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Zion Williamson 'very, very explosive', says Shaquille O'Neal

2019 No 1 overall Draft pick set to star alongside Ja Morant and Trae Young as Team USA face Team World - led by Luka Doncic and RJ Barrett - in the Rising Stars Game

Friday 14 February 2020 16:26, UK

Zion Williamson celebrates after scoring with a dunk against Milwaukee 4:21
Shaquille O'Neal has been impressed by No 1 overall Draft pick Zion Williamson and says the young Pelicans star is 'very, very explosive'

Shaquille O'Neal has been impressed by No 1 overall Draft pick Zion Williamson and says the young Pelicans star is 'very, very explosive'.

Live NBA: All-Star Rising Stars

Williamson is set to take centre stage on the opening evening of the 2020 All-Star Weekend as he joins forces with Ja Morant when Team USA take on the Luka Doncic-led Team World in the Rising Stars game, live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Saturday morning (2am).

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After missing the first 44 games of the season following knee surgery, Williamson has returned to action with a vengeance, racking up 221 points in his first 10 NBA games. He has topped 20 points in eight of those appearances, a feat not achieved by a rookie since Michael Jordan did it in his first NBA season in 1984.

Ja Morant works off the dribble against the Dallas Mavericks 3:00
Check out top plays from the Team US players set to star in the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend

Speaking on Inside The NBA, Hall of Famer O'Neal said he has been "impressed" by Williamson and backed the 19-year-old star to lead the Pelicans to the playoffs.

"Ever since he came back, his team has a new confidence," O'Neal said. "Lonzo Ball's assists-per-game has gone up by two or three. They are playing with energy.

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"They are putting a lot on their big guy's plate, saying 'Zion, lead us'. He is doing a great job. I don't think he will win Rookie of the Year because he has missed so many games. The city is excited, the team is excited and I think (the Pelicans) will make the playoffs."

O'Neal's fellow analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, with whom Williamson's size, strength and skillset have been compared, were equally effusive about the New Orleans rookie star.

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Luka Doncic laps up the crowd's acclaim 2:34
Check out top plays from the Team World players set to star in the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend

"What Zion does is give the Pelicans a guy who can get them a basket. Before, with Brandon Ingram, they were getting, at times, tough shots. Zion's ability to be stronger, faster and more athletic gives the Pelicans easier shots when they need them," said Smith.

"He is really, really explosive. He has one of the best second jumps I have ever seen," said Barkley.

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"(If I was guarding him) I would try to stay between him and the basket. That was a fluke he made four threes in his first game, he hasn't made one since. The baskets we have shown (him scoring) are all lay-ups so you have to use force against force, stay between him and the basket and make him make shots."

"He has impressed me," interjected O'Neal. "I wish he had played (more games). I agree with Charles, he has the best second jump I have ever seen. He is very explosive. He's young and he needs to get into better shape the more he plays but I definitely like his game.

Luka Doncic laps up the crowd's acclaim 2:34
Check out top plays from the Team World players set to star in the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend

Two-time NBA champion Smith added he believes Williamson possesses the potential to change the prevalent NBA ethos of prioritising three-point shooting.

"We live in this analytical world now with an onus on the three-pointer over the two-point shot," Smith said.

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"I have said before there has to be a player that can move teams out of that thought process. Zion is going to be that player. Even of you make three-out-of-10 on threes, he is going to make six-out-of-seven on twos. The analytic game is going to change when teams play against the Pelicans."

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