The hype train coming into Duke basketball this season has been immense, and justifiably so. Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski assembled one of the best college basketball rosters in recent memory, as the Blue Devils have the number one recruiting class of 2018.
A class that includes three of the top NBA prospects, in Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish, who may just end up going 1-2-3 in the 2019 Draft. This team is already bringing plenty of promise for something special for Duke and for the NBA teams dreaming of the chance to land one of these studs.
Yet, in this crowded Duke basketball scene, it’s been Zion that has stolen most the headlines. Standing at 6’7″ and 285 pounds, Williamson is a freak of an athlete and an indelible force to be reckoned with. His giant frame allows him to play bully-ball in the post, as well as provide explosive highlight-reel dunks, some of which have made waves on the internet. His leaping ability and general speed are off-the-charts, which makes his overall game even more intriguing to watch.
However, Zion is much more than a big man, athletic forward that can jump really high. Listed as a small forward/power forward, his game is very unique and unlike any other college prospect in his class. Williamson is left-handed but is ambidextrous when dribbling and finishing at the rim. His ability to dribble, as well as shoot as a very respectable rate, creates spacing on the floor and allows him to play as a small-ball center at times. Since he can handle the ball, he is able to throw off defenders with slick passes that a man of his size normally doesn’t make.
Zion has already flashed moments of brilliance during his short tenure at Duke. In Duke’s preseason debut, Williamson recorded a double-double with 29 points and 13 rebounds, while shooting 3-of-4 from downtown. His shooting was thought to be his weakness, but he seems to have been working diligently on that. This game showcased why his game is based beyond his physical gifts; Zion is a natural rebounder and dynamic scorer, and he is able to get his points at an efficient rate.
This was reaffirmed during Duke’s season opener, when Zion dropped 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting in only 23 minutes, in a 118-84 thrashing of Kentucky. In his second game against Army, Williamson continued to demonstrate his dominance on offense and defense with 27 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 blocks. Again, shooting remarkably efficient, going 11-for-14 from the field. Even in this limited sample size, it is clear to many just how incredible he is, and how much better he can become once he reaches the next level.
Zion’s distinctive playing style has already drawn the eyes and ears of many NBA players, coaches, executives and fans. While many pundits have to compare him to Lebron James, due to his generational offensive talent. Many thought that Lebron was a once-in-a-generation type athlete, but some are beginning to think that the next one is about to step up.
Therefore, it is no surprise that many of the underperforming NBA teams have begun to consider tanking the season for a shot at drafting Zion. While Barrett is also going to be an option at the first pick, it is hard to imagine any GM passing on Zion’s potential. Whichever team that drafts Williamson will have the opportunity to change the direction of their franchise. Bottom-dwellers like Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks will all be praying that the lottery odds work in their favor.
The road to Zion will be paved with many bricks, (meaning bricked shots,) and even more losses for whoever lucks out and gets the first pick. Right now, it seems as though the Cavaliers will have the best odds at winning the NBA lottery, as they have the worst record in the league in the wake of James’ departure. If they were somehow able to win the lottery again, it will have been the fifth time since 2003, including three times in a four year span from 2010 to 2014. They were lucky enough to be in a similar position to draft Lebron with the first pick in 2003, a decision which changed Cavalier and NBA history forever.
History may repeat in 2019, with Williamson as the new target of admiration by the NBA. His special talent on the offensive and defensive ends will be hard to pass up on. Although his Duke teammates will give him a run for his money, Zion will end up as the player with the biggest impact at the professional level. Williamson’s game is perfectly suited for the modern NBA, and he will have a shot to immediately impact his next team with his menacing overall game.
Regardless of where Zion ends up though, he will have the chance to undoubtedly prove that the hype surrounding him is real and justified. Meanwhile, he will spend his one year in college playing under the tutelage of Coach K, one of the best coaches of all time. This will only help him as he prepares for the barnstorm that will come as the college basketball season ends and NBA draft preparations begin. So let’s enjoy his ultra-unique playing style at the collegiate level and appreciate that the potential new face of the NBA is waiting in the wings.
And his name is Zion.