Stat Talk: The Growing Legend of Zion Williamson

I’m sure we’re all tired of talking about Zion Williamson. While the hype surrounding the most exciting prospect to enter the NBA since LeBron is certainly deserved, the media’s obsession with him is beginning to justifiably irritate fans. However, in the spirit of March Madness, I want to look beyond the highlight reel dunks and examine Zion’s skill set, as well as his NBA future.

For someone who has achieved the mononym level of fame (Kobe, LeBron, etc.), we know surprisingly little about Zion’s game. What position will he even play in the pros? The easy answer is that it doesn’t matter; a talent of this caliber goes beyond positional labels, and the NBA has become increasingly inter-positional anyways. But he plays the nominal role of power forward at Duke, and, at 6’7”, is undersized for this position in the NBA. This could end up as a nonissue — Draymond Green, also standing at 6’7″, has revolutionized the power forward position while enjoying monumentally less explosiveness. However, Zion will not be able to play out of the post as efficiently as he has in college unless he develops more refined moves around the basket. Not even Zion can simply bulldoze through NBA opponents as he has Duke’s hapless opponents.

Zion is currently shooting a remarkable 69.6 percent from the floor, a number which stems from the abundance of rim-rattling dunks he accrues each game. He will be an elite NBA athlete, but the differential between him and his opponents will dramatically decrease. Zion will thus need to expand his game outside of the paint. While he has shown a more deft 3-point touch than many expected, he still shoots only 32.1 percent from behind the arc. His form appears too flat, which manifests in the ball often clanking off the front of the rim. This deficiency has also surfaced in his subpar 64.7 free-throw shooting percentage. While Zion will not need to be an all-world shooter in order to achieve NBA stardom, he will not be able to maintain even comparable efficiency unless he addresses these issues. However, there is reason for optimism — as opposed to a complete non-shooter like Ben Simmons, Zion has shown a willingness to take outside shots. He also employs a surprisingly soft touch, especially on driving shots.

Perhaps the most unheralded aspect of Zion’s game is his defense. He has shown an incredible knack for jumping passing lanes, demonstrated by ranking top 25 in the nation with 2.17 steals per game. While he has demonstrated impressive defensive instincts to pair with his nuclear athleticism, he has also gambled and been caught out of position far too often. The same is true of his shot-blocking ability: Every highlight reel swat is matched by a greedy jump on a pump fake. These issues appear easy to fix in contrast to refining his offensive game, but the process will nevertheless be arduous — it takes time to build good habits.

All in all, the questions surrounding Zion’s game pale in comparison to his surreal athleticism and seemingly limitless ceiling. He will look to add to his growing legend this month, as Duke fights for the NCAA crown.