Zion Williamson is physically overwhelming NBA players the same way he did college players the same way he did high school players. Nine games into his professional career, at 19 years old, Williamson is changing the way we imagine the perfect basketball player to look. Despite coming off a torn meniscus, he’s already skying over and muscling through the chests of full-grown men who have worked their whole life to make it in the NBA.
Williamson is just getting started, but he’s already must-see TV.
So how good has Williamson really been?
Williamson has been all sorts of incredible, especially when his meniscus injury, age, and pressure from the entire world to instantly produce are factored in. In nine games, he’s scored 21 points per game on 58 percent shooting, with eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and three turnovers in 27 minutes.
It isn’t all numbers for Williamson, either. He’s helping a struggling New Orleans team win games. When Williamson plays, the Pelicans are outscoring opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions. When he doesn’t, they’re outscored by 3.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s the type of impact an All-NBA player makes. The Pels are 5-4 since Williamson made his debut. They were 18-27 before it.
How’s Williamson been successful?
Williamson’s been torching NBA defenders the same way he’s played his whole life. He’s so strong he’s been able to rip the ball from unexpected opponents’ hands (even Giannis Antetokounmpo), and take it the other way. Off power dribbles, he’s able to stay strong to his left side, absorb contact, and lay the ball in as if nobody was there trying to stop him. He’s finishing dunks over the top of the defense, and propelling his 285-pound body through the lane.
He’s hardly taking any three-point shots after going 4-of-4 in his debut game. He hasn’t even made one since that night. But it doesn’t matter.
In his ninth-ever game, against the Blazers, with 7’ Hassan Whiteside guarding the rim, Williamson went off for a career-best 31 points. He made 10-of-17 shots, all coming inside the paint. He posted up Carmelo Anthony, leaped over Whiteside for putbacks, and called for lobs above Trevor Ariza’s head.
Williamson’s afraid of nobody.
Just look at Williamson’s shot chart
The best way to describe Williamson to someone who doesn’t know what he does is by handing them this:
I’m still not sure how to analyze this. Williamson’s shot selection is already near-perfect. Almost all of his shots are coming inside the paint — the hardest place possible to get clean looks, but the most valuable. Sure, he’s only making 60 percent of his shots at the rim, which is around league average. But that number is bound to go up as he regains his strength and adjusts to the NBA.
He’s yet to take a long-two-point shot, and he’s tried 10 three-pointers. He doesn’t shoot many threes, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an ideal modern NBA forward.
Is there historical precedence for what Williamson is doing?
I mean, hardly.
- His 31-point nine-rebound five-assist in 28 minutes was the first 30/5/5 game by a rookie who played less than 30 minutes since 1966.
- He also became the fifth rookie in the last 10 years to have 30 points in one of his first 10 games. He’s the quickest No. 1 pick to do it since Allen Iverson.
- He’s the third rookie ever with seven 20-point games in his first 10 appearances. The other two? Grant Hill and Shaquille O’Neal. Oh, and he still has another game to reach eight.
Is he bad at anything?
Sure. He’s 19 years old and 243 minutes into his professional basketball career. Not everything’s been perfect. His turnover rate is high, his three-point rate has dropped off, and he’s shooting just 61 percent from the free-throw line. He gets lost defensively, too. It’s going to take time for him to learn the NBA’s pace and figure out where he needs to be and when.
But this guy is already an absolute scoring terror despite not being good at shooting. His game is reminiscent of early Antetokounmpo, except even he wasn’t this good, this quickly.
Where does Williamson go from here?
Oh, good lord, who knows. He’s going to get better, that’s for sure. He should be expected to have some ups and downs as his rookie year closes and the team tries to make a playoff push. The team sits 4.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed.
But this season doesn’t matter as much as the one after. What happens if Williamson shoots better from the free-throw line? What happens if his shot expands to the three-point line? What happens if his defensive IQ catches up to his once in a lifetime athleticism?
This appears that Williamson is at only 70 percent of his physical capacity coming off the injury. He’s going to get better, and he’s already great.