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NBA Draft 2019 Player Profile: Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson
Every single college basketball season, players enter the collegiate ranks with plenty of hype and fanfare, particularly at blue blood programs such as Duke or Kentucky. That was the case, and then some, for Zion Williamson as he stepped on campus in Durham this fall. Zion had already become a huge name among basketball circles and even casual fans quickly learned his name while playing high school ball. He has become a constant fixture on "Sportscenter" and ESPN, and any hoops fan who has spent any time on the YouTube has seen Williamson's high-flying antics. After one impressive season with the Blue Devils, Zion enters NBA Draft season being talked about as the best prospect since somebody named LeBron James in 2003. Is he really that good? Is all this hype really warranted? Breaking down Zion's strengths and weaknesses (yes, he has some) may just give us that answer.

Quick Facts
Zion Williamson
From: Salisbury, North Carolina
Height & Weight: 6'7", 284 pounds
Position: F
Age: 18
Team: Duke Blue Devils (Spartanburg Day School HS)

There are a lot of things to be amazed about when you look at Zion, but the thing that jumps is simply his immense size. Just consider this: he is two inches taller and ten pounds slimmer than All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt and probably more athletic. He's strong enough to overpower anybody who dares to stand in his way, and yet has the finesse and quickness to work around defenders when necessary. The athletic abilities are just off the charts: he set a new Duke record for his vertical leap mark and there have been videos of him throwing down all the way from the free throw line. Photos emerging of him flying through the air for insane blocks and denting a ball with simply his fingers have already circulated their way around the Internet. It isn't even hyperbolic to say that we have not seen an athlete with the size of Zion on a basketball court in the sport's history. That alone is enough to make NBA scouts and personnel trip over themselves in their adoration of Zion, but he brings more than simply athleticism. For one, he knows how to use his body to his advantage; he has incredible balance and control when attacking the basket and can finish through contact. He's able to control himself defensively, and rarely gets himself in foul trouble despite the fact he always seems to be around the action. That activeness is also just incredibly impressive; he does so much more than just put the ball in the rim. Williamson is an absolute force on both the offensive and defensive glass, and he is an elite defender. His closing ability on shooters is jaw-dropping, look no further than his game-saving block on a three-point shot against Virginia. Zion literally flew across the basketball court to get his hand on the ball, traveling probably 20-plus feet in a matter of seconds. If somebody is courageous enough to drive on the teenager, he is able to maintain great position while impacting the shot. Zion understands defensive concepts as well; he plays great help defense and ensures his teammates are in great spots. Yet, for all these strengths that you could ramble on about for some time, there is one thing that jumps out to me the most: he plays 100 percent all the time, every game. Zion just doesn't take any plays off, he always wants to get that big offensive board or save that loose ball. In the world of modern basketball, that effort and will to play every single second of the game is really a rarity. You can tell this is a guy that loves to play the game and his teammates really feed off that energy. He also seems to be able to get along with teammates and display impressive chemistry, even when his celebrity sometimes outweighs others. That may not seem like a really big deal, but when you're constructing a winning basketball team, you want a guy like Zion Williamson. Not only does he help you win games actually working on the court but the positive energy he provides is going to be crucial in the pros, when so many players get worn out over the course of a 82-game regular season that extends to a lengthy postseason. Out of all the things that he does well, that has always been something that has stuck out to me and it has to have been noticed by NBA personnel as well.

Of course, no 18-year old basketball player is completely perfect. The constant criticism surrounding Zion Williamson entering college was that he might be able to do some insane dunks, but we hadn't seen him really shoot the ball. This is an understandable concern, especially in today's basketball, which relies more on the three-point shot than ever before. Zion didn't completely answer all those questions with Duke, even though he did showcase a solid mid-range jumper. Teams are still going to look for him to beat him with the three, which is a part of his game that can't be considered a strength at this point in his career. With that being said, he still did shoot 34% from the three-point line this past season, which is a pretty solid clip for a player like him. I still think he has to be able to consistently hit from farther out, and create his own shot. Teams will have to fear him from deep or else his lanes to the hoop will be severely limited, no matter what other players he has around him to draw attention. I'd also like to see Zion improve at the free throw line, which is something I commonly like to see NBA Draft prospects improve on. Getting to the line and shooting well there has proven its worth in today's NBA (hello, James Harden!) and Zion is sure to get fouled often with his size. He needs to improve on his 64% from this past season, but he did seem to get more comfortable at the stripe down the stretch this year. Another concern I have about Williamson is his decision-making which isn't terrible, but could get even better. Zion really is an excellent passer for his size but he does take gambles when trying to make some plays and can sometimes be careless with the ball. This was not quite as big of a deal when playing against generally lesser competition in college, but he wouldn't be able to get away with it in the faster, stronger pros. The only other notable question I have when it comes to Williamson applies to his position. He doesn't really fit in at either traditional forward spot and could be labeled as a "tweener". However, that seems like a problem that would be a lot more significant a decade ago than now, when position-less basketball seems like the norm. Teams will figure out how to utilize this guy, much the same way they figured out Ben Simmons, a pretty similar offensive player.

My Take
There are going to be insane expectations for Zion to live up to and he'll be the face of the franchise wherever he goes (likely New Orleans). That's obviously a lot to ask of a guy that doesn't turn 19 until after the Draft, but I think that Williamson is the type of prospect who can handle it. He seems like a real level-headed guy who will compete 100 percent no matter where he goes or what type of team he is on. He'll have to refine his jump shot and figure out some of the smaller points of the game, but the physical tools truly are off the charts. I never like to make predictions about a player's entire career especially when he is just coming out college, but Zion really is the real deal. I am nearly guaranteed he'll be a star in the Association and one of the faces of the league.

Where He'll Go
New Orleans beat out a whole host of others who were tanking for Zion, almost assuring that he will begin his pro career in the Big Easy. Sure, the Draft Combine and plenty of time in between now and late June could shift some things, but I would be absolutely floored if he wasn't the top guy off the board. He is just such a great prospect and all NBA personnel seem to be in agreement on that.

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