The Problem with Zion


No matter your opinion on Zion Williamson, there is no doubt he’s one of the most hyped athletes of all time. The first round pick of this years draft, some have even heralded him as “the next LeBron James” for his historic season at Duke, even though he has not played a single NBA game as of writing. But is he truly the salvation the Pelicans desperately need after the loss of AD this summer? 

First, let us take a look at why Williamson is so highly valued. Perhaps his most notable quality is his vertical. Zion, though being almost 300 pounds, has a 40 inch vertical, and is one of the best dunkers to ever play in college. His highly publicized dunking abilities are seen by many as the best since Vince Carter came into the league in 1998. Despite this, there’s a growing concern that his vertical may not transfer to the grueling NBA season. His large weight, coupled with his knee injury history, may put a damper on his leaping. The human body is not meant to endure the shock of landing with that weight, and unless he loses some pounds, there is a real risk that he may lose a lot of what makes him so exciting to injury. For an example, look at Derrick Rose. a former MVP of the league who was brought down by a few injuries. He never returned to the levels that he once was at, or even approached them. If something like that happens to Zion, much of what made him special is gone. Many people also hype up his playmaking abilities, and shooting percentages, but college is a different beast than the NBA. the Blue Devils last year were very much the equivalent to the “Big Three” teams we saw in Miami in the early 2010s and even Golden State in the past few years. Zion was joined by two other first round picks in RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, and yet failed to step up and lead his team past Michigan State in the NCAA to the National Tournament. An upset like this begs the question: Zion may be a good player, but is he a good leader?

Zion may not need to be a leader in New Orleans this year, with vet Jrue Holiday helping mold the team, but if he can’t become someone for the team to rally around, then whether he’s putting up good numbers or not is irrelevant. That locker room presence is vital for New Orleans, who are a middling team in a conference filled with some of the best teams of the modern era. The Pelicans were lucky in drafting Zion, they need a dedicated Power Forward now that Anthony Davis, the former All-Star who played for the Pelicans for his first 6 years, has gone to the Lakers. However, they’ve made a vital mistake in their roster: they have nobody else. Brandon Ingram has been playing well at the position, but he is undersized, and clearly a better fit for different positions. When he comes back, Zion is going to be playing big minutes at the position, with nobody to relieve him. This is going to put more undue stress on his body and if he is sidelined from injury again, that could ruin his hopes to win Rookie of the Year, and may even permanently affect his ability to play the game. 

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want Zion to fail. He’s a fun player to watch and the Pelicans deserve some success after the last few disappointing seasons, but the hype around him has gotten to critical levels, and people are going to be disappointed. So when he eventually comes back in a few weeks, remember one thing: Zion might not be all he’s cracked up to be.