Zion Williamson hasn’t played an NBA game, but have entered the league with the most expectations of any player since LeBron James. Even though Williamson entered the NBA in an era that didn’t allow players to be drafted out of high school, the hype train was similar to that of James’s. Hype is a two-sided coin, however, and for every person wishing that Williamson will be the next NBA phenom, someone is questioning his ability to do so.
It has been like this since his earliest days when he was still a high schooler. So how has he been able to keep all the critics at bay so far?
Williamson got a feature in USA Today when he was only 16 years old. While he had the skills to be on the radar of people everywhere, it was his dunking that garnered him the most attention. At legal driving age, Williamson had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 6’8″, 230-pound frame. This also meant that people tried to prescribe controversy to Williamson regarding his age.
When Williamson got 53 points against Gray Collegiate at the Chick-fil-A Classic, people began to question whether Williamson’s age was correct. While some did so jokingly based on his massive frame, others did so seriously. While he did not have the early exposure of LeBron James, when he did break out it was the closest that the social media age has seen to that sort of phenomenon.
Williamson spoke about the attention he got for his 37 point, 13 rebound, 2.5 block performances in high school.
“It just doesn’t seem real,” said Williamson (per USA Today). “I won’t lie, I enjoy the attention. I love when I’m in the warmup lines and I hear someone say, ‘Show me something Zion!’ I don’t need the attention, but, yeah, I like it. Who wouldn’t? But I’m far from cocky.”
Zion Williamson: skilled or athletic?
Williamson’s freakish athletic ability made people talk about him as though he began and ended with his leaping ability. Even Kevin Durant talked about Williamson’s freakish athleticism, calling him a generational talent and a “bull in a china shop.” This caused people to underrate the skills behind those athletic feats, meaning that even at the height of the hype, Williamson struggled to be the number one prospect.
Evan Daniels of 247Sports thought that this perceived lack of skills would hurt Williamson.
“He’s one of the most explosive prospects I’ve covered and he has this gift. But his ball skills aren’t there,” Daniels said. “He doesn’t dribble with his off hand, he doesn’t shoot well and he doesn’t consistently play hard. And those are three strikes against him right there.”
While it is true that the NBA is growing increasingly dependent on skills over athleticism, Williamson was getting these criticisms at 16 years old, when he still had lots of time to grow. Furthermore, he showed an ability to work hard and show signs of growth, even against high school competition.
Health and fitness?
One knock that prevails regarding Williamson is his weight. While it is true that Williamson is large for his height, he is built differently. Adjusting to the NBA will be a challenge for everyone, and someone Williamson’s size might have some extra adjustment, but it doesn’t mean that he is out of shape. Zion’s size combined with his athleticism is one of his greatest assets.
People also questioned Williamson’s health, as he has struggled with knee issues throughout his career, including the injury that has kept him out of most of his on-court action since being drafted. This is a legitimate concern, but until fans see that he cannot stay on the court, there is a chance that the knee issues can be overcome.
How will Zion Williamson translate to the NBA?
Williamson has been questioned for years, and he will likely be questioned until he proves or disproves that the hype was worth it. Some of the criticism was loaded with the same doubts that can be had about any teenager who is still growing into their game. Williamson is the most heavily-hyped player the NBA has seen in years, and the takes will fly in the modern mediascape.
Some will stand, others will fall, but until Williamson steps on to the court and shows us who he is, all of it is mere speculation. One thing is for sure, Williamson has heard it all before and he’s eager to prove people wrong.