Let me be the first to say that I am not an expert on the intangibles of what makes a college basketball player NBA-ready. But, many of those who are have Duke forward Zion Williamson at the top of their draft boards as the unanimous #1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. I am certainly not the first to say that Zion will be the next generational superstar in the NBA. In fact, Kevin Durant even said so, calling him a “once-in-a-generation athlete” on Bill Simmons podcast, The Ringer.
The man (yes, the grown-ass 18 year-old man) is 6-foot-7, 285 pounds and simply puts on a show; a dominant player who is averaging nearly 20 PPG this season, shooting upwards of 65% from the field, and putting on a highlight reel at the rim:
ZION WILLIAMSON JUST TOOK FLIGHT
— FOX Sports South (@FOXSportsSouth) November 15, 2018
IN-GAME ZION 360 😱pic.twitter.com/YhlLFXiiie
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 6, 2019
Beyond the eye-popping stats and explosive athleticism, Zion has another interesting thing going for him: his name. A common theme among many past and current NBA superstars is that you can refer to them by simply their first name only (or a nickname). Kobe, Shaq, Steph, you get the idea. This is a combination of having a catchy name along with the respect earned from being an outstanding basketball player. Zion is already commanding this respect as an 18-year old. There was once an 18-year old out of Akron, Ohio who commanded this level of respect. People call him “LeBron.” That was 15 years ago.
The NBA has truly become a league of superstardom and name-recognition unlike any other sport. This is a big reason why we tune in to games every night and keep up with the happenings around the league.
We want to see the crazy shots Steph is draining. We want to see LeBron put the team on his back. We already tune in to see Zion throw it down and he’s not even in the league yet. We have been seeing videos of him dunking for the past few years already, well before he declared to Duke or put on a collegiate jersey. In fact, imagine if we were still playing under old rules. There’s no doubt Zion would’ve entered the draft out of high school and been drafted 1-1.
Just look at his high school numbers: Zion averaged 36+ PPG over his junior and senior seasons while shooting nearly 80% from the field. LeBron’s junior and senior seasons consisted of 28 and 30 PPG respectively while shooting 56% from the field, which in return led him directly into the NBA as the #1 overall pick.
Dare I say that Zion will be “the next LeBron,” because those type of comparisons are super cliché, but I’m sure we will be hearing this take for years to come. 15 years from now, people could very well be talking about who “the next Zion” will be. It’s not that Zion is a carbon-copy of LeBron by any means, but rather that LeBron has been our generation’s superstar for the last several years, so he automatically gets to be compared to. Let’s just hope Zion doesn’t get drafted by the Cavs, where the LeBron comparisons would be ratcheted exponentially, but rather carve his own path to superstardom on a team in desperate need of a player who can turn their franchise around. Front offices are already drooling at the idea of what Zion could do for their organization. Whoever ends up with that coveted #1 overall pick will almost certainly use it on him in a heartbeat.