he isn’t careful, his career could be prematurely ended.
Additionally, Zion’s size is a concern. While he’s marveled for his combination of athleticism and size, he’s still 285 pounds. That’s a lot of weight for his frame to carry, game in, game out. After a few weeks training at Duke, it Williamson appeared to be in the best shape of his life, looking slimmer and more athletic than ever. However, he is noticeably larger and out of shape since leaving university. His current conditioning resulted in an injury in his sole appearance during Summer League. We all hope that he will be back in pristine shape by the time the regular season rolls around and he will get down to a manageable and playable weight, like Charles Barkely did early in his career.
However, there is one issue that stands above the rest, and this is something Zion has very little control over. Many laughed when David Griffin declared the New Orleans Pelicans to be Jrue Holiday’s team as opposed to Zion’s. No doubt, Griffin is aware that Zion is the franchise player replacing Anthony Davis. Nevertheless, in his rookie season, it may be difficult for Zion to properly leave his mark. He will be playing alongside the aforementioned Holiday, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram, all who are very capable distributors, but will all require a significant amount of touches. Griffin has reported that Zion desires to “fit in”. I fear that he might not be aggressive enough to put up such gaudy numbers.
For all the negative stuff I’ve said, I still love Zion as a player. While I was and am a huge RJ Barrett fan, Zion proved that he was the best player on that team and in this class. Hell, people call me “Baby Zion” all the time, so I’ve got to be a fan. At this time, it is impossible to know what his ceiling is. Regardless he definitely has a high floor, if only from his motor and love for the game.
Stats Predictions: 18.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.8 SPG, 61% FG, 32% 3FG, 68% FT
Accomplishments: All-Rookie First Team, Rookie of the Year, maybe All-Star Starter (Fan Vote)