We’re not saying that Zion Williamson is going to have a great NBA career - it’s too early to say really - but clearly he’s immensely promising. And any time you have such a promising young talent people are going to come at him in a variety of ways.
We saw that this week with Enes Kanter saying he thought he was overrated and we see it again now with Rob Parker, co-host of The Odd Couple podcast, who agrees.
Parker says that he can’t give predictions about how an untested rookie will play against the world’s very best and that’s fair. He also says that it’s hard to see how a guy who dominated inferior players in college can be projected as a Hall of Famer and that we agree with that too. You just can’t know yet.
And you could take an extraordinary athlete - let’s say Olympic swimmer extraordinaire Michael Phelps - and you could say he’s such a great athlete that he could instantly dominate any sport he chose to compete in.
Best swimmer? Phelps. Best boxer? Phelps. Best basketball player? Phelps.
Most overrated athlete?
But he’d still be a phenomenal athlete.
Look, Williamson is not a finished product and there are plenty of questions, even now, about how good he’ll be. He needs to expand his skill set in several ways. Elite talent doesn’t necessarily equate to elite accomplishment.
When you watch him though, or at least when we did, you see things that you can’t teach.
You can’t teach that preternatural quickness and his defensive anticipation is remarkable. You can't teach someone to fly across the lane and take off and block a corner jumper when it looks physically inconceivable. You can’t teach that kind of strength or the ability to react so quickly. And even if you could, you can’t teach someone to partner that freakish talent with a will to be great, any more than you can teach someone how to bring that sense of joy to a group, which he clearly did at Duke. Even as he moved past older teammates they cheered him on. We even famously saw UNC fans celebrating him at the ACC Tournament.
Is he overrated? It’s certainly possible. But like the Phelps scenario above, even if you think he’s overrated look at what he can do right now. People are fascinated because not only have we never seen anyone like him, we’ve rarely seen anyone as charismatic. That’s why LeBron James, who knows vastly more about basketball than Porter does, also found Williamson compelling.
All that said, competitors (and the media) are certainly going to try to cut him down to size. This always happens. Wilt Chamberlain tried to do it to young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Isaiah Thomas tried to do it to Michael Jordan. Most of the league tried to do it to Larry Bird.
It’s just part of the game.
The media in many ways though is different. Most of those bloviating haven’t seen Williamson in person. If you’re judging him on highlights, you’re misunderstanding his impact on the game. You can get an idea from TV but it’s like listening to a great musician from a block away. You’ll never get the full effect.
And having watched him for a season, while we’re not foolish enough to predict a Hall of Fame induction just yet, we don't think he’s overrated. It’s entirely possible he’s underrated or, perhaps just poorly understood.
People should quit worrying about what he can or can’t do and how great he’ll be and just appreciate the fact that a transcendent talent and charismatic presence has arrived in the sport that we love. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen this kind of excitement.