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Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of Zion Williamson, the likely #1 Draftee on 20th June

Jason Mills

At the end of each NBA season, there is a let down for the fan base. Meaningful games won’t be played for about another 3 ½ months. Depending on which your favourite franchise is, there may not be a lot of off season activity either. 

But one day during the off season gets everybody’s attention. And that is draft day. 

60 new faces are introduced to the NBA every year on this day. Some are considered franchise players, with the ability to lift their team out of mediocrity. And some may just be role players, who fit a certain need. 

Draft night is easily the most exciting moment of the off-season.  

Next year, the Draft will be held on 20th June 20th 2019, and the three worst teams, determined by win-loss record, will each get a 14% chance at obtaining the #1 pick. Currently, this means teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks each with five wins on the season, and the Phoenix Suns with 4 wins, are likely to benefit from a talent boost on 20th June. 

By most standards, the 2019 Draft isn’t considered talent rich, like the 2003 Draft. In 2019, there will be a few franchise players and a lot of role players. 

But what's interesting that a single NCAA College may provide the NBA with three potential franchise players. The top three players of the 2019 draft are widely expected to come out of Duke University. 

There have been drafts, like the 2010 one, where the University of Kentucky had 5 players selected in the first round. However, to provide the top 3 consecutive picks will be impressive. 

Duke University is the collegiate team to watch this year. The Blue Devils are 8-1 overall, with the one loss coming in the closing stages of a close game against Gonzaga, who are 9-0.   

Duke is likely to produce the #1 consensus draft pick in 2019. And that pick almost certainly will be a PF, the 6’7, 285 pound Zion Williamson.

Indiana v Duke
Indiana v Duke

Positives about Zion Williamson:

There is much to discuss if you have ever seen this 18-year-old play basketball. Firstly, in an NBA game the players range in age from 18-41 years. However, the adage "boys against men" does not apply to Williamson. 

It is quite possible this young man has not finished growing yet. But he already has size, length and strength in spades - in an amount that older, more experienced NBA players wish they had.

There are certain attributes that cannot be taught. Size, strength and length fall into this category. At 285 pounds, Williamson might be heavier than most NBA coaches and managers might like for a 6’7 guy. However, when you watch Williamson play, you realize he is a tank who uses that size well to control the backboards, at both ends of the floor. 

He also uses his size well to attack around the basket out of the post. The weight does not seem to deter his motor skills. Williamson fills the lane in transition well and has good speed and quickness. For a power forward, he shows outstanding ball handling skills that rival those of any guard. 

Also for a man carrying 285 pounds, his jumping ability and hang time are reminiscent of Vince Carter and Michael Jordan. Williamson has the ability to score from anywhere on the court. He can make three pointers, but spends a lot of time attacking the basket. 

Defensively too he is very active. He uses his length to take away passing lanes and anticipates opposition passes well, leading to steals. At his size, he controls the boards well and dominates his opponents around the basket. 

Currently, Williamson is averaging 20.4 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game and he shoots 66.4% from the field in 26.3 minutes a game. These are the stats he has accumulated through nine games played for Duke University this season.

Indiana v Duke
Indiana v Duke

Zion Williamson's weaknesses

There aren't a lot of negatives about Williamson. He is 285 pounds at 6’7 and, while he appears healthy, energetic and athletic, any NBA team drafting him might want to see him slim down. That said, he has possibly not finished growing in height, so he may have to wait before making any changes. 

It's important to note here that the NBA season is 82 games long and each game is 48 minutes. So Williamson is going to want to stay fit because he is in for a long, grueling grind.  

Another potential concern is that the NBA is a faster game than the NCAA, and there is much more talent in the NBA than at the college level. As dominant as Williamson is now, how quickly he acclimatizes to the NBA game could be questioned. 

Offensively, Williamson is going to need to work on his mid and long range shooting game. He attacks and gets to the rim with ease at the collegiate level. But in the NBA, when teams play zone or tougher defenders lay off of Williamson to avoid his driving, he will need to shoot more and take advantage of aggressive defenders. 

At the moment, in 9 games with Duke, Williamson is only shooting 15.4% from behind the arc. At the NBA level, that pass muster. However, if he is turns into another Giannis Antetokounmpo, who does not shoot much or well from the three point arc, Williamson could still get by because he does so many other things well. It may ultimately depend on who drafts him and what system that team is running. 

Defensively, he will want to stay home more. It's well and good that his basketball IQ is helping him read the opposition's passes and complete steals. But if he is cheating on defense because he is an average defender, he will be exposed in the NBA and will need to work on his man-to-man defensive skill set. At the moment, in 9 games with Duke, Williamson is averaging 2.11 steals per game.

Maui Invitational - Auburn Tigers v Duke Blue Devils
Maui Invitational - Auburn Tigers v Duke Blue Devils

It’s a tough gig for scouts and general managers, trying to gauge talent and how it would translate into the ever changing NBA game. That is why players like Greg Oden, Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi and Sam Bowie were busts. It's also why players like Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and LeBron James not only panned out, but are legends of the game. 

A General manager and his scouting team don’t always agree. They study reports, stats, films and interviews with potential draftees, as well as hold workouts before the draft. On Draft night, the selections come down to a gut feeling based on all the information gathered. 

Ultimately, the success or failure of a draft pick rests on several factors, and the draftee's personal desire to be the best player possible cannot be measured. 

Zion Williamson has the opportunity and the ability to be the best player in the NBA some day. With the exception of injury or some disaster derailing his career path, he will be the #1 overall draft pick in the NBA on 20th June 2019.

Will that lead to a Hall-of-Fame career in the NBA, or a disappointing bust? Time will tell.

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