National Basketball Association

Is the Zion Williamson buzz warranted, or is the Pelicans star overhyped?

February 25

With all due respect to Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, there's a new Human Highlight Film in the NBA.

Zion Williamson has elevated his game to another level in his sophomore season, averaging 25.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists ⁠— all while shooting 62.0% from the field ⁠— with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Despite just a 14-17 record for the Pels, Williamson's efforts have resulted in his first All-Star Game nod, making the 20-year-old the fourth-youngest player in league history to receive the honor.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Magic Johnson are the only players in league history to accomplish the feat at a younger age, per ESPN's Andrew Lopez.

Combined, that trio accounts for 14 NBA titles, eight MVP awards and 47 All-Star selections.

Indeed, Williamson finds himself among esteemed company.

The hype around Williamson isn't some new phenomenon, though.

In 2016, Williamson was receiving Division I offers by the end of his sophomore season of high school.

A consensus five-star recruit, he became one of the nation's top prospects and committed to play for Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils in 2018. 

At Duke, Williamson confirmed his status as appointment television.

In 33 games, he averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 68.0% shooting and perhaps most famously, broke through a shoe in the middle of a game.

The shoe incident resulted in a knee injury, but fortunately nothing too severe for the star player.

He swept the men's college basketball national player of the year awards, becoming the third freshman in history to receive the honor from the Associated Press since the organization began naming winners in 1960.

And when the NBA came calling, New Orleans took the 6-foot-7, 284-pound phenom with the first overall pick in 2020.

After a preseason meniscus tear delayed Williamson's debut by about three months, he proved to be worth the wait.

By and large, Williamson has met every challenge or expectation thrown his way.

But the NBA hype machine is still building, and many believe Williamson is just scratching the surface.

Given his track record and the hoopla around him, does he have the makings of a future MVP?

The "Undisputed" crew of Chris Broussard, Jason McIntyre and Ric Bucher all weighed in Thursday.

Broussard said that so far, Williamson is living up to the hype. Furthermore, Broussard sees more on the horizon as the Pelicans find new ways to unleash Williamson's offensive prowess.

"Now that Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in his hands and unlocked this other part of Zion's game, I think now you're really going to see him unlocked. ... He's in the pick-and-roll more, he's bringing the ball up court more. ... So, Zion, with his ball-handling, his athleticism, his strength, his size ... you can't stop him from getting to the rim."

As far an MVP award goes, however, that'll take some additional work. Broussard listed a few areas of improvement for Williamson, but one stood out the most:

"The thing that disappoints me the most is the rebounding. At that size, with that leaping ability, that explosion, for him to be averaging six rebounds a game? That's almost a travesty."

One ding that Williamson has on his NBA résumé so far is a lack of winning. In 54 games played with the Pelicans, he's won 25 times and lost on 29 occasions. McIntyre believes that shouldn't be held against Williamson and thinks the youngster has the makings of a league MVP.

Bucher had a different view on Zion's credentials up to this point, saying he believes Williamson hasn't met some lofty expectations.

"What was he supposed to be, from the very beginning? What was he advertised as? The next LeBron James. That's what I heard. ... So, while I love watching Zion play, and I think that he is a freak in his own right ... has he lived up to the hype? Hell no, he hasn't lived up to the hype."

Just as Kobe, LeBron and a select few others had to deal with being billed "the next Michael Jordan," Williamson's found himself cast in a similar light. 

And, not for nothing, James is still writing his legacy, as he looks to defend the title with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But when Williamson takes the floor for his first All-Star Game on March 7, he could make inroads on the icon many compare him to.

If Williamson were to go on and win the All-Star Game MVP award, he'd be the youngest winner of that award.

The current holder? James, who won it at age 21 years, 51 days.


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