Relax it’s just preseason. Or is it?
The common theme among commentators, especially Stephen A. Smith, is that they don’t want to get too hyped about what Zion is doing because it is only preseason. The thing about preseason is that there are key plays that you can take away from it. What Zion is proving is that his combination of size and speed is an anomaly even among the one percent. Every once in a generation there is an athlete so advanced that no one at any level can keep up with them. In the 80’s it was Bo Jackson. In the 90’s it was Michael Jordan. In the 00’s it was Lebron James and now it is Zion Williamson. Out of all the other examples, Bo Jackson is probably the closest athlete to Zion Williamson. Bo had an unnatural blend of size, speed, and explosion that people his size shouldn’t possess. NFL linebackers were just as helpless against Bo Jackson as the hopeless college linebackers who tried before them. He had the size of a fullback with the speed of a defensive back. Looking at Zion, it is easy to see the parallel between him and Bo. Zion has the size and strength of an NFL defensive lineman with the speed, agility, and elevation of a prime Derrick Rose. Even the Lebron comparisons don’t do him justice because Zion is bigger and probably quicker than prime Lebron. While he is in no way on Lebron’s level, what he has done in the preseason shouldn’t be overlooked. When rookies are as hyped as Zion coming in, veterans normally take this as an opportunity to welcome them to the league. This is the point where most veterans either play harder than they should in preseason to lock a rookie up, or go out of their way to make things harder on a rookie for at least a few possessions. To put value to Zion’s preseason you have to look at his play versus the Utah Jazz. Against Rudy Gobert, the best shot blocker in the NBA and the guy responsible for shutting down team USA, Zion elevated over and through him like he wasn’t there. The scouting report on Zion was put length on him to slow him down. There isn’t a player in the NBA with more length then Rudy Gobert. Another advanced thing that Zion is doing is he takes what the defense gives him. The greatest players to ever play the game realize that it is not about how you get the bucket but getting the bucket. When Michael Jordan started playing in the post it took his game to another level and allowed him to score more effortlessly. When Kevin Durant stopped his love for the crossover pull up jump shot and started posting smaller defenders, he became a much more efficient scorer and was unstoppable. Most rookies struggle with efficiency, but that is something Zion excels at. If you look at his preseason numbers he has had some games where he is almost perfect from the field. It is almost disappointing when he shoots at or near 50 percent. Adding in the fact that he is improving his three point shooting and his ability to knock down free throws, the NBA hasn’t seen anything like him. He is like Shaq without the free throw kryptonite.
What makes him great?
The all time greats like Jordan, Magic, and Bird, loved the game of basketball as if it were their only child. These all time greats also hated to lose more than others liked to win. If you watch YouTube videos of the Dream Team, you will see Jordan and Magic Johnson going at each other in a scrimmage like it’s game 7 of the NBA finals: this is what I see in Zion. While most don’t take the preseason seriously, every time a reporter speaks to Zion his first mention is about pulling of the win. He is the kind of player you can tell hates to miss games and probably won’t be a candidate for load management. Unlike Lebron, when his team loses he always blames himself. This is really the only chink in Lebron’s resume: he is too public about getting help and doesn’t give his team the confidence that no matter who they throw on the floor, he will carry them. Fans have come to expect their star players to do unworldly things and when they can’t, they place the blame solely on the team superstar. The greats know this and in front of the media they accept that challenge – for whom much is given much is expected. Jordan always spoke about respecting the game and his love for competing. I guess it’s ironic that Zion signed with the Jordan brand because his passion for the game is legendary. Another sign of a player becoming an all time great is their ability to get better. Go back to the McDonalds All-American Game two years ago and you will see that Zion had trouble blowing by Nasir Little, a late first round NBA draftee with good, but not great, NBA athleticism. Flash forward to now and you see NBA players slow to react to how fast he is moving at his size. The way he picks up velocity is reminiscent to a Ferrari going zero to 60 in a few seconds. Unlike Giannas, he doesn’t need a large launch pad to build up steam; its maybe two dribbles and your looking at taking on the force of a Mack truck. The only NBA athlete that I have seen close to Zion was Derrick Rose, and he was about a hundred pounds lighter. Zion’s floor is Blake Griffin and after seeing him play against NBA level competition, I would say he has already reached that. Like Blake, I believe he will be a rookie all star even in the tough western conference. What separates Zion from Blake is IQ. While Blake in his 10th year is becoming a reliable three point shooter, I think Zion is already comparable. It is scary that a rookie already has the chops of some of the best in the game or better at the age of 19.
The only thing that can stop Zion
The only thing that can stop Zion from reaching his peak is the same thing that robbed Derrick Rose and that is injuries. Sometimes when you’re that explosive the body cannot keep up. We saw small signs of injury at Duke and in the summer league. Many are calling for Zion to lose weight because the grind of an 82 game season would be too much. I think as he gets older he will improve his diet because of his love for the game and injuries will be less of a concern. Also with him being out of college he will have more time and money to master his body. We have seen many players come out of college carrying extra weight eventually slim down in the NBA. Recent examples include Draymond Green and Kevin Love. Unlike these two, Zion came into the league with a more muscular build. Already, as a 19 year old out of college, he has shown there isn’t a player in the NBA that can keep up with him, so just imagine what he will look like when he hires a chef and nutritionist. The NBA better be on watch: Zion is coming for the throne and taking no prisoners.