This Is the second time in the past three NBA seasons that we have been swept up into a huge hype machine surrounding a supposedly generational college player who was going to take the league by storm and set off a new era.
Lonzo Ball was the No. 2 overall pick in 2017 and Magic Johnson himself co-signed the multi-faceted point guard with no jumper and average athleticism as the future of the franchise. This was before LeBron and AD arrived, so the blunder of drafting Zo so high hasn’t hurt the franchise. And with Lavar’s eldest son already relocated to New Orleans and the NBA world resigned to the fact that he’s more of a Facebook celebrity than an NBA franchise player, the story of his career so far is extremely disappointing.
His younger brother Melo is now considered a better NBA prospect.
Then Zion Williamson hit the scene with Duke and the machines started working again, riding Zion to record ratings and excessive windfalls of cash. His existence and the legend that was created and reinforced everyday on social media, TV and radio sports shows dominated the airwaves.
Despite his weight, lack of height, limited shooting range and reliance on an athleticism that might not be as superior at the NBA level, New Orleans didn’t fret when they lost AD to LA. The front office had us believe that Zion would be on that level and take the franchise to new heights.
That might still be the case, but Williamson hasn’t been on an NBA court yet. A lateral meniscus tear, yet another setback in the lauded arrival of the NBA’s next messiah, has kept him sidelined for the entire first half of the season as the Lakers leftovers (Hart, Ingram, Ball) have struggled to a 9-23 mark and 14th place in the Western Conference.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The energy that Knicks fans expended — while anguishing over missing out on Zion in the Draft — was emotionally draining to the entire NY hoops community. Zion was supposed to be the big fish that got away and more misery for New York.
But months later, as his Duke teammate RJ Barrett grinds his way through a solid first NBA season (Barrett had a career-high 27 points and six rebounds in New York’s 143-120 rout of Atlanta on Tuesday), we hear that Zion is reprogramming his body, learning how to walk and run again. Tweaking some of the flaws in his running mechanics.
His weight continues to be a problem. The very thing that several sports minds brought up when criticizing his potential as an NBA great. The machine and its faithful followers just shrugged it off and said that his freakish athleticism would elevate him.
How will that happen? It’s 2020, not 1992 and the game has changed so drastically…it’s so reliant on three point shooting. The potential for disaster was right there in front of our faces.
A year ago today, Zion was an anointed king of basketball. Now, the same people who praised him are doubting whether or not he can even play 10 years in the NBA.
Said ESPN hoops guru Seth Greenberg said:
“He’s not lean… that’s just the way his body is built. You should be concerned because 285 pounds at 6-6 playing in the NBA with a 24-second shot clock, jumping as high as he jumps, your running up and down…changing directions. I don’t care that he’s conditioned. His weight and the grind it’s going to take on his body… His body is not built for an NBA season and eventually it will break down because the mass on his joints and the rest of his body aint holding it. It’s physically impossible.”
AFTER THE HYPE IS GONE
Nothing has gone right for Zion after Draft day. He came out the shoot faltering.
There was that one time in Summer League when he was out of shape, poorly conditioned and hurt his knee on a play in the first half. It was so embarrassing for Pelicans execs that they shut him down for the rest of the summer.
Coach K, a willing benefactor and participant in the Zion hype, tried to cop some pleas for Zion, saying that his hectic schedule following his Wooden award tour ill-prepared him for the tenacious Summer League.
Then he tore his meniscus and New Orleans’ season was over before it started, leaving some pissed off season ticket holders. Reports say he could return around late January or February. He’s been working out, so we know he’s mobile. The fans certainly could use the boost.
Here's a quick transcript of everything Gentry had to say at practice today about Zion Williamson's recovery.
Zion underwent surgery to repair his torn meniscus exactly six weeks ago today. pic.twitter.com/RBbw8WeheT
— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) December 2, 2019
For many players, the NBA itself is like learning how to walk again, so hopefully Zions new technique will allow him to begin living up the sneaker deal and the superlatives and the accolades and the top billing.
We can’t have two hype machines crash and burn in three seasons. Mayeb Zion is setting us up for an even more dramatic arrival.