NBA

Why Zion Williamson Deserves all the Hype

Feb 3, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks the ball over Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) during the second half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
© Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Zion Williamson is proving that he’s a generational talent, but not enough people are talking about it. 

After the New Orleans Pelicans selected him first in the 2019 NBA Draft, Williamson faced monumental expectations. NBA fans and analysts alike touted him as the best prospect since LeBron James. And although he didn’t play much in his rookie year due to injuries, Williamson didn’t disappoint, averaging 22.5 points on 61.6% true shooting in 24 games. 

However, Williamson’s early success oddly drew as much slander as it did praise. Fans repeatedly labeled him as ‘overrated’ and ‘overhyped,’ saying the media gave him far too much publicity and love.

But ironically, Williamson’s once-existent hype that surrounded him for his rookie year has almost vanished entirely. As younger rookies like LaMelo Ball have emerged into the limelight, most media outlets aren’t giving Williamson nearly enough attention. 

If anything, this is the year that Williamson deserves all the appreciation and hype. Because he’s making history.

Williamson’s Historic Pace

Mar 1, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) defends against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the fourth quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

As a 20-year old, Williamson is averaging 25.6 points per game in just 33.1 minutes of play, earning him all-star honors. 18 of these points come inside 5-feet, which is good enough for the best in the league. His 65% true shooting mark is ultra-efficient and ranks second in the NBA among 20-point per game scorers.

In comparison, the great LeBron James averaged 27.5 points per game as a second-year player, on far worse efficiency. Williamson even outscores second-year LeBron on a per-100 possession basis. The 20-year old forward has even etched his name into the record books alongside all-time greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

Now, that’s not to say that Williamson will ever be as good as James or Abdul-Jabbar. However, his scorching numbers aren’t normal by any stretch of the imagination. He’s already at an elite level and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. 

What makes him so Great?

Jan 15, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) moves to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Williamson’s game is so impressive to the point where a simple points-per-game statistic can’t accurately depict it. 

Despite standing at just 6’7”, Williamson attacks the rim with unmatched aggression and tenacity. He’s analogous to a battering ram that plows through anything in its way. On top of that, he’s an athletic freak that leaps out of the gym with a 45-inch vertical.

His combination of sheer strength and explosiveness make him an absolute matchup nightmare. Most guards and wings are too small to defend Williamson, while most bigs are too slow-footed to keep up with him.

Williamson’s also serviceable as an off-ball scorer because of his ability to catch lobs and crash the offensive boards. He ranks 13th in offensive rebounds per game and 7th in putback points per game. 

His presence on the court is so profound to the point where he forces opponents to change their gameplan. Williamson’s scoring prowess acts like gravity and essentially pulls double teams his way. In turn, this creates a substantial amount of open looks for fellow teammates.

Williamson isn’t the best passer and sometimes struggles at capitalizing on these opportunities for others. Still, he has steadily improved since last year. The Pelicans have maximized his playmaking by even utilizing him as a point forward, an adjustment that helped spearhead their top-ranked offense in February.

Playoff Translation

Mar 12, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) smiles while warming up before a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

As good as he is, Williamson is raw. 

His sort of bully-ball, one-level scoring typically isn’t sustainable in the playoffs against better defenses. Williamson’s dominant physical tools make him a legitimate scoring threat, but he doesn’t blend them with much skill or finesse. Playoff defenses are adept at keying in on that lack of versatility. Thus, as time goes by, Williamson will need to diversify his scoring with a jump shot or post-game.

But even without refined scoring skills, there’s still plenty of hope. Williamson has been successful against top defenses, which hints that his game can translate well to the playoffs. In the 14 games that he’s played against top 10 defensive teams, Williamson averages a stellar 25 points per game. It’s a small sample size, but it hints that his scoring is inelastic and resilient come playoff time.

It’s also natural that Williamson will get even better as he matures. At just 20 years old, he has plenty of time to improve and polish his craft. He’s already far ahead of most players his age and has only gotten better since entering the league.

How Concerning are his Flaws?

Feb 12, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket as New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) defends during the second half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike his high-level offense, Williamson doesn’t project to be elite on defense anytime soon. He’s slightly undersized for a power forward and lacks the lateral quickness to contain scorers off the dribble consistently.

However, it’s reasonable to assume that his defense would improve alongside a better defensive supporting cast. His insane leaping ability also gives him the potential to become an undersized yet effective help-side rim protector one day.

Speaking of Williamson’s breathtaking hops, his propensity to land hard after high-flying dunks are less than ideal regarding durability. In the NBA, availability is the best ability, and Williamson’s future availability could be in jeopardy. After all, he missed over half his rookie year due to injury.

It’s tough to accurately predict whether or not the injury bug will bite Williamson often. On the one hand, his above-the-rim playstyle combined with his heavy 284-pound frame puts him at risk. But on the other hand, sports medicine and fitness are at an all-time high. Only time will tell, but Williamson’s sustained health has been encouraging this season and bodes well for the future.

Either way, Williamson has an abundance of something that you can’t teach: talent. That alone will ensure a successful NBA career if he continues on this path. We already see it materialize in just his second season.

It’s safe to say that Williamson is far from overrated or overhyped; in fact, he’s the opposite. The hype for Zion Williamson is well-deserved, and it’s about time that he gets more appreciation.

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One response to “Why Zion Williamson Deserves all the Hype”

  1. […] what Zion has is minimal. He has already had an unprecedented season at the age of just 20. Williamson’s name has already been etched in NBA history before he has turned […]

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