Zion Williamson is one of the most athletic and physically intimidating players to ever grace the NBA hardwood. In only his second season in the league, Williamson is averaging 26.3 points per game on a devilishly good 66.6 percent true shooting. He was a terror for any defense to contend with even before his shift in role, but since becoming a lead ball-handler for the New Orleans Pelicans, he has become even more potent in every way.
“Point Zion,” as he has become affectionately called, was a bold experiment for Stan Van Gundy to try, but it has paid incredible dividends. Zion is 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds with an insane vertical. That alone is hard to handle, but he also has a lot of ball skills and a high-IQ as a passer. Media members are not the only people to share this sentiment, as coaches like Rick Carlisle seem to agree.
According to Rod Walker of The New Orleans Advocate, Rick Carlisle had this to say: “This is a Shaquille O’Neal type force of nature with a point guard skillset.”
Empowering Zion Williamson
When a team has a young star, some try to pigeonhole them into a role they see as best and others believe in empowering the player. Zion has been in both situations and he’s thriving when he’s given the power to play at his pace.
We’ve seen young players hurt by situation before, so its nice to see Zion getting to explore the studio space and get comfortable in his role.
Zion isn’t playing a traditional point guard role by any means. The Pelicans like to get creative when running sets for him. He is not really a shooter at this point, so the Pels love to get him downhill attacking the basket. They like to run him off wing pick and rolls as the ball-handler or get him into space in the mid-range to run isolations. Putting the ball in Zion’s hands to create the advantage lets him play like the superstar he can be.
Optimizing Zion Williamson
Perhaps the only drawback to the point Zion experiment has been the fit around him. Players like Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams and Jaxson Hayes are all less than optimal fits around him. Williamson generates offensive value by putting pressure on the rim. To do that properly, Williamson needs space to operate, but he can’t do this without the offensive personnel around him. He’s still an incredibly efficient and prolific scorer at the rim despite contending with a packed paint, but he could be even better if given the right teammates.
If the Pelicans want to optimize Zion in the future, they would do well to surround him with intelligent shooters. Players like Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball are excellent fits next to Zion because they can shoot, defend and make smart decisions with the ball. Williamson remains a mediocre defender, so perhaps the most important piece New Orleans should look to add is a mobile center. A player like Myles Turner or Kristaps Porzingis would really do a Zion a lot of good–someone who could run pick-and-pop with Williamson.
If the Pelicans want to optimize Zion’s championship talent, they will need to build a team around him that allows him to do what he does best.
Future Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson could potentially be the next face of the NBA. His exciting, high-flying style mixed with his IQ and playmaking prowess could make him the best player on a championship level team. However, David Griffin and the Pelicans front office have work to do to make this happen.
Zion could someday be the most efficient in the NBA as he generates the most efficient shots, layups and dunks, and he converts them at an almost unfathomable rate.
NBA championship teams are made of outlier talents like Zion. Just like LeBron James or Magic Johnson before him, Williamson could be the next elite, athletic playmaker to win a championship. His career will be one of the many fascinating things to watch for throughout this next decade of NBA basketball. His emergence as an on-ball playmaker shows his potential to be an MVP-caliber player in the future.
“Point Zion” is certainly here to stay.