2019 NBA Draft No. 1 prospect Zion Williamson is the new game
Nuclear war. Sad clowns. An ageing relative leaning into the first sentence of a wheezy tirade.
Now you can add NBA Draft enigma Zion Williamson to the list of scariest things on this planet.
A college basketball phenomenon that has already set-up camp inside Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s head.
In a season where NBA team’s are playing for second prize behind Kerr’s Warriors — the best roster ever assembled in the NBA — the championship-winning coach can be forgiven for drifting his eyesight towards the only player capable of stealing headlines from his team right now.
A 130kg, 2.01m freak one year out of high school. “I thought LeBron, I thought that was a one-shot deal,” Kerr said last week of Williamson. “But apparently the next guy’s coming.”
He’s already here — and the NBA knows it, ESPN NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith reckons.
“I’ve talked to NBA players, who are grown men that have said, ‘I ain’t taking no offensive foul from that guy,’” Smith said this week.
“He ain’t even in the pros yet and they see him coming. They see him coming.”
Here’s why his arrival is the best show in sport.
Williamson will enter the NBA next year as the second-heaviest player in the league.
The 18-year-old Duke University roadtrain has a frame the NBA hasn’t seen before. He is something different.
He is the same height as legendary Celtics small forward Paul Pierce, but weighs 23.5kg heavier.
He is just one inch shorter than James, but weighs 22kg more than the Ohio megastar when he was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2003.
Aussie cult hero Joe Ingles is one inch taller than Williamson and 32kg easier on the scales.
Only Serbian Boban Marjanovic, the 2.21m Los Angeles Clippers freak, is forecast to weigh more than Williamson when the 2019-2020 NBA season tips off — and the 7-foot, three-inch behemoth will only be 2.3kg heavier.
The comparisons are scary, but ultimately pointless — nobody seems to care about the extra carriages Williamson is hauling when he’s exploding on the court.
He is a near-perfect unison of raw explosive might and intimidating muscle.
As early as high school, Williamson was measured with a 1m vertical leap — unheard of for a man of his bulk.
It emerged this week that Williamson was even offered a scholarship in high school to join Louisiana State University as a tight end in their football program — despite having never played a game of high school football.
Williamson’s explosive power and jumping ability saw former LSU tight end coach Eric Mateos recruit the teenager to play the same position as Patriots offensive weapon Rob Gronkowski.
“I thought, hell, why not, he’s probably the best damn tight end to ever live,” Mateos told ESPN.
“Any time you have an athlete that can generate that much explosive power in a controlled manner, that’s a level of elite that translates to a bunch of different football positions.
“If he’s 285, you’re talking a rare specimen, Julius Peppers-type of freak.”
JJ Watt is 6-foot-5, 289 pounds.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) November 15, 2018
Zion Williamson is 6-foot-6, 285-pounds.
Imagine JJ Watt doing this shit. That’s how big Zion is, and he’s still out here clearing the damn rim with his chin when he leaps. pic.twitter.com/5QOSFI4EPJ
His frame is unique, but it’s not why Williamson is forecast to be the No. 1 draft pick next year.
Nor is it the viral dunking highlight clips that made him college basketball’s highest-profile athlete before he’d ever played a game.
The teenager is a straight up baller. A basketball genius behind the wheel of a truck.
“With Zion Williamson, there’s not too many comparisons to make,” The Ringer’s associate editor Danny Chau told The Ringer’s NBA podcast.
“You can say there’s some Charles Barkley in there, but Zion Williamson is quicker. He’s more explosive.
“Zion as an athlete with his combination of skill and size is just so unusual and that’s why people go straight for the LeBron James comparison. We just haven’t seen a player like him before.”
The NBA has also never seen a player like him be enough to win a championship.
Dominant in college does not always mean dominant in the NBA.
It’s a different game in the big leagues.
As pointed out by star ESPN commentator Max Kellerman this week, nobody like Zion has ever carried his team to an NBA championship.
Barkley never won a title. Recent college phenomenon Blake Griffin — the last NBA rookie to be picked in the All-Star game in his first season — has also never got anywhere near the NBA Finals.
Williamson would be the first.
“Can a wide-bodied, multi-dimensional player like him be the best player on a championship team,” Kellerman asked on ESPN First Take.
“Maybe he could be the one. The first of that type of athlete (to do it). That kind of absurd athlete — that’s not the long, lanky guy — the block of concrete. Because of the nature of basketball that body type hasn’t been ideal. Could he be the one?”
Can a wide-bodied, multi-dimensional player like Zion Williamson be the best player on a championship team? pic.twitter.com/wbWLcKYYWg— Max Kellerman (@maxkellerman) November 16, 2018
In his first three games, records have tumbled.
In his collegiate debut versus No. 2-ranked Kentucky, Williamson was 11-of-13 from the field, finishing with 28 points, seven boards and two assists in just 23 minutes.
His 28 points ranked second in Duke University history for most points in a collegiate debut. Freshman teammate RJ Barrett finished the same game with 33 points — the new benchmark.
His second appearance — Duke’s 94-72 pulverisation of Army — saw Williamson became just the second player at Duke, and the first under iconic coach Mike Krzyzewski, to go for 27 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in a game.
It continued in Duke’s third season game where he put up 21 points and nine rebounds in a 84-46 annihilation of Eastern Michigan.
Through three games, Williamson averages 25.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and three blocks per game, while shooting 82 per cent from the field. As flawless as college hoops gets.
His defence might just be even more rattling.
Zion just murdered a basketball pic.twitter.com/k7OFnNmSfJ— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweetss) November 11, 2018
“He can just do some things that people in this world just cannot do,” ESPN NBA Draft analyst Mike Schmitz told Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast recently.
“Things that no one in the NBA can really do. Not just the dunks, but the handle and his ability to play low to the ground, even without a jump shot.”
Zion Williamson doesn’t have a jump shot — and he doesn’t need one.
Aussie Ben Simmons’ status as the best player of his draft class has been clouded by his refusal to shoot from range — despite taking out the NBA rookie of the year last season.
His reputation for being shot-shy has had flow-on consequences for the Sixers’ offence, seen most obviously in the team’s offensive struggles when Simmons and fellow No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz have run the floor together.
Just like Simmons during his one-and-done year of college ball with LSU, Williamson has been playing a hybrid point forward position under coach Krzyzewski.
Williamson has already shown he can cover every position from point guard to power forward. That versatility is just another reason NBA scouts have turned back to forecasting Williamson as the must-have No. 1 selection next year.
He’s basically Ben Simmons — except his shot is a little more stable, reliable and used.
“We’ve seen like with Ben Simmons in his first year. He’s not a threat to shoot, but he’s so big and he’s so shifty with the ball that he just goes wherever he wants on the floor,” Schmitz said.
“With Zion we have a guy who is 280 pounds who can do that. It’s hard not to leave that last game thinking he might be the No. 1 pick.”
Three freshman on the same team competing for the No. 1 NBA draft pick honour has never happened before — until now.
As absurd as it sounds, Williamson has competition from his own teammates to go No. 1 — despite many commentators labelling him the most exciting prospect since James.
That contradiction more than anything shows the cheat-code roster Duke has assembled this season.
After his record 33 points on debut for Duke, Barrett leapt above Williamson in the eyes of some as the No. 1 prospect from this year’s draft class.
It was only Williamson’s unwavering reign of terror that saw him depose his teammate as the top prospect.
Find yourself a friend who hypes you up like Zion does for RJ Barrett. pic.twitter.com/s2tf9DifHi— ESPN (@espn) November 15, 2018
Their tussle for the top ranking from draft analysts completely disrespects teammate Cameron Reddish, who has made his own claim to college basketball’s thrown.
Reddish scored 25 points in Duke’s win over Army last week and is in the eyes of scouts at least a top five pick.
The Duke class of 2018-19 is simply something college basketball may never see again.
“The three of those guys competing for that top spot, that’s something we’ve never seen before,” NBA writer Kevin O’Connor told The Ringer’s NBA Podcast.
Duke freshman record for most points thru first 3 games of a season:— #DukeMBBStats (@DukeMBBStats) November 16, 2018
76 — RJ Barrett, 2018-19
76 — Zion Williamson, 2018-19
70 — Jabari Parker, 2013-14
53 — Marvin Bagley III, 2017-18
53 — Jahlil Okafor, 2014-15#DukeMBBStats
Duke’s thrilling two wins to start the season, which began with a 118-84 mauling of previous No. 2-ranked Kentucky, saw the Blue Devils jump from No. 4 to No. 1 on AP’s NCAA basketball rankings in the first poll taken since the start of the season, dumping Kansas to No. 2.
It took just two games. This Duke team’s takeover seems almost unstoppable if all three freshman stay healthy this year.
Zion's averages after 3 games are ridiculous...— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 15, 2018
• 32-39 from the field (82%)
• 25.3 points
• 10.6 rebounds pic.twitter.com/lVpw91Z11g
He started as the mountain.
“Truth”, “Hercules” and “Thanos” might be his most recent nicknames, but Zion Williamson’s story begins with his grandmother’s decision to name him after biblical holy place Mt Zion, near Jerusalem.
Everything about him is biblical.
To his opponents in college he’s been the 10 plagues of Egypt rolled into one.
It was the same in high school. Playing for Spartanburg High in North Carolina, Williamson once scored 53 points in a game — immediately attracting national media attention and comparisons with James.
Even in high school, America was captivated.
It wasn’t from the free-throw line but this is still my favorite Zion Williamson dunk. pic.twitter.com/2HqpzYnvLO— David Astramskas (@redapples) August 15, 2018
In today's edition of absurd Zion Williamson dunks, he throws down FROM THE FREE THROW LINE.— Stadium (@WatchStadium) June 28, 2018
Even then it was clear the teenager was going to be something truly special.
He’d already learned the peak-athletic quality of referring to himself in the third-person.
He was focused, committed and unstoppable.
A professional in an amateur environment.
“In the end, this is a business,” he said when announcing his decision to join Duke.
“People don’t really care about your feelings. They can always go find somebody else. This is a business decision and I felt this was the best place for me.
“When Coach K came to my house and spoke to me and my family, it wasn’t just about basketball and what he could do for me in one year.
“It was how he can build Zion as a brand on and off the court for like the next 20 years or the rest of my life.”
Even then, they could see him coming.