Zion Williamson, the 6’7, 285lbs forward from Duke is currently taking social media by storm. He is walking highlight reel and has gone from dominating high school to attempting to dominate the college circuit. Many people have him as a very high draft pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA draft and he has started to collect comparisons to LeBron James but that’s a pretty high ceiling for a player who while being dominate, still has flaws in their game and has extraordinarily big shoes to fill if these comparisons keep persisting.
LeBron James is a once in a generation player. That is as simple as it gets. He and Michael Jordan are mentioned in the greatest of all time (GOAT) conversation which is an unbelievable compliment. LeBron James is also more than a player, he has been the face of the league for the last few years and does a great deal for his community with things such as the ‘I Promise School’ that has recently opened its doors. Even for someone to be considered as a player with the same potential as James, there will never be a next LeBron James for what he has done with his community and for what he has done for the global appeal of the NBA. For this comparison, we’ll focus strictly on a basketball skills comparison rather than LeBron as a whole as he will most likely go down as forever unmatched in that area.
As stated above, Williamson is a walking highlight reel. One does not have to go very far on any social media from to find a highlight. This sort of exposure is what helps provoke the thought that Williamson is the next big thing. It is also a great deal of hype that surrounds him as people are wanting to see his next game and be around for his dunks and thrills which will sell out stadiums. Looking forward to the next draft, this will also factor into the decision to draft him. As talented a basketballer he may be, the fact that he can put people in seats and sell out stadiums and arenas is a massive factor in drafting him as a team with a moderately low fan base, eg, Phoenix or Cleveland, Williamson can make them relevant again by being consistently in the top highlights of the day. At the end of the day, an NBA franchise is a business and teams will make draft picks with money in mind so that is also a factor.
Let’s assess his basketball ability. He is a tremendous scorer within the paint and is a strong rebounder. He has decent shot blocking skills and is knowledgeable enough on defence to assist with double teams and traps. Unfortunately there are multiple glaring weaknesses to his game. Even though he is a monster to deal with in the paint, his perimeter shooting is not at a consistent level at the moment. This is not to say it can’t be developed but it still has a way to go. This is an issue when playing as he does not have the outside game of a modern-day Small Forward and does not have the size of a Power forward. While he can get away with this at the collegiate level, this does create an issue when getting to an average NBA sized player with most of the Power Forwards being able to match him for strength while also being taller but the Small forwards will be able to keep him on the perimeter, showing his weakness. Think how teams are currently doing this to both Ben Simmons and Markell Fultz, limiting their offensive effectiveness compared to if they have an outside shot.
His skill set of overpowering opposition can also be an issue at the professional level. At 285lbs, he is built like a tank and can bully a lot of the lesser developed college level players. This advantage is negated at the NBA level with the stronger, more developed me. Take basically 90% of the power forwards in the league and you will see they are taller than Williamson and can match his strength. To overcome this, he does not need to become stronger as such but needs to develop more of his game where he can become an inside/outside threat to pull the bigger defenders away from the post while then being able to bully smaller ones on a drive.
Finally, as also mentioned above, his 3 point shooting leaves a lot to be desired. In a 3 point driven league, having a reliable jump shot is key for success. This is something that can be developed if the work is put in but it is a deterrent to a lot of teams that are building around a 7 second stop clock offence where the ball is moved to the open 3 man as quickly as possible.
When assessing all the information, there is no doubt that Zion will excel in the league but to what extent remains undecided. It is unrealistic to say he will be the next LeBron James, even in a basketball sense with LeBron James being arguable the greatest all-around player of all time but if we had to choose a current player for him to be matched to it would be either John Wall or Blake Griffon. Both are outstanding athletes with a long list of highlights, particularly around dunking. Both players have lack a reliable jumpshot and a good portion of their games are based upon being more athletic than their opposition. Both were number 1 picks overall and during college, Wall’s team was stacked with talent. We think that Zion can be a more effective player than both Griffon and Wall but in terms of a comparison, we feel this is a more accurate one.
What do you think? Do you disagree with our thoughts? What do you think Zion’s ceiling will be?