The dunking internet sensation may not be the best player for the future of the franchise
I get it. Zion Williamson is a once-in-a-generation type of athlete. Perhaps never before has basketball seen a player that’s built like a defensive lineman (6’7″, 285 pounds) be able to jump 45 inches in the air, or move around with the effortless agility that Williamson possesses.
His backboard-shattering dunks and ferocious blocked shots have led him to become the most talked-about prospect in the upcoming NBA Draft class. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the best all-around player in his class or that he is the individual that Atlanta should want to select when they almost assuredly end up with a top 5 pick in next year’s draft.
In almost all circumstances in the modern NBA, a forward must be able to shoot the ball at a relatively high clip. Although Williamson currently shoots 65% from the field at Duke, this number is heavily inflated by the fact that the majority of his shot attempts come around the basket.
In the NBA, when he is playing against athletes that are at least relatively close to his level, he will need to be able to knock down the outside jumper with some consistency, something he hasn’t done at Duke. Williamson is shooting 25% from outside the arc so far this season, which will need to improve before a team like the Hawks can trust him as a franchise cornerstone. He also shoots less than 70% from the free throw line, a figure unacceptable for a player of any position in today’s NBA.
Of course, even without a solid outside jumper, Williamson could still be very productive in the NBA. At worst, he will turn into a Julius Randle type of player who can dominate smaller forwards around the basket and clean up the offensive glass. However, that isn’t the type of player that the Hawks should want to spend a high lottery pick on.
General Manager Travis Schlenk has made it clear throughout his tenure in Atlanta that he wants to draft shooters. Even the big man he selected this year, Omari Spellman, has a very nice outside shot. If Schlenk wants to continue down this path-which he should, given the current climate of the NBA-he should aim for another Duke freshman: Cam Reddish.
Reddish possesses the rare combination of being a standout athlete and an elite spot-up shooter. He handles the ball extremely well for a 6’8″ player and is more than capable of creating his own shot as well as catching and shooting. He is exactly the type of piece that would fit perfectly alongside Trae Young and what position he plays would be less of a concern as the NBA shifts more towards a positionless era.
Of course, the seemingly consensus best overall player in this year’s draft class is, you guessed it, another Duke freshman in shooting guard R.J. Barrett. Barrett is also someone who would fit nicely in a Hawks uniform. Although his three point percentage (32%) isn’t exactly where you’d want it to be for, well, a shooting guard, Barrett is still a great floor general who uses his lengthy 6’7″ frame to get to the rim at will and is an excellent passer in tight spaces in the paint. He would take a lot of the pressure off of Trae Young to do everything for the Hawks offense and would also contribute a lot to the defensive end, where Atlanta is not exactly stellar.
Don’t get me wrong: Zion Williamson is a very good player, and a starting frontcourt consisting of him and John Collins would produce SportsCenter worthy dunks on a nightly basis. He also would bring a lot of national attention to a smaller-market franchise and might be able to fill up the newly renovated State Farm Arena consistently. However, when looking at where this franchise seems to be going in their focus on drafting elite shooters and emphasizing positionless basketball, either Reddish or Barrett would appear to be the better choice.