College basketball season is just 10 days in and Zion-mania has already swept the nation. Zion Williamson is who I'm referencing, but if you're reading this, by now you know full well about Duke's super-dunking social media sensation.
Williamson has already, predictably, taken the college sports world by storm with his freakish athleticism and wait, did he seriously just do that? brand of basketball. He's putting up an astounding 25.3 points and 10.7 rebounds through three games, which is eye-popping in itself. But the way in which he operates, and the body frame in which he executes it all so effortlessly, is what really makes the eyes of spectators bulge. He's a special talent with a unique frame and limitless potential.
With that, let's look at five things that make him such a unique prospect and find out what all the fuss is about.
1. His competitive spirit is unmatched
Williamson is already a superstar. Between his Instagram and Twitter accounts, he has well over two million followers. It'd be understandable -- heck, even halfway expected -- if, at times, he shied away from contact or played with less than max effort. After all, less than a year from now he's going to be worth millions; right now he's getting paid by way of free tuition and a monthly stipend.
But Zion plays hard. He did so against Kentucky in the Blue Devils' season-opener, as you would expect he would, but he also did so five days later against Army -- a team they blew out by 22 and were in no real danger of losing to. The play below is a perfect exemplification of how he plays night-to-night.
Simply playing with a competitive spirit isn't going to make him an NBA superstar -- there are plenty of dogs at the college level who grind and compete and never made a dent in the league -- but that trait put alongside myriad physical gifts gives him a far less chance of busting.
2. He's nearly 300 pounds
Over two million followers is impressive, as is his nightly stat line. But the most impressive, and equally jarring, number attached to him is his listed weight of 285 pounds. That is … not small. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Only one player in the NBA is bigger than Zion -- the great Boban Marjanovic, who weighs 291.
For someone who seemingly floats on air when he goes up for dunks and defies gravity with his hang time when he soars to snatch a shot attempt out of the hands of some poor soul, knowing he weighs 285 pounds make his production all the more impressive.
3. He's freakishly athletic
This is kind of like calling LeBron a very good basketball player. Duh.
But this kind of athleticism and explosiveness from a collegiate athlete is something most, including Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, have never seen.
"Zion is the most unique athlete I've coached at Duke," Krzyzewski said. "Everybody talks about his ability to dunk and jump, but he has great body control, he has guard skills … he can play any position."
Coach K has entrusted Zion with a ton of freedom to start the season. We've seen him pull down rebounds, run the court and go coast-to-coast, we've seen him pull shots from the 3-point line, despite a limited volume, and we've seen him exceed expectations with that trust.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about in Duke's first game: Zion snatches (literally) a shot attempt, brings the ball up the floor himself and hits a sprinting RJ Barrett with a bounce pass in stride for an easy bucket. In less than 10 seconds, he swats it like a center, brings it up the court like a point guard, then finds the passing lane like he thought his name was Tre Jones.
This entire sequence is Duke-Kentucky in a nutshell tonight. pic.twitter.com/e2gJKrPJts— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) November 7, 2018
4. His efficiency is off the charts
Zion Williamson has taken 39 shots this season. He has made 32. That 82.1 percent accuracy ranks 16th nationally. And among those ahead of him in field goal percentage, no one has taken more than 23 shot attempts. So he's getting both high volume and remaining extremely accurate.
How, you ask, is he able to be so efficient? Simple: He's getting a ton of looks at or near the rim. According to analysis from ESPN box score data, 24 of his 39 shots through three games have been classified as either layups or dunks. Here's more analysis: Layups are dunks, broadly speaking, are highly efficient shots. He's escalated that number in each game, going from six to eight to a season-high 10 against EMU.
5. Zion is polished as a prospect, but still scratching the surface
There are a lot of areas to his game that are very, very well-developed. Like his A-plus level footwork, his ability to block/alter shots, and his absurd body control -- again, which is accentuated by the fact that he's pushing 300. He's also just physically stronger than most, and has, to this point, been able to bully anyone that's been thrown his way.
But if Zion is to reach his full NBA superstar potential, which is undeniably there beneath the surface (though maybe not as deep as what some think), he will need to become matchup proof by developing a more consistent mid-range and outside game. There's a pretty slim chance college teams are going to be able to contain him and keep him out of the paint, where he loves to get his buckets, but in the NBA he could be herded to the perimeter and dared to shoot. To this point, his outside shot is largely considered one of his biggest question marks. (He's taken three 3-pointers this season and made one.)
If he's able to improve that area of his game and show consistency within games, it could elevate him to an entirely new level as a basketball player. Which, as we've seen 10 days into the season, is a level that has to terrify any program that has Duke on its schedule this season.