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Zion Williamson mostly defies comparison, say NBA Draft experts

Watch 2019 NBA Draft coverage live on Sky Sports Arena from 10pm on Thursday night

Jim Eichenhofer, NBA.com/Pelicans

Thursday 20 June 2019 21:59, UK

Zion Williamson celebrates after scoring for Duke 6:07
Wes Wilcox, Billy King, Tom Penn, Isiah Thomas and Rick Kamla discuss the impact of Zion Williamson on and off the court

There is no doubt Zion Williamson has greatness in his future. NBA Draft experts say the only question is how great the consensus No 1 pick turns out to be.

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There may be no more storied NBA tradition than attempts to come up with player comparisons for incoming rookies, a staple of pre-Draft analysis that probably dates back to the beginning of the league in the 1940s.

For many first-year pros, there are plenty of easy analogies, but in the case of Zion Williamson, Draft gurus have mostly shaken their heads in confusion.

He's stepping into a league of established superstars. If he stays healthy, he's got greatness in his future. It's just a question of how great.
Draft expert Jay Bilas on Zion Williamson

After all, how many players have entered the NBA after being listed in their college game program at 6ft 7in, 285lbs? How many prospects anywhere near those measurables were also considered a premier athlete?

On NBADraft.net, Williamson's listed player comparisons are Charles Barkley and Larry Johnson, but Williamson is taller and bigger than both, as well as at least a bit more athletic, as evidenced by the Duke product's highlight-reel dunks and blocks.

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"There are some things he obviously needs to work on, but at 6ft 7in, 285lbs, people ask who does he remind me of? Nobody," NBA TV studio analyst Steve Smith said during his network's pre-draft coverage.

"There is not anyone I've seen like this [at that size]. No one has jumped like this. There is nobody he reminds me of."

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Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. 1:55
Watch a sizzling selection of Zion Williamson's most thunderous dunks from his college season with Duke

"I haven't seen anyone like him on the basketball court, and I don't think there ever has been," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on-air during the Draft Combine, before referencing Williamson's memorable crosscourt pursuit and soaring rejection of a corner three-point shot by Virginia's De'Andre Hunter.

"I couldn't even wrap my head around that, doing that game [on TV]. It was incredible."

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In addition to some of his unique natural gifts, Bilas' colleague Mike Schmitz provided Williamson with one of the biggest compliments a young player can receive, related to the consistent effort the 18-year-old brings to the hardwood.

"We've never seen a [star] guy play this hard," Schmitz said. "People want to say he is undersized at 6ft 7in (length-wise for a big) but he plays like he is seven feet tall because of his bounce and effort.

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"If you're telling me he can't protect the rim, I don't agree with that at all. He has great feet, he can switch ball screens, and it's really his effort and motor that stands out to me. He plays harder than any No 1 prospect in recent memory."

Beyond Williamson's physical package and top-tier intensity, Draft analysts are excited by the South Carolina native's versatile skill set, particularly in terms of his NBA potential and room to continue to improve.

Zion Williamson in action for Duke in the NCAA Tournament 0:48
Learn more about NBA Draft prospect Zion Williamson

"He can switch all five positions, he can protect the rim," Schmitz said of a player who averaged 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks in 33 college games. Then on offense he's a mismatch nightmare who can create offense from all over the floor.

"On top of that, they are not just getting a talented kid who fits into today's game. He is so much more than an athlete, and that's what I want to get across. We've seen the dunks and the blocks, all that, but this guy can handle and pass, his IQ is incredible, and I think he's going to fit perfectly in today's NBA."

Zion Williamson speaks to reporters after arriving in New York for the NBA Draft 0:34
Consensus No 1 Draft pick Zion Williamson arrived in New York and paid a visit to the Empire State Building

"We've never seen anyone with this size and jumping ability, but he still needs to work on his shot," Smith said, referencing Williamson's 33.8 per cent three-point shooting and 64.0 per cent foul shooting at Duke.

"His handle, defense and rebounding can improve. Saying all that, he's still pretty spectacular and still has huge room to grow. The potential is pretty unbelievable if all of that stuff starts to come together."

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"I don't know that there are people that doubt him. I haven't heard that," said Bilas. "It's just a question of how great he is going to be. He's stepping into a league of established superstars. If he stays healthy, he's got greatness in his future. It's just a question of how great."

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