Zion Williamson reaches new heights


In Zion Williamson’s first fully healthy season, he has dominated opponents with his unique combination of size, agility, and strength. His tremendous blend of physical talent has drawn comparisons to legends such as Shawn Kemp, Charles Barkley, and even Lebron James. However, opinions remain divided on what his ceiling looks like. 

Zion will become the next Lebron James.

“Do not judge too early. You all are going to regret not picking him before I did,” I said amidst receiving heat from my fellow fantasy players for drafting Zion Williamson in the third round. Thankfully, for once, my prediction bulls-eyed. Shaking off all the haters that ominously taunted Zion for losing his freakish jumping abilities, Zion has been making headlines with his merciless dunks and domination in the paint. Though arguably not fit for the long-range basketball style that dominates the NBA today, Zion’s unique skill set along with his gifted physical abilities has forced the league to pay attention. As Zion ascends, he is beginning to resemble one of the game’s greatest players of all time: LeBron James. 

Zion’s individual statistics for the 2020-21 NBA season speak for themselves. Averaging nearly 27 points, four assists, and seven rebounds per game, Zion’s numbers are resembling that of a perennial all-star’s. Yet, Zion’s offense is unlike any other non-post players in the league. With approximately 90 percent of his shots coming from the key, Zion utilizes his agility and explosive jump to brutalize defenders there. Then, why not just leave Zion open at the perimeter? In fact, this is many defenders’ go-to strategy when tasked with guarding Zion. However, acting as a slasher cutting to the basket, Zion penetrates any opening in the defense, and within a moment’s lapse, Zion leaps up, leaving the defender no choice but to move out of his way. As Zion establishes a steady three-point shot, containing him may no longer be possible: all hail, the king’s heir is here. 

Zion’s playstyle limits his ceiling. 

Though Zion is incredible at finishing around the rim, his accuracy from three-point range is not as remarkable. He is currently shooting just 33 percent on three-pointers at a very low volume. Today, non-shooters can be exploited by smart defenses that simply ignore players like Zion when they linger far away from the basket, making play extremely difficult for his teammates. Especially in the playoffs, recent years have proven unfavorable for poor shooters. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, is not so different from Zion in terms of playstyle. Giannis also uses a violent, rim-dominant approach but lacks long range shooting. Even though he plays extraordinarily well in the regular season, he has suffered disappointing playoff losses in each of the past three seasons. Just like Giannis, Zion may face far more troubles in the postseason, where teams will truly start to take away his strengths. 

There are also some other minor flaws—he is too left-hand dominant, he is not agile enough to follow quicker players on defense, he is susceptible to ball fakes—that limit his maximum potential at the moment. His breakout this season has been eye-opening, but for him to ascend into legendary status, he will have to improve other parts of his game, particularly his shooting, defense, and vision. The typical comparison for any rising star who attacks the rim at a high frequency is Lebron James, but Zion is actually far more reminiscent of Charles Barkley. Williamson and Barkley were both more efficient than Lebron while shooting worse from deep, and they also have eerily similar numbers in terms of points, assists, and steals. Barkley was also a notable rebounder (his nickname was “The Round Mound of Rebound”), which is one of Zion’s strengths. But ultimately, most experts do not rank Barkley among the greatest players of all time because his play did not translate into playoff success. Similarly, Zion’s current trajectory is certainly promising—after all, Barkley was one of the most dominant regular-season players in the 90s—but more time needs to be given before he is crowned the title of “the next LeBron.”