But for a participant as distinctive as Duke’s Zion Williamson, comps are much more difficult. Williamson is that this 12 months’s consensus No. 1 choose, likely headed to the New Orleans Pelicans initially of the 2019 NBA draft on Thursday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN). There’s additionally a powerful case that he is the very best school prospect since Anthony Davis.
But Zion nonetheless has a number of doubters across the league, and people lingering naysayers typically pose the query, “Who is he in the NBA?”
We’ve by no means seen a prospect fairly like Williamson earlier than. In making an attempt to image what precisely NBA Zion will appear to be, we have to take a look at 5 gamers as a substitute of 1.
Here’s how standout points of the Duke phenom’s recreation examine to completely different NBA gamers on the identical stage, and what it would imply for Williamson at his professional peak.
Schmitz: Zion delivers superb rim-rattling slams, however it’s his defensive versatility and willingness to work on that finish that makes him the best fashionable massive prospect, with the 1-through-5 switchability of Draymond Green. Williamson even produced a 7.2 defensive field plus-minus in his lone season at Duke — similar to Green’s defensive impression as a senior at Michigan State. In the NBA, Green has persistently ranked among the many best stoppers within the league in line with ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus regardless of his dimension.
Like Green, Zion performs far greater than his measurables recommend, permitting him to slip all the way in which as much as the middle spot, giving Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry final flexibility on the different 4 positions. Although Draymond (7-1½ wingspan, 8-9 standing attain) is longer than Zion (6-10½ wingspan, 8-7 standing attain), Williamson is near 50 kilos heavier, with far superior leaping potential to associate with comparable defensive really feel and toughness.
Zion’s nuclear bounce permits him to play together with his head on the rim in verticality conditions, whereas his cat-like quickness and motor assist him cowl floor within the blink of a watch to rotate for blocks. Even when he’s tasked with checking extra conventional bigs, his body, low middle of gravity and competitiveness are sufficient to neutralize opponents.
Williamson comfortably checked all 5 positions at Duke, stifling level guards like Ky Bowman, wings like Jarrett Culver and facilities just like the 260-pound Steven Enoch. He can shift between anchoring a protection to switching to level guards, displaying nimble ft for a participant his weight. Williamson additionally has excellent anticipation within the passing lanes, usually leaping routes with elite closing pace.
He can stand to enhance his self-discipline, however Williamson covers up numerous his errors with effort.
Goldsberry: Green’s distinctive mix of dimension, energy, pace and smarts has made him one of many definitive gamers of this decade. As NBA offenses embraced pace-and-space, defenses needed to adapt. Many conventional stoppers like Roy Hibbert have misplaced their jobs, as bigs at the moment are required to defend each the sides and the inside of the court docket. Green is so distinctive as a result of he can play nice protection in all places.
He can change onto nearly any participant from Chris Paul to Joel Embiid, and if Zion can do the identical within the NBA, his group will probably be a nightmare. Green’s versatility as a person power is arguably an important issue that has enabled Golden State to develop top-of-the-line defensive schemes for the present period.
If there have been such a factor as a defensive quarterback in basketball, Green can be all-pro.
2. Ben Simmons | Transition expertise
Schmitz: Like Simmons at LSU, Williamson is shifty within the open court docket for a participant his dimension, pushing off the glass and weaving via site visitors with guard-like agility earlier than exploding on the rim for tomahawk dunks. Both gamers are at their finest getting downhill in transition, and the unpredictability of those grab-and-go assaults is what makes positionless gamers like Simmons and Williamson so troublesome to protect in area.
At the collegiate stage, Simmons was used as extra of a standard massive man within the half-court whereas being given the liberty to carve up defenses in transition, resulting in a bunch of SportsMiddle Top-10 performs. Both gamers love to make use of highly effective in-and-out dribbles to catch defenders off stability, taking part in high-to-low and altering speeds impressively, making them practically not possible to cease with a head of steam. Williamson is an underrated ball handler, with nice physique management, permitting him to keep up stability whereas taking off of both foot.
Although Simmons is a far superior passer who has clearly been groomed as a jumbo lead guard, Williamson’s court docket imaginative and prescient equally expands within the open court docket. Whether it is via a Hail Mary outlet excessive of the protection or an aggressive push right into a thread-the-needle bounce move, Zion is a heady facilitator in opposition to a scrambling protection, one thing that ought to come alive much more within the NBA when surrounded by athletes and shooters.
Goldsberry: Everybody likes to level out that Simmons cannot shoot 3s. While that is true, it is also deceptive, as a result of Simmons is a prolific 3-point creator as a passer. Consider these two info, by way of Second Spectrum:
Simmons ranked third within the NBA in 3-point assists this season with 255 (Klay Thompson made 241)
Simmons led the NBA in whole transition assists
It’s not simply that Simmons has a knack for creating pictures — he ranked second within the NBA in passes to shooters this season, per Second Spectrum monitoring, trailing solely Russell Westbrook — it is that he has a knack for creating a few of the finest pictures within the recreation: those in transition and those from past the arc.
During the common season, Simmons created a whopping 12.1 3-point help alternatives per 100 possessions, per Second Spectrum. His imaginative and prescient and really feel for the court docket is world-class, significantly in transition, however these passes are attainable as a result of defenses must honor his personal potential to assault the rack.
The world’s finest transition playmakers are in a position to each create for themselves and for teammates within the open flooring. One purpose Zion has such excessive expectations is as a result of he has the potential to examine each containers at a really excessive stage. He cannot match Simmons as a transition distributor proper now, however his scoring risk offers him an opportunity to generate practically as many nice appears to be like for teammates in time.
3. Blake Griffin | Playmaking athleticism
Schmitz: We’ve by no means seen a 285-pounder who can sky for dunks fairly like Williamson, however Griffin (248 kilos as a 20-year-old) was an in depth reproduction. Like school Griffin (6-11 wingspan), Williamson is an influence dunker set to tear down the rim on each try, doing so regardless of mediocre positional size. He appears to get simply as a lot raise off one leg or two and is difficult for any shot-blocker to problem when he will get to his launching pad. But it isn’t simply the dunks that make these two comparable.
They’re each extraordinarily agile, with positive handles and spectacular useful athleticism. They drop fluid spin strikes, crossovers, hop steps and low-to-the-ground drives uncommon for gamers that sturdy. Given his energy and coordination, Griffin has developed into fairly the shot-creating massive, with the power to even play some 4-5 pick-and-roll, one thing we noticed typically with DeAndre Jordan throughout the Lob City days.
Zion figures to seek out comparable success, as we noticed Duke use him as a mismatch ball handler in pick-and-roll conditions, scoring 28 factors on 22 such possessions. He likes to reject ball screens however also can use the choose to both get downhill and assault or gradual up and discover an open teammate.
Zion makes use of devastating lateral hop steps, and like Griffin, his mixture of sheer energy, ballhandling, imaginative and prescient and shiftiness makes him a tricky cowl in area. Williamson can be a cushty put up passer, and his facilitating is probably going his most underrated talent. A barely superior passer on the identical stage of improvement, Williamson ought to ultimately turn out to be an much more dynamic playmaker and driver than Griffin as his profession progresses.
Goldsberry: Imagine if Dominique Wilkins might move like Vlade Divac. That’s what Blake Griffin has turn out to be — an unprecedented mixture of scoring, spotlight dunks and artful passing. The 2013-14 model of Griffin, when he completed third in MVP voting, confirmed that one of the best ways to discourage overzealous assist protection and double-teams is with sensible dishes.
Whether within the pick-and-roll or within the put up, for Zion to achieve his full potential he must turn out to be an incredible half-court passer on the NBA stage. As the league developments increasingly more towards perimeter scoring, ball-dominant bigs are more and more uncommon, and those that persist can facilitate like Griffin, who averages over 5 assists per recreation.
As Zion leaves the crowded scoring areas of the ACC, his imaginative and prescient and passing will probably be very important within the spaced out world of the NBA. While the mixture of inside prowess and perimeter shot creation could appear to be an odd method, it is one which rests on the core of some of the league’s finest superstars, together with LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Schmitz: Barkley developed into one of many higher undersized rebounders the sport had ever seen, so this comp is excessive reward, however Williamson is deserving.
Zion has persistently proved to be some of the efficient offensive rebounders in school basketball, using fast, highly effective swim strikes or aggressive spins to beat opponents to the ball usually. Not solely can he sky in a crowd and snatch the ball at its highest level with sturdy arms, however he’ll additionally throw his weight round, voluntarily crashing in opposition to the hardwood to create further possessions.
Like Barkley, he’ll additionally use his low middle of gravity to wedge opponents out of the play on the defensive glass earlier than attacking rebounds in a rush. The nastiness with which he performs with on the glass resembles the NBA legend, too.
Williamson is a thankless celebrity who would not want performs known as for him to have an effect, and his rebounding prowess and motor on the backboards are the primary purpose why.
Goldsberry: The Round Mound of Rebound is likely one of the most evocative nicknames in basketball historical past, however it additionally doubles as a really transient scouting report for Barkley. Despite his relative shortness and roundness, Sir Charles grew to become top-of-the-line rebounders in his period because of his mix of motor, boxouts and smarts.
Zion has a much bigger body than Barkley, however his vitality is analogous, and that is a significant praise. The pace-and-space period has diminished the variety of goliath bigs even making an attempt to get boards, which ought to profit Zion. If he can be taught the NBA arts of boxing out and again faucets, Williamson will turn out to be some of the formidable bodily forces chasing rebounds across the NBA.
5. Julius Randle | Posting scoring type
Schmitz: Williamson was some of the environment friendly post-up scorers in school basketball, punishing switches or much more conventional bigs with a reasonably easy strategy. Similar to Randle on the identical stage, Zion has large drop-step footwork, erasing defenders together with his mixture of physicality and quickness, turning over his proper shoulder earlier than exploding to the rim for brief push pictures or layups.
Like Randle, Williamson is a bit undersized for his place with common size and attain, which helped him develop contact pictures from all completely different angles to fight superior size. Both are left-hand dominant, though Zion already was way more environment friendly on the identical stage. Williamson shot 74.7% on all 2s at Duke, whereas Randle transformed 57.1% at Kentucky.
Will Williamson preserve that stage in opposition to NBA bigs? I’m not bought he’ll function on the block as typically as he did at Duke. He’ll actually have so as to add counter strikes, like Randle did, working extra out of mid-post face-up conditions. He’s nonetheless a little bit of a clean slate by way of his post-up assault, however the components are there to make it work.
Goldsberry: The Randle comparability is sweet, particularly stylistically. I additionally see numerous Toronto-era Chris Bosh right here if we’re speaking effectivity.
First of all, Zion is an absolute beast within the paint. He made 76% of his pictures within 10 ft — that is LeBron-in-his-prime-level effectivity, and by far the best such mark of any lottery prospect. But his shot activity near the basket additionally displays his dominant left-handedness.
That mixture of quantity and effectivity is one thing Randle might solely dream about when he was 19. If Zion can prolong his Duke-era inside dominance into the NBA, we may be taking a look at the simplest southpaw since Bosh was at his most ferocious with the Raptors.