What Style of Play Offers the Best NBA Fit for Zion Williamson?

The talk of Zion Williamson and the NBA draft have been ongoing for quite some time, but now that we’ve reached 2019 that conversation is set to hit a fever pitch. The Open Floor podcast enters the discussion once again, this time talking about how Zion Williamson’s style of play fits in the NBA, and looking around the league to pick out the system best suited to his particular set of skills. 

(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)


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Andrew Sharp: The question I have for you is where do you really put Zion Williamson? I know you’re not really a draft guy per say, but to me a lot of people are talking about this guy like he’s in the LeBron, Anthony Davis category of prospects, and I’m not quite there. What do you think? 

Ben Golliver: Even if we’re going to give him average-level playmaking, I don’t think he’s like a point-forward yet on the LeBron, Ben Simmons, Giannis, where he is right now level. And I don’t see that happening in the immediate future, so that’s why I think you just need to have as much structural help around him as possible.

Ultimately, I see him as the lead playmaker of an offense, the ball is in his hands more often than not, I want him to play in an up-and-down tempo so you’re getting full use of his athleticism and his energy on defense. I see him starting at four and playing some backup five when teams go smaller, and I basically want whatever team that drafts him to build the whole show around him in very Giannis-like ways because I can see if the pieces don’t fit, in the same way that Simmons has kind of been marginalized or put into some boxes that don’t fit his best needs, I can see Zion struggling if he’s constantly driving into paint I’m not sure that’s going to be a worthwhile thing for him.

If he’s in a five-out offense or like four other shooters are around him and he’s allowed to go one on one, I think he’s going to be a really tough cover for everybody in the NBA in about two years. I love his energy; I love his activity level, his buy in, his willingness to do the little things, his physicality. I mean, there’s a lot to like here and that’s why I used the word phenomenon on last week’s episode, and that’s why I’m so hung up on this idea of having a stretch five with him to keep it wide open and you’ve got to understand that there could be some growing pains with him running the offense but if you want to reach his full potential the ball’s got to be in his hands. 

Sharp: I have a few thoughts there. No. 1, I agreed with you that one of the things I love most about Zion is he does play super, super hard, and given how famous he is and how talented Duke is and how badly they beat teams, it would be understandable if he didn’t play that hard. Ben Simmons did not play that hard at LSU and it was understandable. It’s just really cool to watch Zion throw his body all over the floor and go 150 miles an hour at all times, because that makes him even more fun to watch. 

NBA Draft Big Board 3.0: Zion Williamson Remains on Top

And the other thing I would add is that one of the things I love thinking about, and it actually comes back to Ben Simmons, is the different between Ben Simmons and Giannis is that Giannis has such freakish length that the lack of a jumper matters less because he’s able to get his shot over anyone, and he’s always got a clear look at the rim, and that’s something that a scout was describing to me early on when I wrote something comparing Ben Simmons to Giannis. He said there are definitely similarities but the big difference is that Ben Simmons is not going to have the length and it’s not going to be nearly as easy for him as it will be for Giannis.

And I think Zion fits somewhere on that continuum, and I think is probably closer to Giannis except instead of length it’s just ridiculous power paired with a 50-inch vertical that allows him to get his shot over anybody, at least that’s what it’s been in college. And he’s also go amazing touch around the rim. I don’t know how much of that is going to translate, but that’s part of what’s so exciting about him. It’s possible that some of his limitations won’t matter as much just because he’s the best athlete we’ve seen in 20 years. 

Zion Williamson

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Golliver: I think that most of my concerns about Zion… I don’t want to compare him to Blake Griffin, but I would worry that in context some of the same things that held Blake Griffin or made his life more difficult might also apply to Zion. The lack of outside shooting, the idea that I’m just going to try to bull rush my way through here over and over, and that works for a couple of years but you reach your mid-20s and you can’t really use that as a viable strategy anymore. That would be the downside of where this could go. 

Sharp: And Blake Griffin was still really good for the first eight or nine years, and is actually still really good. It’s just that the contract has changed the way we talk about him, but I think those concerns were valid. I’m glad you share those because I think that’s part of what’s been missing from the Zion conversation. People are like, ‘He’s a once in a generation player,” and I think that’s true because we’ve never seen anyone like Zion Williamson. I just don’t know if he’s as much of a sure thing as people make it seem sometimes. 

Golliver: I hear you but I also think the desire to nitpick, which is absolutely a great desire and everyone should do it–don’t go overboard here. This guy has got a45 PER right now. That’s not a misprint. We can also just enjoy Zion and dream about him, because it could be a truly unique thing that we’ve never seen. 

Sharp: Well, I can’t wait to watch him, wherever he lands. 

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