Zion Williamson is only 50 games into his career as a New Orleans Pelican but it already seems clear that he’s going to be a problem for years to come — if he can stay healthy and in shape. Through 50 games, he’s averaging 23.6 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. According to ESPN Stats and Info, he’s been one of the most dominant young players to emerge in decades. I mean, just look at these statistics from this season alone.
Yet, despite Williamson’s talent, there are some glaring concerns that I have about his game and his style of play can lead a team to a championship later in his career.
Williamson is a player who scores an overwhelming majority of his points in the paint with little diversity in his game. The former No. 1 overall pick has only made 11 threes in his career and his midrange game is nonexistent. Nearly 95 percent of his shots this season are taken from 0-10 feet. 73 percent of those shots are within 0-3 feet of the basket. Only 1.2 percent of Williamson’s shots come outside of 10 feet and inside the three-point line.
To lead an NBA team to a title in this era of skill, you almost certainly need to be a three-level scorer. Meaning that you should be a threat to score at the rim, in the midrange, and behind the arc. We’ve seen really good players on championship teams serve as complementary pieces in championships because they could provide their dominant skillset alongside another three-level scorer on their squad.
Just look at the last few champions in the league and the best player on their roster.
2020 Lakers – LeBron James (three-level scorer)
2019 Raptors – Kawhi Leonard (three-level scorer)
2017 & 2018 Golden State – Kevin Durant (three-level scorer)
Need I go on?
The last player that wasn’t a three-level scorer to lead their team to a championship would maybe be Tim Duncan in 2007? But even that year, Tony Parker was the Finals MVP. The last non three-dimensional scorer to lead his team to a ring was Duncan in 2005 and he was able to score from both the paint and in the midrange consistently. But Williamson’s shooting numbers resemble those of another player who has been constantly criticized for his inability to be a threat in multiple dimensions of the game. That player’s name is Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Just look at the similarities between them — both strong, both explosive, both with guard-like skills as “big men.” While Giannis is taller at 6-foot-11, Zion is a powerfully built 6-foot-7, 284 pounds. Like we’ve seen with Giannis, buckets and SportsCenter Top Ten plays will be easy to come by during the regular season, when facing off against inferior competition for a large portion of your games. But when the playoffs start and coaches start game-planning to build the wall against your drive, limiting easy baskets and forcing you to play in a crowd against length, will Williamson be better equipped than Giannis was to handle that?
I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is that these are the defenses Williamson is going to start seeing. It’s the same treatment Giannis is receiving now, and when the Pelicans start winning consistently, it’ll be the same treatment Williamson will get.
To be fair to the New Orleans star, he utilizes different methods of scoring than the two-time MVP tried to implement. Often, Giannis would catch the ball on the perimeter and try to create through the drive by going one-on-one. Zion flourishes using a bunch of random and spontaneous cuts and movements to get his points. It’s what makes him such a huge threat. Williamson will get occasional post-up opportunities, and now he’s even starting to bring the ball up the court to facilitate pick-and-pops.
These strategies helped Williamson get 31 points against the Grizzlies last night, but when better teams and more experienced coaches matchup against the young stud, they likely won’t fall victim to getting burned on plays like that continuously.
The Pelicans are currently in the 11th spot in the West and 2.5 games back of Golden State for the 8th spot.
Williamson is a great young player, is only 20 years old and is likely on the verge of an All-Star season, and chances are he’ll have an amazing career ahead. But if he doesn’t diversify his game, it might be tough for Williamson to be the best player on a championship team.