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What We Saw In Zion Williamson Wednesday

Imperfections yes, but greatness beckons

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NCAA Basketball: Preseason-Duke at Ryerson University
Aug 15, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Duke University forward Zion Williamson (1) reaches for a rebound in a pre-season exhibition game against Ryerson University at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Like everyone else, we were slack jawed watching what Flyin’ Zion Williamson did against Ryerson. It was just amazing. We never thought we’d see a guy that size do things like that. Our joke was that he was like a bulldozer with wings.

We watched some of the game again on Thursday though and realized that he still has some things to work on.

For one, every time he drove right he shot with his left hand. It’s not ideal obviously. He’s talented enough to jump over most guys and big enough to run over anyone so he can get away with it for awhile. But take a nasty defender with a bad attitude and he could have trouble. There’s no way that Draymond Green could jump with Williamson, for instance, but anyone who has watched that guy would realize that quite often he beats people before they leave the floor. Kawhi Leonard would probably limit him too. Marcus Smart would make him work hard. At some point, natural talent isn’t enough.

And while everyone praised him for his three point shooting, including us, when we looked again, we realized that a) he was unguarded on all of them and b) he was basically shooting a set shot, not a jump shot. We’d like to see how he does with someone pushing him and forcing him to use his right hand.

These are skills though. They are things you can acquire with work and effort and Williamson has hinted that his vision for himself is as much more than just a YouTube dunk artist. The fact that he is willing to shoot threes and bring the ball up-court suggest as much too.

His skills need some refining but here’s the other side of what we saw.

We saw a guy who’s built like a refrigerator but who was as nimble as anyone on the court. We saw a guy who has superb instincts. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t know what to do with it, you won’t get very far.

So as much as we enjoyed the dunks - the putback dunk made people scream here - there was so much more that we appreciated.

There were the 13 rebounds, but most of all the one where he just went up over a Ryerson kid and pulled the ball down over him without touching him. It’s one thing to have a 45” vertical but again, he knows what to do with it.

There was the rundown block he did where he seemed to launch like a rocket. It only looked easy. He had to factor in a lot of things to do that and the rest of the team thought about it for the rest of that game: could he do that to me?

Then there were the passes, some of which were really tremendous, and the sense to know when to defer to someone else.

We could probably boil this down to a handful of plays to make the point:

That over the top rebound, that putback dunk, that rundown block and one more.

The last play wasn’t as electrifying but like the rest it speaks to a great instinct for the game.

Williamson jumped, picked up a loose ball, turned around, and saw Javin DeLaurier coming down the lane. He got him the ball for an easy basket. It doesn’t sound that slick but keep in mind that he caught the ball and turned in mid-air to do it: instant decision.

It reminded us of a play we saw Bobby Hurley do in Cameron once.

The ball was headed out of bound opposite the score keepers table. Rather than letting it go out bounds, in a summer game that meant nothing, Hurley leaped after it. He caught it in mid-air, spun around, and hit a teammate with a pin-perfect alley-oop pass for a dunk.

Consider that not only did he do it in the blink of an eye, he also had to think about where he was going to land. Would he fall on students? Would his ankle get injured when he came down and landed awkwardly between the bleachers?

You can point to any number of plays in Duke history - Jeff Capel’s shot against UNC, Grant Hill killing a four-on one break by himself, Grayson Allen’s dive against Wisconsin, Christian Laettner’s legendary shot against Kentucky - that play by Hurley stands up to any of them.

Skills can be learned. Williamson can learn to shoot a perimeter shot when he’s being defended (and just because he didn’t do it doesn’t mean he can’t already. We’d just like to see it). He can learn to go to his right and then shoot right handed. Among their many talents, Coach K, Jon Scheyer, Nate James, Chris Carrawell and Nolan Smith are all excellent communicators and teachers. If he wants it they’ll get him there.

No one can teach talent, instinct and a desire to be great. Those things are innate and Williamson has them. Watching him master his craft over the next few years, wherever he plays, is going to be a very great pleasure.

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