Let me start off by saying that I do think Zion Williamson – Power Forward (6’7”/2.01m & 289lbs/129kg depending on what side of the North Atlantic Ocean you’re on) of Duke Basketball has the potential to be a very successful player in the league. However I have a lot of looming question marks over his ability to play at the highest level for a long period, which if I’m the GM of an NBA franchise, this worries me. I’ll get on to these later…
For those of you reading this and don’t know who Zion is, take 5 minutes to search him on the internet and watch a couple of videos, you’ll soon know who he is, the rim certainly does. He is a large, large, scary man (so Zion, if you’re reading this, I take it all back and you’re already the GOAT, if not then I stand by my opinion).
If you google the top plays in college basketball this year, chances are Zion Williamson and Co, (A.K.A the Duke Blue Devils Basketball Team), are the stars of the show. They have 3 prospects in the NBA draft this year that have a genuine chance to go as the top three picks.
Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish are all highly touted as potential top 5 picks. To top this off, Tre Jones will go in the top 30 picks. It’s not a surprise that Duke are ranked as the number 1 team in college basketball. To put this into context, the top 5 teams in college basketball at the moment are; Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga. Taking Duke out, the other four teams have 3 players in the top 30 combined. Duke have 4. If they don’t win the championship then it might go down as the best team in history not to win the trophy.
Zion is a freak of nature. Someone that is his size shouldn’t be able to do the things that he does. He is an athletic beast that when he was in High School (Spartanburg Day School, Southern California) was able to use his size to his advantage, and play ‘bully ball’ because he could and it works against smaller players. Looking back on these games, he really was a grown man among boys. It was just unfair.
Side note – Zion plays basketball. He’s the same weight as NFL defensive star JJ Watt and slightly taller. He isn’t your prototypical basketball player.
When you have Zion playing 1 on 1 man he will take advantage and win every time, he’s bigger, stronger, faster than most players in the college game at the moment, however he struggles against a set defence, which he will meet at the NBA level on a consistent basis. A good portion of his points come against less physically developed players. Will this advantage disappear against the best players in the NBA? Issue number 1.
Moving swiftly on to issue number 2. Defence wins championships, but you have to have the players to play defence. When you watch Zion playing full court basketball, he excels and impresses going forward. But when it comes to defence, he’s lacklustre and doesn’t get down into stance and gambles too often for blocks and steals. Some have argued that this is down to his size and lack of conditioning as he has looked tired in some games and decides to save his stamina for the best part of his game which would be the offence. NBA players are more experienced and will take advantage of this trait unless he adapts his game quickly.
One criticism that has been vocalised a number of times over his career at both high cchool and college is his jump shot. He’s reformed his shot over his time at Duke, but he still seems to be lacking accuracy and diversity as he has become too simplistic with his jump shot, employing more of a set shot style with minimal elevation. This could be something he improves on with time, however currently it is still an issue with his game against college players, and this won’t get any better against NBA players. NBA general managers will have to take a huge leap of faith in their coaching staff to be able to retrain his shot quickly enough to make him a main contributing player as soon as he touches the court.
The biggest concern that NBA front offices should have about Zion Williamson is the injury worries. He is a freak, as I’ve said before, and 90% of his highlights are huge dunks where he’s leaping above the rim and crashing down in an incredible display of power. I can only imagine the extreme amount of stress that his legs go through when his full weight comes down on his ankles, knees and legs. Basketball players already struggle with injuries to their lower bodies, the fact that Zion is twice the size of a normal player certainly won’t decrease the likelihood of suffering an injury of this type, and any injury to his lower body could be detrimental both to his development as well as his weight since he’s worked over the past few years to become more muscular. Any time off due to injury could lead to Zion putting weight on, and he’s already on the heavy end of scale for an NBA player.
Looking into the rest of the season, Duke now have to play Virginia (4) twice over the next month, which will be their hardest test this season, aside from when they were hit with their only loss of the season to Gonzaga (5) who defeated Duke earlier in November in a 89-87 thriller. The way that Zion plays in these two games will be a massive insight into how well he will play against good defences in the NBA.
Zion has been drawing comparisons to LeBron because of his raw ability/athleticism and Charles Barkley for his size and style, but I see him having a career similar to Blake Griffin rather than the greatness of the LeBron. I’m not going wild and saying that he’s not a good prospect. He’s a top 10 pick because of his potential. But there are a lot of kinks to work out before I see him contributing to a team at a high level. For this reason, I believe that Zion Williamson is an overrated prospect.