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The Zion Williamson Debate Continues, Even As His Dominance Grows

He’s only played 50 games but even so, people should understand what they’re seeing

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans
Feb 17, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) reacts against Portland Trail Blazers during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. 
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

As you guys have noticed, we’re big fans of former Blue Devil Zion Williamson. We’re big fans of everyone who came through Duke but Williamson is particularly fascinating because of the combination of his size, astonishing athleticism, and intelligence for the game.

In his last five games he’s scored 36, 31, 26, 36 and 29 points which is impressive. But he’s done that shooting 12-18, 13-16, 10-20, 14-15 and 12-18. That works out to 61-87 for 70.1 percent.

There have been several arguments about Williamson, including ones about his weight and versatility.

On his podcast recently, JJ Redick pointed out that everyone knows exactly what Williamson is going to do: he’s going to go to his left and score with his dominant hand. It’s just that no one can stop it.

And that, he says correctly, is a sign of greatness. Vince Lombardi ran a sweep constantly with the Green Bay Packers. Everyone knew it was coming; no one could stop it for long. Same principle.

This article from Deadspin argues that Williamson needs to diversify his game to keep improving but to an extent, he’s already doing that.

He’s really improved his free throw shooting and while he hasn’t needed to shoot many threes yet, he’s certainly better at it now than he was at Duke.

But the article oversimplifies. At some point in his career, Williamson, like all older veterans, will have to do things differently.

At this point though, if he’s unstoppable around the basket, why wouldn’t he play to his strengths?

When we say it oversimplifies, it misses Williamson’s basketball IQ. And if you can shoot 70 percent or better close to the basket, why wouldn’t you? The three point mentality has changed the game, and not always for the better. Steph Curry shoots about 42 percent from three point range. So if he hits 42 out of every 100 attempts, that’s 126 points. Pretty good.

But if you’re hitting 70 percent on twos that’s 140 points. It’s hard to top that.

But the other thing this article misses is his more general intelligence: his ability to hit an open teammate, his quickness to get to a loose ball, his understanding of spacing.

Our guess is when he reaches a point where it’s harder to overpower people inside he’ll know it and will make the necessary adjustments. But as long as you can be this efficient, why wouldn’t you pick up easy money?

That’s a sign of intelligence as well.