Zion Williamson has played just two preseason games in the NBA, but it’s already evident that his physical supremacy is going to translate against pros. Williamson’s combination of speed, strength, and agility is overwhelming NBA players the same way it overwhelmed college players.
Williamson put on a show Wednesday night against the Bulls, finishing with 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting to go along with four assists and four rebounds. He did all of that in just 27 minutes while sitting the entire fourth quarter. Williamson’s total package of talent was on display: his breathtaking first step, his unparalleled speed-to-power conversion attacking the basket, his refined finishing ability, and his unselfishness were all evident in New Orleans’ win.
More than anything, Williamson is simply too big and too quick to be stopped, even against the best players in the world. Check out his full highlight reel vs. Chicago:
Williamson can overpower NBA players the same way he overpowered the ACC
Williamson didn’t have many doubters coming out of Duke, but the skeptics he did have questioned whether he’d be able to bully NBA players like he did the poor souls on Wake Forest and Boston College. Through two preseason games, it’s evident Williamson will have no problem playing his game against adults.
Look at how many defenders were loaded up against Williamson in the paint on this bucket.
Seriously: he scored on this. Easily.
I don't think it's possible to pack the paint more than this. This stops Ben Simmons. It might even stop Giannis. It does not even come close to stopping Zion. You just can't prepare your brain for how fast he is. pic.twitter.com/Mjlt6fuwFS— TS% Eliot (@Cosmis) October 10, 2019
Here’s another impressive bucket: from a standstill, Williamson burns one of the better frontcourt defenders in the NBA in Thad Young by going around his back, then powering through another long, tough help defender in Otto Porter Jr. to finish at the basket:
Zion is completely ridiculous— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) October 10, 2019
29 points on 12-13 shooting so far pic.twitter.com/4rh1txOEay
Those who watched Williamson at Duke saw quick behind-the-back dribble moves like this all season. Williamson still has work to do tightening up his handle, but he already does a good job of keeping the ball low to the ground so it doesn’t get picked before he starts his shot. And once Williamson gets rolling downhill, his power and finishing touch makes him essentially unstoppable.
Young is a 6’8, 225-pound, 31-year-old man who routinely grades out as a well above-average defender. Porter Jr. has a 7’1 wingspan and has a quality defensive reputation, too. Williamson turned them into toast with relative ease.
Williamson is an above-the-rim threat in the halfcourt and in transition
Williamson’s first basket of the game against Chicago came when he leaked out into transition as the Pelicans forced a missed shot. Williamson executed a well-timed give-and-go with teammate Lonzo Ball, who wisely gave it up to his teammate to finish for an alley-oop dunk:
Williamson can also leverage his explosiveness in halfcourt sets. How many 6’6 players in the league can finish above the rim this effortlessly when hit with a shovel pass?
Replays of Zion Williamson dunk pic.twitter.com/UVqbJfclzp— Ⓜ️arcusD ▶️ (@_MarcusD3_) October 10, 2019
Williamson’s physicality leads directly to versatility. He can initiate the offense like a guard and burn you with a dribble-crossover move from the perimeter. He can camp out in the paint and finish a play like a traditional big man.
Giannis Antetokounmpo can pull off dual roles like this, and that’s why he’s the reigning MVP. There aren’t many other athletes suited for the task. Williamson is already proving he’s going to be one of them.
Williamson’s physical gifts give him a different kind of gravity
When we talk about “gravity” in the NBA, we relate it to someone like Stephen Curry and the way he attracts so much attention just by standing beyond the three-point line. Williamson puts his own spin on the concept. His baskets might only be worth two-points, but he’s able to finish so efficiently — he made 75 percent of his two-point field-goal attempts at Duke — that defenses have to commit to loading up to stop him.
When that happens, Williamson has the basketball IQ and unselfishness to hit open teammates. Watch the way he creates an open three for Frank Jackson on this possession:
Zion with a casual spin move and pinpoint pass to Jackson for a corner 3 pic.twitter.com/nZHPFvIxoz— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) October 10, 2019
Again, look at how Chicago’s entire defense is keyed in on stopping Williamson from getting two points. He recognizes that and gets his teammate an open three by seeing the floor and making the correct pass:
Yes, it’s only preseason. It’s still obvious Williamson will be a superstar
Preseason or not, scoring 29 points in 27 minutes while missing only one shot from floor is undeniably impressive. If Williamson stays healthy, there is little doubt he’s going to be a stud in the NBA by overwhelming opponents with his physicality and his intelligence just as he did at Duke.
Williamson’s preseason debut in the NBA brings to mind Duke’s three-game exhibition trip in Canada one year ago. When Duke started its trip, R.J. Barrett was unanimously considered the team’s best prospect. Most even had Williamson behind fellow teammate Cameron Reddish. But once Williamson put on a Duke uniform in Canada, it was immediately clear he was the best player on the team, a superstar in the making, and maybe even a generational talent. We wrote as much at the time.
Things will be harder in the regular season, to be sure. Williamson will have growing pains. There will be a time when he gets shutdown on a possession by LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard and his critics will briefly feel vindicated. It won’t last long. At 19 years old, Williamson is already a no-doubt NBA star. This preseason run is just a small taste of what’s to come.