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It’s difficult to find anyone who doesn’t believe he’ll be the New Orleans Pelicans’ next perennial All-Star.
At 18 years old, he finished his lone season at Duke with the highest player efficiency rating of any NCAA player in a decade. Between his unprecedented mix of physical tools and athleticism, a blossoming skill set and intangibles that have drawn rave reviews, it’s easy to see why so many buy into Williamson’s success carrying over to the NBA.
Bleacher Report talked to scouts for their takes on the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
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Scout’s take: “MVP,” a scout replied when asked what Williamson’s best NBA season will look like. “If Giannis Antetokounmpo can be an MVP candidate, so can Zion.”
Scout’s take: “He will be as as good as he wants to be. How can he not with that combination of size, athleticism, speed, strength? He’s got it all.”
The Pelicans’ lottery victory was perfectly timed. As they prepared to part ways with one MVP candidate in Anthony Davis, they landed another in Williamson.
No one who spoke with Bleacher Report thought All-Star status was out of Williamson’s reach. Some believe he could win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award one day.
We’ve never seen a player do what Williamson can with his body. Between his power, explosion and quickness, he’s a big-man version of former MVP Russell Westbrook.
Throw in his developing ball skills, elite intangibles and the fact he’s still only 18 years old, and it’s easy to see why some scouts could see both the highest possible ceiling and Williamson being capable of reaching it.
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Scout’s take: “Impressive ball-handler for his size. Can be a grab-and-go guy like Ben Simmons. Good passer. Hope to see him in more pick-and-roll ball-handling situations [in the NBA].”
Scout’s take: “His ability to use the right hand and hit jumpers showed vast improvement since high school.”
Williamson generated most of his production from his spectacular physical gifts. But he also demonstrated a strong skill level in certain areas that strengthens his case as more than just a superb athlete.
As a fast-break initiator, he converted 20-of-24 transition plays into baskets (91st percentile) by handling the ball in the open floor. He has a tight dribble and in-and-out move, which he can execute while flying at high speeds.
In the half court, Williamson generated 28 points on 22 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions (99th percentile) and 52 points on 50 isolation possessions (86th percentile). Out of spot-ups, he converted 9-of-14 drives going right using his off hand. With room to ignite his power and burst and get downhill, he becomes a train attacking from the wings.
Williamson also ranked in the 99th percentile on post-ups by shooting 75.0 percent. The scouting report shows he’s predictable, however, as he finished 2-of-5 over his left shoulder and 19-of-26 over his right shoulder.
Williamson will need to incorporate counters and more advanced moves in the NBA. Right now, he’s effective pivoting and exploding up, over or through his man to create a high-percentage look.
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Scout’s take: “He’s doesn’t shoot well, and it’s a shooter’s league. Players in the league are smart. They’re gonna make him shoot the ball.
“All he’s gotta get to is where he can make shots with his feet set. He’s not gonna turn into shots, he’s not a natural, that’s not gonna be his deal. If he can make shots with his feet set and be held accountable out there, I feel sorry for the guys who he’s gonna be attacking their feet. Giving him a little more space on the floor is dangerous because he doesn’t need a lot of space to take off and get above the rim.”
If there is a concern about Williamson, it’s that his limited shooting ability will stop him from joining the NBA’s elite.
He shot 33.8 percent from three on 71 attempts, 64.0 percent from the free-throw line and went 2-of-12 on pull-ups.
As the scout said, “he’s not going to turn into shots,” which means he won’t be knocking down jumpers off dribbles or screens. But Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t, either. Williamson has at least flashed promise with his spot-up jumper, having hit 24 threes in total and 10 over his final seven games in March.
Anthony Davis hit only three triples across his first three NBA seasons. If Williamson can force defenders to challenge him on the perimeter, it will open up more blow-by opportunities.
Williamson’s limited shooting versatility and range may make scoring tougher early in his career. But signs point to eventual improvement, and he’ll be special in transition, off drives, post-ups and offensive rebounds in the meantime.
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Scout’s take: “I haven’t scouted a prospect this talented who also had this perfect mental makeup. He’s everything you could possibly want in a franchise player.”
Scout’s take: “He’s like a big piece of putty. You can mold him however you want if he’s willing. Everything we’re hearing, he is, and he’s a junkie and loves it.”
Williamson’s talent is obvious, but NBA teams believe achieving greatness also requires the right approach and mindset. And nobody questions Williamson’s intangibles, which represent another major plus on the scouting report.
Williamson has a fantastic reputation both in terms of on-court demeanor and off-court maturity.
He plays with passion, effort and a sharp competitive edge. And coaches and teammates always appear to support him. The belief is that Williamson has no agenda or high-maintenance needs.
His work ethic, team-first approach and drive are key reasons why scouts remain so optimistic that Williamson will maximize his potential.
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Scout’s take: “I wouldn’t worry about fit at all. He also has the body girth and bounce to defend 4s and the quicks to defend 3s.”
The term tweener has been eliminated from the scouting handbook. Positionless basketball has helped extinguish concerns about fit for players who aren’t true 3s, 4s or 5s.
Nobody seems to care that Williamson lacks the height of a center or a traditional skill set of a forward. His success may come down to who the Pelicans surround him with.
The Pelicans could be eager to play faster and use Williamson as a small-ball center. Or they could play him at the 4 and put shooters around him.
His 285-pound frame gives him the strength to body up with bigs around the basket as well as the quick bounce to rise up for shot-blocking (1.8 per game). He also has the lateral quickness to defend, switch around the perimeter and jump passing lanes (2.1 steals). Between his foot speed and competitiveness when locked in, he’ll be difficult to shake, even for guards.
Williamson ultimately figures to play and cover multiple spots on the floor throughout a game. Fit is a non-issue for him in 2019.