Zion Williamson is widely looked at as the best NBA Draft prospect since Lebron James. So let’s break down his game in detail.
Weight: 285 lbs.
*Did not participate*
Athleticism/Physicality: There are plenty of crazy athletes in the NBA… and then there’s Zion Williamson. He’s probably the most gifted athlete we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s not just about Zion Williamson’s record breaking (at Duke) vertical leap of 40+ inches, but it’s about the combination of his leaping ability, speed, and strength at 285 lbs. Zion Williamson will have the second highest weight of any NBA player once he’s drafted in June. Meanwhile, he possesses the speed and leaping ability of someone who 185 lbs. He’s a freight train.
Why is his athleticism so important? Well a large portion of Zion’s game is based on it. A lot of NBA prospects are gifted athletically coming out of college, but don’t use it to their advantage in order to maximize their potential as a player. Zion Williamson is already able to do just that. He uses his athleticism to help him get to the rim, grab rebounds, and dominate on the defensive end. I’ll get into some further detail about how he does this later on.
When watching some film, I came across a Zion Williamson play that blew my mind. Yes, a lot of Zion Williamson plays blow your mind, I know. However, this one wasn’t a crazy dunk or crazy block, so it definitely didn’t get the attention it deserved. Check it out here.
First of all Zion flies in for the one handed rebound/tip like he’s Odell Beckham Jr. which was impressive. It doesn’t stop there though. The second leap to get his own offensive rebound was so quick. It’s just something I haven’t seen before. Not to mention the third and fourth efforts which were almost as impressive. Finally, he draws a foul.
It doesn’t matter that Zion Williamson is only 6’7.” He more than makes up for it with his athleticism and physicality.
Efficiency: Out of the 32 games that Zion Williamson played last season (that doesn’t included the UNC game where he was injured less than one minute in), he shot over 75% in 17 of them. He shot an astounding 68% from the field this season, which ranked second in all of the NCAA behind Tacko Fall (74.8%). Let’s also keep in mind that Tacko Fall is almost a full foot taller than Zion. Zion Williamson is only 6’7″ and managed to shoot that well from the field. Yes most of his shots come in the paint, but no, he’s not dunking every ball. This type of field goal percentage is unheard of for someone at Zion’s height. He has two guys three-four inches taller than him jumping with him (or at least attempting to) every time he puts up a shot in the paint as well. It doesn’t even matter.
It’s also worth noting that Zion Williamson led the NCAA in player efficiency rating (40.8). That’s the highest player efficiency rating of any college basketball player since the 2009-2010 season. The next best over that time period was a player efficiency rating of 36.93 by John Brown of High Point.
Defense: When it comes to Zion Williamson on the defensive side of the ball, we’re talking about a guy who can defend every position one through five at a high level. His athleticism allows for this kind of versatility defensively. He’s a potential future Defensive Player of the Year. Zion Williamson posted a defensive rating of 87.4 last season, ranking first in the ACC and 8th in NCAA Division I. He also ranked second in the ACC in defensive win shares with 2.8 (13th in NCAA).
Going back to Zion’s off-the-charts athletic abilities, here’s a couple of his wowing plays he made defensively using that athleticism. For reference, he averaged 2.1 steals per game (2nd in the ACC) and 1.8 blocks per game (5th in the ACC).
Passing/Court Vision: When you’re a guy as dominant as Zion Williamson, you’re going to face a plethora of double teams throughout your career. Reading the defense and finding the open man is that much more important for Zion Williamson for that reason. You see this all the time with guys like Lebron James and Giannis Antetotkounmpo when they’re swarmed and kick out to open shooters. Passing is also extremely important for someone who’ll be running in transition often. Fortunately, Zion Williamson’s court vision is off-the-charts, and he made fantastic passes in transition all season. Below are two of the best.
Shot Off the Dribble/Quick Catch-and-Shoot: The main concern with Zion Williamson coming into this season was whether or not he can shoot. After watching him, I definitely feel a lot better about his shooting abilities. Despite his unorthodox release, Zion Williamson isn’t that bad of an outside shooter compared to what the expectations were. He did shoot 33.8% from beyond the arc and is much further along with his three-point shot than guys like Kawhi Leonard and Blake Griffin were at this point in their careers. The NBA is so shooting driven today that everyone develops a jump shot. I mean look at Brook Lopez. I think that Zion will be able to build on what he already has.
The main issue I came across when watching these made Zion Williamson three-pointers is that they weren’t quick catch-and-shoot plays or shots off the dribble. These were “the defense is leaving me open for three seconds, let me set-up and shoot.” Many of the attempted quick catch-and-shoot threes (which weren’t that quick compared to NBA standards) didn’t go in. Here’s an example of Zion Williamson being left open for three and waiting a few seconds before deciding to shoot. It didn’t go very well.
Even talking inside of the three-point line… If Zion Williamson is even a threat to shoot a mid-range jumper when he catches the ball outside of the paint, then he’ll become that much more impossible to guard. It’s taken a while, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is slowly developing that shot outside of the paint. The day Giannis can shoot is the day he becomes the best player in the NBA. It could end up being a similar case for Zion, maybe not on that large of a scale, but he’ll be impossible to guard if he can develop a consistent jump shot, whether it’s mid-range or from beyond the arc.
Free Throws: I don’t want to sit here and nit-pick Zion Williamson by writing weaknesses just to write weaknesses. This is the best prospect since Lebron James. There aren’t many weaknesses. However, if there’s another place besides Zion’s jump shot that he needs to improve on, it’s his free throw shooting. He only shot 64.0% from the charity stripe last season, a number that could be tremendously improved.
NBA Player Comparison: Blake Griffin
When it comes to Zion Williamson, there’s isn’t one guy that I feel good about comparing him to. Zion Williamson isn’t a prospect that we’ve seen before. He’s in his own category in terms of his body type and athleticism combined. However, if I had to choose one guy to compare him to, it’d be Blake Griffin. While Blake Griffin is a few inches taller, there’s a similarity between Williamson and Griffin’s dominance in college, their ability to dominant in the paint and their off-the-charts athleticism.
Projected Draft Position: #1
There’s no doubt that Zion Williamson is going to be the first overall pick. As of approximately a month ago, his odds of being drafted first were -2000. When’s the last time that the first overall pick was this much of a lock? Who knows, but it’s well deserved for Zion Williamson. Once we inch closer to the NBA Draft, these “Zion Williamson to be drafted first overall” odds will be available at the Top Sportsbooks.