Two of the NBA’s brightest young stars are seeing their careers advance in opposite directions. The 22-year-old Luka Doncic just wrapped up the festivities in Cleveland after participating in his third straight All-Star appearance. Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Zion Williamson is sidelined with a broken foot and has no timetable for a return.
While it might not seem like it at the moment, Doncic and Williamson both faced similar criticism at one point in time. Yet only Luka responded in a positive way and made necessary improvements, which should force Zion to reconsider his choices.
Mark Cuban spoke highly of Luka Doncic’s new-found commitment to getting in shape
The game of basketball seems to come easy to Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise cornerstone. Since entering the league, El Matador has already made three All-Star teams, two All-NBA teams, and won the 2018-19 Rookie of the Year.
Yet despite his accolades, Luka has also faced some harsh feedback regarding his body.
The 6-foot-7 guard entered this season at 260 pounds, 30 pounds more than his listed weight. Doncic was even called out by Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, who said the young star was “plodding up and down the court” and “has got to trim down” during Dallas’ 102-99 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in December. Luka even mentioned after the game that he has to do better as far as his weight and conditioning are concerned.
His honest admission was a massive turning point. Earlier this month, Tim MacMahon told Zach Lowe on The Lowe Post podcast that Doncic is now in the 240s, far closer to his original playing weight. And the production is speaking for itself, as Luka is averaging a cool 29.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 9.3 assists since Dec. 8.
During an appearance on 96.7 The Ticket, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban praised his star for how he handled all of the criticism.
“I think he was humbled a little bit,” Cuban said on Tuesday (via ESPN). “I think he didn’t like being called out for his weight and other things, and it finally clicked that there’s a level of discipline that’s required.”
“All athletes at his level go through it at some level, where things are just easy and you’re always used to being the best and you’re always used to getting all the accolades. Then when something doesn’t go according to expected, it makes you reconsider.”
Zion Williamson needs to take notes from Luka Doncic
While Luka’s weight criticism has largely occurred this year alone, Zion has been hearing the noise for the majority of his career.
Williamson, who is one inch shorter than Doncic at 6-foot-6, is listed at 284 pounds according to the Pelicans official team page. But that’s no longer the case, as MacMahon told Lowe Zion was now up to 330 pounds, 70 more than Luka.
There is no issue with Zion’s weight, so long as he’s able to stay healthy and productive at the same time. But various injuries, including the broken foot he’s rehabbing from now, have cost him 118 of a possible 203 career games. It even prevented him from playing a full season at Duke.
Former legends like Charles Barkley have expressed their concern over Zion, much like Miller did for Doncic. Barkley, who had his own weight issues as a young player, voiced his opinion on Inside the NBA.
“You should not get hurt when you’re young. He’s already had surgeries on his legs, now he’s got a broken foot. He gon’ have to learn even when you’re hurt, you’re gonna have to control your eating,” Barkley said last month. “When guys get hurt, when they come back, you’re trying to get in shape. And if you’re putting all that stress on your knees and your feet, you’re just gonna keep getting hurt.”
Part of the reason Luka emphasized his conditioning was due to a sprained ankle that kept flaring up. After three weeks of conditioning and recovery, Doncic has been borderline unstoppable. So it stands to reason that if Zion showed the same level of commitment Luka shows now, the Pelicans star would already be back on the court.
Zion is running out of time to prove he’s as committed as Doncic
Who knows when or if Williamson will be back on the court this season. The Pelicans certainly don’t, as they are understandably growing impatient with their franchise star.
New Orleans has navigated through its entire campaign without Zion on the court. And it’s barely hearing anything from him off the court, as the 21-year-old is rehabbing away from the team. Not exactly a great look for a player who’s due to ink a five-year, $181 million extension this summer.
Williamson and the Pelicans weren’t already on the best of terms. The star expressed frustration with how the team has handled his rehab, particularly in his rookie season. However, the Pels have every reason to blame the third-year forward for the lack of care he currently has for his body.
While Luka Doncic has turned a corner and shown his commitment to the Mavericks, Zion Williamson has yet to do the same in New Orleans. Hopefully, he figures it out before costing himself more games and a lot more money.