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Some People Still Don’t Understand Duke’s Zion Williamson

Once you get past the hype, it’s not the talent, it’s the drive and character that you should focus on.

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Ameritas Insurance Classic: Texas Tech v Duke
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 20: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball during the first half of the game against Texas Tech Red Raiders during the Ameritas Insurance Classic at Madison
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Open Floor podcast discussed Zion Williamson’s NBA potential and came up with something of a mixed bag. We don’t get it (this is the transcript; you can download the podcast if you’d like).

Obviously he has things to work on. He could use a better outside game and when he’s an older player he won’t be flying quite as much as he is now. His body type is utterly unique. The key thing is that while he is 270, his body fat is negligible. There are some concerns over durability but we’re in uncharted territory there. We’re assuming his tendons and ligaments and so forth are also larger than average and built to take the strain.

We would expect that as he ages, he’ll do like most smart players and modify his game accordingly. He’s expressed a desire to be a complete player and seems very committed.

Given the fact that he has a power forward’s body, a surreal vertical and guard skills, who cares where he plays? It’s like the old joke about where an elephant sits: wherever he wants to.

This is one of those stupid controversies that come up periodically, most recently about Luka Doncic who was supposedly not athletic enough to play in the NBA. People questioned Stephen Curry too. And last spring a lot of people questioned Wendell Carter, who has already shown he belongs.

No one is questioning Williamson’s athleticism - how could you? But what blows us away is how people misunderstand his intelligence or, just as importantly, his passion to be great. If you want to understand this kid, look at the block and assist he pulled off vs. Kentucky or the floor dives or the chase down blocks. We can’t see the work he puts in but we can see the results and project it across several years.

He needs a three point shot?

He’ll either get one for find a way to compensate for it.

Look, we all know no one has come along with his body type before but plenty of guys have come along with his level of athleticism and not made it. Some have failed spectacularly.

If you want to find a role model for Williamson, we’d suggest three different guys: Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Curry. You could toss in Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, too.

None of those guys were more talented than Earl Manigault and Curry is nowhere near as talented as Raymond Berry was.

Dick Vitale told a story of recruiting Johnson. He was coaching Detroit at the time and went to Magic’s house but he wasn’t there.

It was early morning after a snowstorm and he found Johnson, still in the dark, shoveling the snow off of his neighborhood court so that he could practice.

Curry was a good but not great ball handler when he arrived in the NBA. He’s made himself into the second best ballhandler in the world and the greatest shooter in the history of the game.

No one outworked Jordan, James or Bird.

The question for Williamson is very simple. Is he going to settle for being the most athletic guy around? Or will he pay the price for greatness?

If you listen to what he says, and what Coach K says, he’s made his desire for greatness quite explicit. He doesn’t want to be a basketball player. He wants to be a great basketball player.

That should be what the scouts are focusing on, not his supposed weaknesses.

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