DALLAS, Texas – There are many who felt that freshman Blue Devil Zion Williamson was a top-level talent when he arrived on the college basketball scene. After three games, Williamson has exceeded those expectations, averaging 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 82% shooting. More importantly, Zion has had more dunks than missed shots this season.
We haven’t reached the mid-way point of the college basketball season and Zion has already sparked the comparison conversation of previous and current NBA players based on his freakish on-court ability. If we take the time to breakdown Zion’s talent, there are five players that Zion can truly be compared to.
TOP FIVE COMPARISONS
- Sir Charles Barkley – Barkley was arguably the first athletic big man that we’ve witnessed. At the University of Auburn, he was referred to as the “Round Mound of Rebound” with is 300-pound frame inside the paint. Unlike like Zion, Barkley was considered overweight coming into the NBA. That 300-pound size was fine at Auburn, however, in 1984 the 76ers required Barkley to drop at least 20 pounds before draft night. Even when Barkley was able to reduce his size to 283, he didn’t replace it with muscle; therefore, there was still increments of fat lingering around. Zion is 285 pounds of steel muscle. He doesn’t appear to be overweight and everything seems to fit perfectly.
- Shaquille O’Neal – I am fully aware that Shaq is 7-feet tall and Zion is only 6’7’’ (although he’s only 18 and may not be done growing) this comparison is strictly based on physical dominance. At LSU, Shaq was a one-man dunking machine with the ability to go coast-to-coast at any given moment. For the majority of his college career, Shaq hovered around the 290-pound frame and was ultimately the biggest and most frightening man on the court every single night. We are witnessing that similar physical superiority in Zion Williamson. Once he steps on the court, there’s no bother looking at anyone else. As a freshman, Shaq averaged a double-double, 24 points, and 14 rebounds. Through three games Zion’s averaging similar numbers with a paramount upside for the future.
- Grand-ma-ma Larry Johnson — Like Williamson, Johnson was a physical freak of nature. Like Johnson was early in his career, Williamson is currently most comfortable playing with his back to the basket in a halfcourt set or finishing well above it in transition. They both have strong hands, rebound at a high rate and have really good footwork and a nice variety of post moves on the low block. When I first thought about comparing Williamson to Johnson, I thought to myself, he just doesn’t shoot it like “Grand-ma-ma” did in his prime. But after some thought, Johnson didn’t have a great jump shot during his days atUNLV or early in his NBA career. It was with hard work and repetition that he turned into a good jump shooter and watching Williamson, his mechanics are fine. He just needs repetition. Based on their similar low block presence, a Johnson-Williamson comparison cannot be ignored.
- “ReignMan” Shawn Kemp – Minus their un-similar size because Kemp was three inches taller and about 50 pounds lighter and Zion, both possessed physical dominance from an athletic standpoint that forced you to pay attention. Many are now referring to Zion as ‘must-see television.’ Back in the early 90s, that was Shawn Kemp. You were bound to witness a fast-break dunk from the free throw line or an opponent’s ball sent to the bleachers on any given night. Many are starting to refer to Zion as the next Shawn Kemp version 2.0. Because Zion has displayed the same mechanics and athletic ability as Kemp; the only difference is he doing it with an extra 50 pounds of muscle and a much higher vertical leap.
- LeBron James – There’s not a single sports fan walking this planet ever thought that they would have an opportunity to witness another LeBron James. We’ve never seen anything like him and we were sure that a player of his caliber only comes around once in a lifetime—we were dead wrong. When LeBron first entered the league in 03’ he was only listed at 6’6,’’ 225 pounds. It wasn’t until several seasons later that LeBron was able to put on an extra 30 pounds of muscle during off-season training and his ability to be disciplined in terms of what he eats. When LeBron was 18 he was a foul line to foul line athlete in high school—whereas Zion is just going to overpower you, which is what LeBron now does in the league. LeBron bulldozes his way to the rim because he knows that there’s not a single defender on this planet that can stop him. We haven’t seen the dominance of a freight train since James, and so far Zion is the only player that reminds us of such physical specimen.
Some would argue that it may not be wise to compare Zion to LeBron because you’re taking a huge risk of Zion not being able to live up to the expectations. My only response to that is—LeBron’s son, Bronny Jr will have a more difficult task to follow the footsteps of his father than Zion will. Simply because of his name, everyone including myself will have high expectations for the kid. As for Zion, when we compare him to LeBron, it’s solely based on what he reminds us of. Again, when you’ve witnessed dominance for more than a decade, it’s typically a foregone conclusion that you will never get to see it again. But, when you have a guy in Zion Williamson who reminds us of what we’ve been observing for the last 15 years, it forces you to pay attention and it forces you to make the natural comparison.