Coming into his freshman season at Duke University, Zion Williamson carried as much popularity as any high school athlete since LeBron James. With a 6’7” and 285-pound frame, as well as a vertical leap where his head easily clears the rim, he has one of the rarest combinations of strength and athleticism in basketball history.
Williamson currently has over 2.2 million followers on Instagram. For comparison, the three finalists for the Heisman Trophy in 2018, the award for the best college football player, have only a combined 903 thousand followers.
If you were to search “Zion Williamson High School Highlights” online, you would see some of the most athletic dunks and blocked shots of any high school basketball player. By just looking at his highlights, however, it is difficult to grasp just how much basketball skill Williamson actually had, and he was not even the top ranked incoming college freshman on the ESPN Recruiting Database. However, Williamson is having a historically elite season and NBA bottom-feeders are dreaming to have the first pick this June.
Williamson is currently having one of the most efficient seasons in college basketball history. While averaging 21.7 points per game through 19 games, he is shooting a remarkable 67 percent from the field. His player efficiency rating of 41.45 shatters every PER since 2009, with the next highest rating for a season at 36.93.
On offense, his strength allows him to score on the block, while he has the skill to handle the ball on the perimeter like a guard. Williamson’s rare combination of agility, strength and skill make him most dangerous in transition. In Duke’s game against Virginia, Williamson grabbed a defensive rebound, took the ball down the court, used an in-and-out dribble to lose a Virginia defender attempting to guard him and then finished with a slam-dunk over a 7’1” center from Virginia. In fact, Eric Goff, a physicist from the University of Lynchburg compared taking a charge from Williamson as “the equivalent of the aver- age force during a similar, head-on collision with a Jeep traveling 10 miles per hour.”
On the defensive end, Williamson can match up with guards because of his athletic ability, and is capable of protecting the rim with his unprecedented vertical leaping ability. He currently ranks sixth in the ACC with 1.84 blocks per game, which is impressive given his 6’7” frame and Duke’s defensive structure of not having him protect the rim every possession.
After Williamson’s 35-point effort against Syracuse, Orange head coach Jim Boeheim compared him to Charles Barkley, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame with a similar build and skill, to Williamson, adding, “except he shoots better than Charles did, and he’s not as fat.” With his tenacity, athletic ability and pure power, Williamson is as intriguing of a prospect as any entering the NBA. The NBA Draft Lottery this spring has amounted to the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, as he can fit well on nearly any team, and his potential will make it nearly impossible for any team to pass up on him.
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