Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson is going to hit collegiate hardwoods with as much YouTube hype there’s been this side of Seventh Woods. Like Woods, though, Williamson’s highlight clips alone are unlikely to make him a top 2019 NBA Draft pick.
Through no fault of his own, Williamson has already been pegged as some beefy, yet vigorous forward with defects. What kind of flaws? It depends on who you ask. There are few who have actually seen him play outside of highlight packages designed to make him appear breathtaking.
The method to make it so has worked wonderfully.
Setting music to a high school phenom dunking is a modest, yet relevant dilemma when it comes to draft deliberations in the social media era. Many already understand there aren’t heaps of clips being uploaded to shine a light on a five-star prospect’s anemic baseline jumper. Those are less likely to receive shares from the masses.
Regardless, the application does little in helping people understand a kid’s strengths and weaknesses.
Zion Williamson is, and will continue to be, a great illustration of this. He’s only been touted for two characteristics so far — dunking and his bulk — and that’s only been done due to the limited information people have.
Completely unfair to him. Mostly our fault.
Put grassroots people to the wayside, as they do have a considerable sample to work with compared to the rest of us, Williamson’s game remains more a mystery than most like to admit. A community digests dunk after dunk set to some Drake song, then assume he’s a poor man’s Shawn Kemp — or whatever other lazy comparison we decide adequate.
Since humans have seen his vertical, it gets coupled with the knowledge of his frame and how other players similarly built like him have done in NBA history. After that, it’s then on to speculate about his shooting. Not based off one’s own intel or surveying. Nope. Just make it so with the wave of a hand over a keyboard.
Can he shoot? From all detailed reports from people who have watched him, the answer is not yet. He’s more an uncooked athlete on offense, one who will likely do best in transition and should do damage off teammates’ ill-fated jumper attempts.
That’s not the inherent problem, though. Merely since some of our uneducated premises checkout with those that are, it doesn’t mean any of us are doing the process justly.
Example: Williamson is not afforded the same benefit of the doubt with his shooting as do most other 6-foot-6 talents. Rare is the incoming freshman who has a fully polished game. Usually acknowledging this, mock draft folk and fans will extend an olive branch to a prospect.
As a disclosure of sorts, I’ve done it myself with Williamson’s Duke Blue Devils teammate R.J. Barrett. His two substantial question marks as a pro prospect are his abilities to create separation from defenders and his jumper. While I’ve seen Barrett play far more often than Williamson, feeling safer in making the projection based off his form and growth the last 10 months, why am I and others so easy to write off the idea of Williamson’s mid-range game improving?
A rhetorical question.
This doesn’t even touch on the fact that he’s an undersized something at 6-foot-6 (or 6-foot-7, depending on your preferred website). Thus far, no one truly knows what position Williamson will even play in college, nevertheless in the pros. No matter. It hasn’t stopped anyone from saying he’s undersized, as the presumption that he’s a power forward no matter what has been obstinate.
Semi-educated conversations can be had right now on Williamson’s role for Duke, but expanding beyond the college game to discuss his NBA prospects without yet seeing him in that setting is beyond bizarre. Forget the fact the NBA is praised for going more position-less, but having designated roles for players during NBA Draft discussions somehow becomes a must.
View it like rating a restaurant you’ve not actually visited, but have seen other people’s Yelp reviews for.
Foolhardy, honestly. That’s the baseline for discussion had around Zion Williamson before the season has hit. We have gathered the little information available to us, treated it as gospel instead of the potentially corrupt data that can often be so few scouts in-the-know giving opinions on a person.
Sample-size works both ways. It’s isn’t only a player’s data that craves constant expansion. It’s that of the scouts and writers. Everyone might claim to be the best at player evaluations — or be gas lit by others as one — but it’s usually best to operate acknowledging the smartest person in the room is rarely us. That our own instincts and information happen to be important, it is still as vital to allow others’ ideas to creep into our subconscious to allow a less narrow-minded view of a player.
That should be applied in all aspects in life, but this here is a basketblog post.
There’s even more.
Many of us have a habit of ignoring new information because the decision has already been made. This is a real issue, as it then becomes less about earnest evaluations by way of data and more so circling around someone’s belief system trumpeting facts.
“He’s graceful,” Coach K said Friday on a conference call. “His lateral movement and speed and anticipation is off the charts. He can drive, he can post up, he understands the really game well. I know that everyone has watched him on YouTube with all the dunking and obviously that’s impressive but he’s a heck of a basketball player.”
That infers a higher level of IQ than assumed, and it also more than hints at Williamson being a capable, multi-layered and versatile defender. Questions about his offense can be considered fine-ish, but if he’s anywhere near the defensive player Krzyzewski is suggesting, maybe the focus is on the wrong substance anyway.
Then again, defensive breakdowns don’t come close in garnering the same retweets as does a small, worthless blurb over one of Williamson’s YouTube clips.
Google his name, if you must. The majority of NBA Draft pieces on Williamson will mention the same exact talking points, but without any other context or sincere substance. He’s bulky (he’s as large as Player-X and 100 pounds larger than Player-Y!), but insanely athletic (scroll around a little more and you’ll surely see a Mac McClung mixtape on that person’s site), and so on.
The season hasn’t even hit. Despite that, I do feel safe in saying Zion Williamson is this season’s most interesting draft prospect to follow. Not only since he’ll likely entertain, but due to the outlandish coverage that will come with it.
To be fair, maybe that’s presumptuous of me.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter below.