Looking Ahead: Zion Williamson is Worth the Struggle

Zion Williamson is basketball’s heralded sensation. The latest byproduct of our current era of evolutionized athletes which profounds itself on uniqueness. An anomaly in form of a 6’7” boulder capable of sheer graceful destruction, Zion, though gifted with the strength and leap of Hercules, resembles the game in its purest form. There aren’t many answers to combat his size and athleticism yet he is brilliant because of his mind.


Zion is a sheer physical force with nimble footwork. The gracefulness of his movements allows for seamless efforts that normally, by typical law of humanity, shouldn’t be possible. Nothing is wasted in any move Zion makes and even though it’s fast and forceful it’s quick and timed perfectly. That comes with having great awareness and recognizing the game that’s being played around you. He understands domination through precision and basketball’s key to domination is precision in execution.


Zion’s swiftness comes with the natural aggression of his ruthless, dunk-filled nature. He’s also smart, so he is always moving and working screen action. Zion’s control extends to his ball handling, which serves to get him moving towards the rim with momentum. His hangtime allows him to make mid-air adjustments and finish through other defenders that jump with him.


When Zion’s going in the lanes his footwork makes for devastation around the rim. He goes a ridiculous distance when he uses the jump-step and bounces right back up from the floor like he’s in a trampoline park. There is no point of gather from the landing to the following shot attempt either because Zion is in fairly full control whenever he’s in mid-air. He can use it to clear double-teams and it’s also what Zion uses to work his back to a defender and force him backwards.


Zion can get even more destructive in the post. When there’s space going to the rim, whether he’s catching the ball in the middle and working towards it or slashing from the wing, his footspeed is devastating and when he gets his off-shoulder on a defender, it’s over. In whatever way he works to the rim Zion works contact and physicality to his advantage, which fairly negates the few inches he may lack in height. He’s able to pinpoint a ball in the air, time his jump and clear a rebound or post pass faster than anyone else on the floor with him. The ball almost feels magnetically connected to him.


On top of all that, it’s his passing that tends to impress people the most. He can drop a perfect dime while charging ahead like a red-eyed bull, has smooth touch on bounce-passes and can use his strength to fling around cross-court heaves and transition outlets like a quarterback. His post passing is just as good and his raw strength allows him to deliver passes to anywhere he wants, even if there’s pressure from a defender.


What often isn’t discussed enough is what Zion’s capable of doing on the defensive end. Inevitably there are weaknesses. He can shadow guards surprisingly well thanks to his lateral speed and works around screens effectively enough but in one-on-one defensive scenarios Zion always allows a ball handler past him with little resistance and uses his speed to try and make a play from behind. His timing on blocks is unmatched in college basketball and he gets a lot of them despite being just 6’7”. However, that would be a bad habit to keep around in the NBA. Regardless of that, it’s Zion’s vision and awareness as an off-ball defender that makes this part of his game special.


With off-ball motions and rotations with middle-of-the-court screens being utilized now more than ever there is vast importance in switching, recognizing and executing defensive rotations when playing great defense in today’s game. Zion seems to understand this fairly well. He’s never hesitant to switch to onto a point guard and he keeps pace on the perimeter, even if he’s on an island.


Part of the awareness bit earlier is a huge part of the way Zion’s able to read and recognize screens and cuts as they’re occurring. His closeout speed on help defense is remarkable and again, he has impeccable timing on any contest he makes. He’s comfortable moving and switching everything and knows when not to help contest and stay back to clear a defensive rebound, even if he has a bad habit of abandoning his man to follow the ball (they run zone concepts at Duke, for what it’s worth).


As the league has evolved it has learned to embrace what it has never seen before. Uniqueness hasn’t always worked to cases of superstardom but Zion Williamson at 6’7” and 280 pounds is great for the same reasons guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons are great. When the game is played through someone like this their team performs better as a whole. It’s not about just being different but using that difference to dominate the game in ways that there are no answer to.


Of course unstoppable players have existed in the NBA since the first dawn, this is just the newest breed.


By Justin Hodges of Atlanta Sports HQ

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