The 2019 NBA Draft is providing fans with a rare glimpse of a true phenomenon. Prospects like Zion Williamson don't come around every year; perhaps the only fair comparisons to the buzz he's creating are LeBron James in 2003 and Shaquille O'Neal in 1992.
Though comparisons are always tricky, Williamson's dominant season at Duke had all of the familiar ingredients of the hype for those two megastars: salivating scouts, excited fans, and a marketing machine ready to pounce.
Williamson will enter the league with countless tools at his disposal, but here are the three biggest gifts he brings as he jumps to the next level.
Williamson would've been the second-heaviest player in the NBA this past season behind only the 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic. His 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame may lead to future conditioning concerns, but he could also become the most unstoppable physical force since O'Neal.
He may not be the strongest player immediately upon entering the league, but the gap won't be a big one and he'll have a decisive advantage that very few rookies ever have. Williamson has the build of an NFL defensive lineman with the athleticism to play above the rim, and he effortlessly employs his power in the post.
"The one thing I always saw about Zi was that he really utilized his weight," ESPN analyst Jay Williams told theScore. "He establishes every pound of 285 lbs when he plays. What you saw (at Duke) is the proper usage of his skill set - putting him on the block, making sure he gets touches, getting him in transition where he can attack the rim."
If there's any weakness in his game, it's that he may be too reliant on his strength, but Williamson shouldn't struggle to make the appropriate adjustments. Defensively, he has the tools to lead the league in rebounding and be an elite shot-blocker, even if he's considered on the short side.
Williams believes that the 18-year-old is part of a growing trend of strong, powerful basketball players with elite athleticism and other intangibles; as a point of reference, Anthony Davis played point guard in AAU ball.
"Apparently there's a new breed of anomalies that continue to arrive that we should be prepared for," Williams said. "It's the new norm." - Chick
It's no secret that Williamson is a weapon in transition. He's able to fill passing lanes and accelerate past the opposition on fast breaks.
Williamson is also fully capable of starting and finishing a transition sequence. He's quick enough to pull away from guards and can shake a defender with his strong handle without slowing down.
"At approximately that weight, he moves just as fast as anybody, jumps higher than anybody, and he's alert," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters, including theScore, on a conference call ahead of the team's Canadian preseason tour. "We're not talking about someone who has excess body fat. This is a kid that's in pretty darn good shape. It's more (muscle) mass and strength than any type of excess weight."
Williamson is also an offensive threat in the half court. His shiftiness combined with a quick first step helps him blow by bigger defenders in face-up situations.
The reigning Wooden Award winner's speed translates into defensive success, too. Williamson has the agility to stay in front of guards and defend multiple positions at the next level.
He's also got great instincts and knows when to provide assistance for his teammates. With Williamson's burst, he's only a couple steps away from providing weak-side rim protection.
"His lateral movement, speed, and anticipation are off the charts," Krzyzewski said. "He can get in a stance and play help-side (defense)." - Nacion
In addition to his unique athleticism and build, Williamson already has the talent to become arguably the most versatile player in basketball.
His game may never translate into that of a high-level scoring option, and skeptics could even question whether the Duke standout is simply nothing more than an elite dunker. However, it's the well-rounded intangibles that will inevitably make Williamson a superstar.
Early comparisons to LeBron are unfair for any 18-year-old entering the league. But Williamson has the potential to develop into the NBA's first true point center due to his elite ability to run the break, his unheralded passing prowess, and his knack for effectively defending all five positions.
Look as he gets switched onto the perimeter against Notre Dame, flustering Prentiss Hubb and eventually blocking his shot attempt:
Williamson's ideal comparison is a much more athletic Draymond Green with a better ability to score off the dribble. Playing him as a small-ball five may be optimal despite his limited length. However, as previously mentioned, he could quickly evolve into the strongest athlete in the league, and combine that power with the fluidity and speed to become the NBA's equivalent of a linebacker.
Though we may still be years away from Williamson realizing his true potential, there should be little doubt that he will continue to flourish and make his impact felt. Expect his floor to be a perennial All-Star, with the very real possibility that we're witnessing the start of a Hall of Fame career. - Saghir