The Promise of Zion: Summer League Provided Brief Glimpse of Elite Skill

Published: July 6, 2019

Fans were only treated to a brief glimpse of Zion Williamson as an NBA player now that he has been ruled out for the remainder of NBA Summer League action in Las Vegas, but Friday night was the Hollywood trailer we’ve all been waiting for.

Williamson was impressively efficient, producing 11 points in 9 minutes of play in the New Orleans Pelicans’ 80-74 victory (in an earthquake-shortened game) over a New York Knicks squad led by Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox, players who have solid regular season league experience.

For Williamson, we did not see a full display of the player we saw at Duke, a positionless force of nature that will change the sport as we know it. What we did see, however, in small sample size, is that he is patient and will adjust his game for situations he’s placed in.

Williamson mostly played the role of a traditional big, rarely commanding ball and content to capitalize off of rebounds (3 total) and feeds into the low post. He looked for opportunities within the structure rather than forcing them, and part of how he did this was by working on defense. For year one, Williamson may be more Larry Johnson or Charles Barkley than LeBron James, but that is more than just alright.

If anyone is disappointed that point-Zion did not appear last night, patience is key. The skill is there but it will take time to adjust to NBA speed. What Zion did prove is that he can and will produce as a big on an NBA level before he ever starts evolving. This is important as he is coming into a team that will be led by veteran guard Jrue Holiday and feature a distributor like Lonzo Ball. Pieces like JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram, and center Derrick Favors means that the Pelicans will have contributors in most facets of the game, creating a situation for Williamson to fall in place and rise rather than produce or die.

Physically, Williamson appeared to be heavy and not in NBA shape. This is normal for a player his size who likely hasn’t worked out much since the college season ended, being swept up in press appearances and exempt from working out for prospective teams as the No.1 overall pick.

Despite a slow start, the attention that naturally flows to Williamson was apparent once he began to feel comfortable on the floor. Every time Fred Vinson called his number by drawing up a play, Williamson responded with results.

While many will be focused on Williamson’s size and ability to run in the NBA, what is there is otherworldly strength. He has the explosiveness of an NFL prospect, like a tight end peeling off the line for a quick slant or a defensive tackle rushing through the backfield as soon as the snap count clears.

Players with absurd athleticism often play with a reckless abandon. Williamson is different. He has control of his instincts and can anticipate developments before making his own split-second decisions. His decisions often produce positive results.

Williamson’s shooting and shot form looked below average and must improve once the regular season arrives. However, while it’s clear that Williamson needs to fix some mechanics, it is hard to say that we saw a good example of Williamson’s shooting ability in his first nine minutes of NBA action with most plays had him attacking the basket.

What seems to be important for Williamson now is getting into league shape. There will be growing pains ahead and he will not take over the entire NBA his rookie year. He is smart enough to contribute heavily and in an important way, which should be enough for him to win Rookie of the Year.


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