Zion Williamson has created more buzz than any high school athlete in recent memory. Williamson has attracted standing room only crowds to AAU tournaments and had celebrities like Drake and Odell Beckham Jr rocking his Spartanburg Day School jersey. The attention on Williamson is warranted as he has the athleticism to shut down the gym, at a moments notice. In fact I believe he could win an NBA dunk contest right now. The athleticism that has garnered Zion so much attention, has also lead to comparissons to LeBron James at the same age. Personally, I believe these comparissons are outlandish, but Zion is still special in his own right. Let’s take a look at what Zion brings to the court, on both ends.
OFFENSE: Despite having a slightly above average skill level, Zion does a good job of playing within himself and getting buckets within the flow of the offense. He is a nightmare in transition and likes to go coast to coast, and finish right at the rim. In addition, Williamson will advance the ball in transition with the pass, so he can run the floor for easy lobs. In transition, Zion is a mediocre ball handler at best, but will display a nice wrap dribble from time to time.
In the half court Zion likes to attack from either the mid-post, or attack from the wing out of triple threat. Once established he will seek to bully his man off the dribble and primarily seeks to finish with his strong (left) hand. I do not believe this will translate beyond the high school level however, as NCAA/NBA players will be more well equipped for physical post play. It should also be mentioned that Zion relentlessly pursues offensive rebounds, and converts them to buckets at a high rate. This probably will not carryover when facing taller competition, but is a big part of Zion’s game at the high school level. On the wing, Williamson uses a blend of rip through moves from triple threat and basic dribble moves to get to the rack. He covers a lot of ground on his spin moves and gets nice extension for finishes. When Zion cannot get all the way to the rim he has shown an occasional left hand floater, but must tighten up his footwork and pull-up jumper in the midrange. This will provide easier scoring opportunities as opposed to trying to finish over NBA/NCAA length.
During the 2017 Adidas Gauntlet, Zion put up very impressive scoring and rebounding numbers (about 27 and 11 per game). However, a deeper analysis of those numbers reveals some concerns with Zion’s overall offensive game. He only averaged 1.9 assists per game, and finished the Adidas Gauntlet with more turnovers than assists. This alone should put a stop to the LeBron James comparisons. LeBron was in another stratosphere as a playmaker at the same age, and Zion has not yet shown the ability to bring the best out of teammates like LBJ. Zion also struggled from both the three-point and free throw lines while on the Adidas circuit. I believe a lot of this can be attributed to the low trajectory of Zion’s jumper, in other words his shot is very flat thanks to his low follow through. His mechanics can also appear rigid at times, so he should try to improve the fluidity of his jump. Zion Williamson must continue to refine his perimeter skills as his height (6 ft 7 in) will force him out to the wing full-time, in college and beyond.
DEFENSE: Defensively Zion has lockdown potential thanks to his: strength, length, competitiveness, and athleticism. Improving his overall awareness on the defensive end will help Zion unlock his defensive gifts in due time. Presently however, Zion has failed to master the art of playing AAU defense. He rarely gets down in proper defensive stance and can pick up cheap fouls, chasing steals and blocks. During the high school season at Spartanburg Day, Williamson was used like a rover in football. He has able to roam the court looking for steals/blocks, and double the ball when he saw fit. I do not know how many college coaches will give him the same level of freedom, fortunately Zion is versatile enough to guard bigs and wings on defense. Given his size,
Zion does a very good job of recovering when beat off the dribble. He uses his length (6’10 wingspan) and explosiveness to contest shots, if his man beats him off the bounce. All things considered I am confident ZW will develop into a high level defender with better coaching and a less ambiguous defensive role.
FINAL VERDICT: The level of excitement Zion Williamson’s highlights have generated have skewed people’s perception of him as a basketball player. Being an entertaining/exciting mixtape player does NOT always mean greatness will follow. Despite generating millions of hits for YouTube channels such as Ballislife, some of the things Zion does on the court will not translate to the highest level. The days of physical overwhelming the competition will soon come to an end, and Zion needs to quickly find a new way to dominate. In a way Zion is like an older little leaguer, who dominates his younger peers. He dominates by being more physically advanced and not necessarily “better” per say. The LeBron comparisons must also stop as the ONLY similarity between the two at the same age, is their freakish athleticism and physical gifts. Hopefully Zion can achieve something close to the durability LeBron has displayed, so he can maximize his potential.
The college decision of Zion Williamson is going to be one of the most anticipated in recent memory. I personally think guys like Cameron Reddish and RJ Barrett are better basketball players now and will be better down the line. That being said any college program would be lucky to land Zion, but his recruitment is very hard to call. Personally I think North Carolina will be the best fit for Williamson. The tar heels play very fast and will give him plenty of opportunities to showcase his gifts in transition. In addition, Roy Williams always features the small forward in the offense, so he will get plenty of half-court touches as well. I also image the coaching staff at UNC will help Zion as a shooter, similar to how they helped Justin Jackson. For what it is worth Williamson is also close with current UNC freshman Jalek Felton, and UNC commit Nassir Little. The biggest hurdle for UNC to overcome is that they currently have two commitments from wing players, Rechon Black and Nassir Little. I think Williamson would start over both, but I am not sure how willing he would be to compete for minutes/shot attempts.
In addition to North Carolina, I expect Kentucky to be heavily involved with Williamson like they are with all elite recruits. I think Coach Cal would be able to sell Zion as being used as a wing-forward hybrid, similar to how Terrence Jones was used on the 2012 National Championship team. UK would also allow Zion to compete against the very best on a daily basis, something he definitely is not getting in high school.
Another SEC school I would not count out is South Carolina. Frank Martin has turned things around in Columbia, as evidenced by their NCAA tournament run. Zion Williamson’s mother reportedly does not want him to go far from home, indicating the Gamecocks have a legitimate shot. Frank Martin also has experience coaching wing-forwards like Michael Beasley, Bill Walker and Sindarius Thornwell which should make it easier for him to find a suitable role for Zion.
Wherever Zion Williamson ends up he will immediately become the face of that program, and be biggest storyline of the 2018 CBB season.