Zion Williamson As A Franchise Player: The Verdict Is Still Out

When the New Orleans Pelicans made former Duke star Zion Williamson the #1 overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, they did so with the hopes he’d lead their franchise from below average to perennial playoff contenders.

Zion entered the league with hype probably not seen since LeBron James was Top Dog in 2003. 

Williamson was compared to everyone from the aforementioned James to Magic Johnson to Charles Barkley to Michael Jordan. Those are some lofty comparisons and high praise for a guy who isn’t even old enough to buy a beer. He’s an athletic specimen for sure standing 6’6 and 280 pounds. 

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During his 26-game shortened rookie season, due to injury, he was put on a minutes restriction of (28 MPG) but still averaged (22.5 PPG) and (6.2 RPG) on 58.3% shooting from the field. He even hit 42% of his three-point attempts which suggests that the glaring weakness in his game is indeed a work in progress. 

Williamson often wows fans with his unique athleticism, especially for a guy with his stocky physical composition. The weight he carries, however, has always been a source of discussion. Some folks say he dunks like Shawn “Reign Man” Kemp, has ups like Blake Griffin with the physical attributes of Larry “Grandmama” Johnson. And although there may be some merit to this, he’s nowhere near as skilled as  Charles Barkley was early in his career. 

I actually liken him more to what I remember from the late Rodney Rogers aka “The Durham Bull. Rogers starred at Wake Forest. And just like Zion, when he was drafted, Rogers was a tweener who was too undersized to play the power forward and center positions. He was also a southpaw like ZW.

Rogers made up for his lack of size with his offensive versatility.

In his arsenal he had runners, post play, he also had a soft touch which made him a very solid shooter from distance as well. On defense, he was strong enough to hold power forwards and centers, and quick enough to blow by them as well. Sort of like Zion, meaning he’d be a nice player in today’s “Positionless” NBA. 

Rogers was drafted 9th overall by the Nuggets in the 1993 draft. He won NBA “6th Man Of The Year” and played in the NBA Finals. He had a superior shooting advantage over Zion, and Zion is definitely more athletic. But every time I see “ZW” it brings me back to “RR”. Similar to the way Kobe reminded us of MJ.   

What really separates the two is Zion coming in with LeBron type hype, pressures and expectations. Rogers didn’t enter the league with such unattainable goals set by the public.

I don’t think he’ll ever reach that level with his play. I think it’s more likely he’ll be closer to what we saw from Rogers. He will surely be a highlight reel of amazing dunks, but overall his ceiling may not be much more than what we saw from Rogers who had a very solid NBA career. 

As currently constructed, the Pelican’s best player isn’t even Zion, it’s Brandon Ingram, whom I believe has more upside to his skillset as a 6’8 wing with immense potential. We’ve already seen it start materializing as Ingram blossomed into an All-Star and won Most Improved Player in his first season in Nawlins.

Zion’s no slouch though.

It’s my belief that Zion is better suited for the role of a 2nd or even third star on a team and not the lead guy due to his offensive limitations.  

Don’t get me wrong he’s a talented player for sure with a huge upside, but he hasn’t ever played a full season and folks should taper their expectations and not crowd the hype train too much as it might get derailed a bit.

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