Basketball

Zion Williamson’s Rookie Year: The Future of the NBA?

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After Zion Williamson’s rookie year, it seems NOLA may have acquired a generational talent. Since his days in high school, Zion has continuously shocked basketball enthusiasts across the world with his size, athleticism, and undeniably likable “lead by example” personality.

The Pelicans selected the North Carolina native with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. With just 20 NBA games under his belt, the former Duke player has already got himself into Rookie of the Year conversations, and he has also lived up to the hype he was drafted with so far. Let’s break down Zion’s abilities and statistics:

Athleticism

While Zion Williamson has many incredible aspects to his game, the one that stands out the most is his size and athleticism. His leaping ability is superhuman with his 45 in vertical ranking the eighth highest in NBA history. That’s higher than notorious NBA high jumpers such as LeBron James (40 inches), Nate Robinson (43.5 inches), and arguably the greatest dunker of all time, Vince Carter (43 inches).

While this alone is enough to understand how athletic the 19-year-old really is, the stat becomes even more impressive knowing that he is the fourth heaviest player in the NBA at 280 pounds. The Pelicans player is making NBA history with his vertical. He is also doing it while being heavier than any player who has ever come close to his leaping ability. These traits combined have helped make Zion one of the most exciting dunkers the league has ever seen. 

Zion’s Team Value

At Duke University, Zion made his team value obvious and prominent. It is not always clear which skills college stars will carry over to the NBA, but Zion’s effect on other players on the court was very evident for the Pelicans. To start, New Orleans went 11-9 in the 20 games they had the rookie for before the season was postponed.

Without the Duke product, their record was just 17-27. More impressively, with Zion on the court, the Pelicans outscored their opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions. To put that into perspective, it’s a larger margin than the Lakers put up with Lebron James on the court. The rookie has proved that he has the athleticism, leadership, and quick chemistry with teammates to possibly have a Hall of Fame level of success with the Pelicans.

Zion Williamson’s rookie year numbers

While Zion’s athleticism and team numbers are jaw-dropping, his personal statistics take it a step further. In his rookie year, he averaged 36.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per 100 possessions while shooting 62.4 percent. Only 25 players ever have put up those numbers and 24 of them are now in the Hall of Fame. This is yet another data point suggesting that Zion will be an NBA superstar. He also ranks 13th in Offensive Real Plus/Minus. The 12 players ahead of him have each been an All-Star in the past two seasons.

Among players who recorded at least 80 post-ups, Zion is 11th in points per possession with .978. Lastly, he averaged 20.9 points in the paint per 36 minutes. This is the highest rate of any player with a minimum of 500 minutes played.

Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant paint players in the history of basketball, did not put up this stat. The scariest part about Zion is not only can he dominate the paint like Shaq, but he has a vertical that is 13 inches higher and a three-point shot that is always improving. While he shot very few threes in the games he played this season, the Duke product’s three-point percentage was 46.2.

Conclusion

With all these numbers just from Zion Williamson’s rookie year, it shows he has what it takes to be the face of the NBA very soon. He is a leader and has the size, agility, and winning mentality of a basketball player made in a lab.

There is not much more one could ask for from a young basketball player. While he may score most of his points in the paint, Zion Williamson will continue to work in rounding out his game to potentially become one of the most athletic, versatile specimens the NBA has ever seen. 

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