Zion Williamson has been tearing up the hardwood for Duke this season, embarrassing opponents and shaking rims across the landscape.
The highly touted freshman is averaging 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists per game, posting numbers and performances that have made him the talk of the NCAA basketball season.
But with all of this success, one question comes to mind.
Not whether he’s NBA ready or should he leave after one season.
The question is, should he shut it down right now?
Normally, this wouldn’t even be a thought. But with future pro careers at stake, many college athletes have become more insightful about injuries and how they could devalue one’s stock.
We’ve seen it occur in college football recently, where players who aren’t competing in the playoffs have chosen to skip their team’s bowl game to avoid potential injuries.
But in college basketball it hasn’t happened, at least not yet.
Zion’s immediate success has now brought that question to the forefront. And while most athletic purists might vehemently shake their heads and dispute the move as being bad for the game, it does spark an interesting debate.
That’s exactly what happened on “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols, Tracy McGrady and Scottie Pippen.
Pippen said that Zion has done enough to secure his draft status and sneaker contract, thus should sit on the bench in street clothes for the remainder of the season.
Tracy McGrady and @ScottiePippen don’t agree on whether Zion Williamson is the best player on his Duke team – but regardless, they both think he should stop playing NCAA ball right now, to eliminate the risk of injury before the draft. https://t.co/7Egu42FjfJ
“Rachel, I think he’s locked up the biggest shoe deal, I think he’s definitely going to be the Number one pick, I think he’s done enough for college basketball that it’s more about him personally,” Pippen said. “I think for him as a young player….I would shut it down. I would stop playing because I feel he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.”
At first, this might seem like a non-starter. A player doesn’t just leave his team after a few months because he might get hurt. Duke is playing well this year, despite their recent loss to Syracuse, so they have the chance to make another run at a National Championship. If they have the talent to do it, why not play the next three months and go out as a champion?
But if you step away from the norm and tradition and think about the current state of college athletics, it’s an argument that does have merit. He’s performed at the highest level and for one of the best teams in the country. He’s attracted big crowds everywhere Duke has played and the media has followed him like a moth to the flame.
So why shouldn’t he prepare for the future by taking care of himself in the present?
“This is a good question for you,” said McGrady to Pippen. “He’s sealed up the number one pick in the draft because he’s the best player or because he’s the most exciting player and he has the machine behind him?’
“I think it’s a lot of both.” replied Pippen.
“You think he’s the best player in the Draft?”
“Yes.” said Pippen.
While they disagreed on whether he’s the best player in the draft, or on his team for that matter, there is no doubting the fact that Zion in NBA ready. And since he’s NBA ready, both players agreed that he shut it down and prepare for a professional career.
“If I was him, and I know I’m at least a top three NBA pick, I’m outta’ here.” said McGrady, who skipped college to enter the NBA straight out of high school.
It’s a compelling argument the former players make. It’s not like Zion has suddenly made college sports a business, he’s just riding the wave that athletes must consider and navigate in today’s sports landscape.
But as a competitor, especially one of this talent level and one who’s on a team with this type of championship caliber, you would think Zion would want to stay in Durham to make a run during March Madness and cement his legacy for the Blue Devils.
But if Zion Williamson chooses to end his career at Duke before then, we all know that he’ll make up for it at the bank.