Zion National Park is a magnificent natural phenomenon located in Utah with high red cliffs. Zion Williamson is a magnificent natural phenomenon located in Louisiana with a high vertical leap. Don’t get the two mind-bending wonders confused.
Williamson, one of the most anticipated athletes in recent memory, finally played his first NBA game on Jan. 22 against the Spurs, and scored 22 points in 18 minutes.
We weren’t surprised by his high shooting efficiency (8-for-11); we figured he could do that. What shocked NBA fans was his Wendy’s 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Since then he is just 1-for-8 from deep but has instead astounded us with his combination of the vertical of an Olympic high-jumper with the physique of a bodybuilder.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 2, 2020
According to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Williamson’s vertical was 45 inches in college. This is three or more inches higher than Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Spud Webb, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins — need I go on?
Williamson measures in at 6-foot-7 and weighs 285 pounds. This makes him the second-heaviest player in the NBA behind somebody that’s 7-foot-3, and to say Zion wears it well would be an understatement.
We watched the anatomical marvel bully his way through college basketball, but after sustaining an injury right before the season started, his NBA debut was delayed. This raised questions about whether or not a body built like Williamson’s can withstand playing in the NBA.
In the 15 games that Zion has played this season, he is averaging 28.9 minutes per game. He started January on a minutes restriction, but then was given more time on the floor in February. He averaged 25 minutes per game in his first month back, then 30.6 the next.
In the March 1 game against the Lakers, Williamson tied his high for minutes played with 33 and set a new high with 35 points. He shot a fantastic 12-for-16, and brought his season scoring average and field goal percentage up to 24.1 points per game and 59.3%.
Williamson is unstoppable in the paint. Whether he’s backing down his defender, posting up, muscling his way to the rim or catching a lob, he’s already one of the best finishers in the league.
Due to his low volume this season, Williamson doesn’t qualify among league leaders. But if he did, he would be averaging the most attempts and makes within five feet of the basket in the NBA.
On average, Williamson is 8.5-for-13.4 from this range. The next highest in both attempts and makes within five feet is of course Giannis Antetekounmpo with an average of 7.8-for-11. The rim isn’t a bad place to operate, as proven with Antetekounmpo’s 2018-19 and soon-to-be 2019-20 NBA MVP awards to show for it.
Now the question on everyone’s minds is, “Should Zion win Rookie of the Year?” As great as I think he is, I don’t think he should or will.
If Williamson plays the rest of New Orleans’ games, he will finish his rookie season with 37 games under his belt. A precedent is already set in the Rookie of the Year race for a player that played great, but missed too much time.
In 2016-17, Joel Embiid played 31 games and averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the 76ers. Fellow rookie Malcolm Brogdon averaged just 10.2 points and 4.2 assists per game, but beat Embiid because he played 75 games.
We have a similar situation this season with Williamson and Memphis’ rookie Ja Morant, but the gap between these two is even smaller than Embiid and Brogdon’s. Morant is scoring 17.6 points and dishing seven assists per game, and if he plays out the rest of the season, will play 76 games. These are incredible stats for a rookie, and his Rookie of the Year status is only in question because what Williamson is doing is superhuman.
Morant should, and will win the Rookie of the Year. He will likely be very good for a long time and have a great career. But Zion … Zion is going to be special.