From Distance: Zion to the Rescue

four point play….

1. For the first time since 2014, I find myself interested in college basketball. To be more specific, Duke basketball. Shocking, I know.

With the 2018-2019 Cleveland Cavaliers already living their best tanktastic life, pardon me for checking in on potential Cavs of the future.

Unlike Steve Kerr, I am allowed to refer to the kid by name. Yes, that 285 pound freshman, Zion Williamson, is rightfully on everyone’s mind. His regular season debut against Kentucky was awe inspiring. And fun! Remember fun, Cavs fans?

See that vein in his shoulder. He isn’t fat. We will get back to that in a bit.

While it is easy to be wowed by Zion Williamson’s athleticism, we shouldn’t overlook his basketball skill-set. Though teammate, RJ Barrett has often gotten more hype as the better NBA prospect, I think Zion Williamson’s athleticism has simply obscured his actual basketball acumen.

The issue is likely to be debated all season and beyond. Some will focus on Barret’s prettier jumper and more traditional NBA body. People who desire the prototypical NBA body have already waxed poetically on Barrett.

Yes, Barrett is likely to be a great NBA player, maybe even a multiple All-Star. He is smooth, has a tight handle, great length, and leaping ability. Barrett has one of those high arching shots that rip nets.

And still, who the better prospect is isn’t much of a discussion. To me, Zion Williamson is the far more impressive player. Zion is not nearly as limited skill-set wise as many people seem to believe. Perhaps his otherworldly hops and defensive-end sized body make it impossible to fairly grade his game.

It can be overwhelming. Once we pick our jaws off the floor, we can check out his natural pass timing, his fantastic ball-handling, and an infectious love of the game.

People are dying to find a flaw, and his mechanical shot provides a bit of amo. His lefty jumper is more of the set-slingshot variety, but it isn’t hard to see a path for improvement in that regard. He has decent touch around the rim, keeping the ball more on his fingertips. When he shoots from distance, he does sometimes let the ball get into his palm.

It is almost as though he has had to mitigate his incredible strength by eliminating both a jump and finger flick from his shooting motion.

Even so, his jumper isn’t broken. His elbow is in a decent position and he doesn’t have any major balance issues.

2. And even if it were never to improve, Zion’s first step either direction is a thing to behold.

Steve Kerr is right to bring up LeBron. We haven’t seen a prospect with anything close to this kind of skill and explosion combo since LeBron James was rocking it in Akron.

Let me be clear. Zion isn’t the pass first natural that LeBron was. They have different games. But Zion can dish the rock and actually has more bouce than Bron did, as shocking as that may be.

The the more obvious Zion comparison is to Charles Barkley. Peak young Barkley had legs and a backside similar to Williamson, but Chuck, even at his athletic apex, didn’t have the explosion that Zion employs. At a legit 6’6″ plus, Zion is also a bit taller than Barkley and he is broader in the upper body.

3. What sets Zion apart from all those that come before is his ability to leap off of either leg and power jump off two feet. I’ve talked about it frequently in this space, but it can be repeated.

Leaping ambidexterity is hugely important. While many guys ultimately learn how to leap off their opposite legs, most lack a bit of explosion off their off leg. How many open floor tomahawk slams has Bron done off his right leg?

More detrimental for a player is the inability to power off two feet. It shows itself more on the defensive end when a player tries to contest a shot, but it hinders a player’s overall athleticism.

A huge reason why Kyrie Irving has had so much success around the rim during his career is that he is completely ambidextrous. That starts from his feet. Kyrie’s ability to leap equally well off of his right or left foot, or off two in either direction, allows him to powerfully get into the body of his defender. The defender can’t time Irving’s jump because Ky isn’t limited to certain angles.

Zion is also a naturally ambidextrous person. He was recently shown dunking from the foul line with his off-hand. That’s right, his right handed Tomahawk off his left foot is actually his off-hand.

I admit it does seem as though he slightly prefers leaping off his left foot, but his right footed leap doesn’t seem any weaker. Then there is his power jump.

In his first game at Duke his ability to spring off two feet and look down at the hoop wowed even the most athletic people on the planet.

He is just at another level.

RJ Barrett is likely to be very successful with athleticism that reminds me of a Will Barton “plus”. He has more girth than Barton but not the size of a Tayshaun Prince. To me, he is a best case scenario medium ground of Barton and Prince. That necessary two foot jump isn’t as powerful for Barret. He glides.

Zion is Charles Barkley and Vince Carter rolled into one, with a touch of Lance Stephenson hurkyjerky. Even that isn’t really doing the kid justice.

Really, we have never seen an athlete like Zion Williamson on the hard floor. The closest guy that I can compare him to is Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns. We have seen Miles in short spurts playing pickup basketball making other athletes look like children.

At roughly six-five and 275 pounds of solid muscle, Garrett gets off the floor with incredible ease to the tune of a 41 inch vertical.

Is he fat? Yeah, I don’t think so.

4. Zion Williamson is a little bit larger and can explode even higher. Those who say that he needs to drop 20 pounds don’t quite understand the amount of muscle he has in his glutes, hamstrings, and quads in order to create the force necessary to have that kind of vertical jump.

Looking at pictures and video of Zion as an 18 year-old shows us a certain level of vascularity in his shoulders and arms. Those who need to drop 20 pounds don’t have that level of vacularity, especially at 18.

Yes, Zion Williamson is more a defensive-end type body with super fast twitch muscles than a traditional baller. But, to ask him to lose weight unnecessarily would be to ask him to lose some explosion.

When he gets to the NBA, he will likely have the perfect diet for his body type, and a training regiment to maximize his overall fitness. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to drop five or even 10 lb, but it would be foolhardy to force his body to shed 20 lb of fast-twitch muscle.

If you look at an NFL running back, many of them are five-foot nine and 215 lb of solid muscle. In football having a low center of gravity and incredibly strong legs and glutes allows players to gain leverage and explode through contact. It is the same in the NBA, it is just rare to find that kind of ratio in a 6’6″ dude instead of a 6’0″ guy.

I understand the fear. Can his joints handle it? I hope with every amazing jump and landing that Zion Williamson stays healthy. I haven’t enjoyed watching a young athlete so much in as long as I can remember.

There is something incredibly charming about a man so large flying through the air like Superman. It is also clear that he has an intense love for the game and is a bright young man.

Maybe the only fun aspect of this 2018-2019 Cleveland Cavaliers season will be in fantasizing about Zion Williamson coming to the Cleveland Cavaliers via tank acquired 2019 draft pick. Drafting a young man like Zion would make even a losing team incredibly enjoyable to watch in the coming years. It is certainly magnitudes better than thinking about Jordan Clarkson’s PnR defense.

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buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 12 days ago

butler to the76ers.. here’s hoping they can keep a foot on the neck of the celtics..

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

ORL kicking Wiz in the arse.. surprising.. the cav-nots may actually have some competition for the bottom, at least for a while.. Wiz certainly seem to have the personnel to right the ship, or to shake up in a trade.. but times a wastin’

MikeO
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MikeO
2 months 13 days ago

This was good stuff, Ben. I don’t think there is anyone in college who can handle this dude. He is going to destroy people. He’s my preference for the Cavs if they are in position to get him, several tiers above anyone else. I was skeptical until the Kentucky game, but no more.

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

minnesota under-achieving (4-8) with butler.. what happens when he is moved to houston?.. they may really suck.. and they already have 2 super-max boys wiggins and towns.. easier to be a cavs fan, imho

JOHN B
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JOHN B
2 months 13 days ago

Towns seems utterly broken (relative to his standards) by this ordeal. Right now Wiggins is obviously one of the worst contracts in the league and there is no way to get out of it for a long time unless he improves enough to sucker another team into a trade.

I feel bad for wolves fans given the expectations for that team after last season. You want to see bad management? Look at their summer. Not only is this a lost season. That team may have alienated KAT who is their future through Thibs stubbornness and belief in Butler. Would anybody be surprised if KAT wants out sooner rather than later? I wouldn’t be.

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

i think we got the better of minny on the love trade.. i thought wiggins was going to be a stud.. a wasted max imho

Nate Smith
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2 months 13 days ago

Interesting to think if what would’ve happened with wiggins if he’d played with Bron.

MikeO
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MikeO
2 months 13 days ago

I think he’d be the same guy (maybe not as good, since he probably plays less)…I just don’t think he’s that great at basketball, by NBA standards. He was the same guy at Kansas.

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

LBJ just wanted shooters, and kyrie.. i don’t think wiggins or LBJ would have been happy.. LBJ certainly didn’t lobby to keep wiggins..

JOHN B
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JOHN B
2 months 13 days ago

Yeah, not sure LBJ has the patience or interest in the kind of mentorship wiggins would have needed. It should be interesting to see what comes of Ingram being on his team.

JOHN B
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JOHN B
2 months 13 days ago

I have wondered, but since we really didn’t play good d and had horrible regular season habits, I am not sure Wiggins turns out all that different. The cavs of 2015-2018 weren’t exactly a model of good habits. We also have never had a chance to see LBJ mentor young guys, or at least young wings so who knows. I think Wiggins is who he is though.

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

he got paid.. we have seen his best.. just human nature.. only the players on the nba mt rushmore have the dedication to get paid.. and keep working and improving.. like LBJ, etc

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

amico says cav-nots sign guard andrew harrison (who was released by memphis).. good pickup here, imho..

JOHN B
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JOHN B
2 months 13 days ago

I don’t mind a flyer on him, especially this year.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
2 months 13 days ago

I’m so glad griffin isn’t here to give us another Bennett. We should’ve listened to Gilbert who wanted Oladipo

Good job to have someone other than Nate to write up the college guys. Remember. Nate thinks Trae Young sucks.

MikeO
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MikeO
2 months 13 days ago

Hi col$…you know you are banned at this site by the admins, right?

JOHN B
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JOHN B
2 months 13 days ago
Dude, by most statistical measures, he sort of does suck. 42% fg. 27% from three. A pretty bad 52% TS. A 102 O rating (terrible), and a (117 d rating abysmal). .2 OBPM (Average). -4.2 DBPM (awful). -4.0 BPM (awful). That includes his first game against the cavs where the team sort of had quit before the game even began. And his second game against us. We of the worst d in the league. Against most other teams he has not been good, not even on offense. That being said he has shown potential, maybe not defensively, but in being an improved finisher and he has had a decent string of games of decent offensive efficiency. He was always going to be a good playmaker. He could have a bright future. He looked like he couldn’t finish at all against real competition in college, against any length whatsoever. He has been better, but by no means could you call him an average finisher yet. He has an average PER thanks to volume shooting and his assists. But in terms of his actual impact, he has been bad. He has shown some improvement on finishing against length, which besides his defensive… Read more »
buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

so, paul pierce sayin the dukies can beat the cav-nots.. so very sad

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

but hey.. perhaps this current team can gift us another LBJ or Kyrie.. silver linings

JOHN B
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JOHN B
2 months 13 days ago

That would be the best outcome of the season if they got one of those two Duke guys. It might be a better outcome than even if the cavs had come into the season more ready/prepared and/or if Love didn’t go down. I mean is winning 30-35 games or maybe a few more if they crazy overachieved better than lucking into one of those two guys? I doubt it.

It is nice to have hope. I will be more excited for the draft lottery since 2002. However, it will take a LOT of luck to get a top 2 pick. It always has, but it will take even more this season. 1 in 4 is not great odds. Less than 1 in 6 is really not great odds.

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

and the great thing is, they don’t have to flop to have the worst record

Nate Smith
Admin
2 months 13 days ago

Paul Pierce is a schmuck

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

agreed.. he is just ragging on the land

danz
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danz
2 months 13 days ago

John Calipari said after the game that they had quite a bit of length on the floor to try and combat Zion (I think he said they had a 7 footer and a 6’11” guy as well and Zion was just manhandling them. I think that is important to keep in mind, that he was doing this against other legitimate NBA prospects.

Nate Smith
Admin
2 months 13 days ago

OK, now I’m excited. Though the fear I have is the Cavs having too many Bennett nightmares and passing on him to take someone more traditional.

John B
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John B
2 months 13 days ago

Bennett was thought a crazy reach even then. Zion is largely considered a top two or top pick preseason and the NBA coaches/other college coaches are hyping him up even more now. For good reason after that first game. So this would not be another reach for the Cavs. They wouldn’t have to worry about their rep if they went with Zion since everybody and their mother is seemingly hyping including Steve Kerr of all people.

buck turgidson
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buck turgidson
2 months 13 days ago

where is gum-drop now?

Anonymous
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Anonymous
2 months 13 days ago

Gleague

John B
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John B
2 months 13 days ago
He really is built. Not too much weight to lose, and I don’t think he should try to cut muscle at all. Maybe just work on cardio and core strength. That is it. His upper body is cut already. Reminds me of LA Ron artest days where he looked like a body builder, except Zion actually can move at speeds and quickness befitting a much smaller guy, and obviously may have the best vertical for a legit NBA player of all time. His passing is really really good. Watching him in high school and in the tune up games Duke played he really displayed a knack for finding cutters in stride and accurately. Also some of the passes I have seen him make are very very advanced. He might not be able to show it since Barrett will likely be handling the ball more, but I think Zion is one of the better passers I have seen in college. As far as finishing, Barrett may have more moves, but Zion finished with touch over and through a 7 footer, 6’11”, guy and I think a 6’9″ guy with ease that whole UK game. While he doesn’t have a ton of… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
2 months 13 days ago

I haven’t seen him play yet. All of the write up sounds quite tantalizing…..from an OFFENSIVE stand point.

6’6” 285? In the modern NBA, who is he going to guard?

Nate Smith
Admin
2 months 13 days ago

Everybody.

Tim
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Tim
2 months 7 days ago

He is a ridiculous talent and like you I haven’t sat up and paid attention to a young athlete like this since Lebron. He’s a Bo Jackson level athlete. Gotta wonder what kinda vitamins get an 18 yo built like that.

Tim
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Tim
2 months 7 days ago

He also has a look in is eyes that instantly sets him above guys like Wiggins and Melo. He’s a predator, something that isn’t focused on enough. It’s what makes guys like Lillard and Oladipo so good and guys like Derozan fall short. People explain it away as a clutch gene, but really it’s killer instinct and insane competitive levels; you can’t teach it. In my business they show videos illustrating the same thing in high stress situations. Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers when they land in the Valley of Death, everything is hitting the fan and the plan is FUBAR, he has a brief pause and then turns to is radio man and says “Broken Arrow.” Instantly assessing and determining the only path to victory in a ridiculous situation. They show the video in an attempt to assess and teach calm under fire and they contrast it with examples of leaders falling apart. Point being they are wrong, you can’t teach bad ass, you either are, or you aren’t.

John B
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John B
2 months 13 days ago

He is very agile. Think Bilas said he had the fastest time out of any of the Duke players this year in their agility drill. So basically any position. You won’t be able to back him down. Hyper quick guards like Westbrook might give him trouble. But no one keeps guys like that out of the paint by themselves. For normal pgs and wings he has lockdown potential. Think of him as a stronger, faster, more agile, and better leaping Draymond. That is his defensive potential I think.

John B
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John B
2 months 13 days ago

But he is not there yet. Loses focus off ball. Closeouts aren’t always the highest effort. Gamble’s a bit for steals. But he has literally ALL the physical tools.

John B
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John B
2 months 13 days ago

And maybe fundamental on ball stance could use some work, but I wasn’t watching that too close. Not sure KU really attacked him too much, but he did get in foul trouble. Don’t remember the plays, but I don’t remember people blowing by him.

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