Zion Williamson’s NBA Summer League was cut short after suffering a bruised knee during the first half of the Pelicans' opener. The injury was not considered serious but David Griffin’s decision to shut down the No.1 pick for precautionary reason was the right move.
Williamson will undoubtedly be one of the main focuses heading into the NBA season after a phenomenal year at Duke where he averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds to take home player of the year honors.
On the latest Crossover podcast, SI's Chris Mannix is joined by ESPN draft analyst Fran Fraschilla to discuss Williamson’s potential, his conditioning, becoming a stretch four and more.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Mannix: A very brief appearance by Zion Williamson in NBA Summer League. What did you see there and what do you believe is his potential is in the NBA? How would you characterize it?
Fran Fraschilla: It is as high as I thought it was before the draft. I mean, he had four dunks, a couple shots blocked by Mitchell Robinson of the Knicks. But I think he is coming into a really good situation in New Orleans because of what David Griffin has done with some of these deals. He has one the most underrated players in the league in Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram. I think he is coming in where he doesn’t necessarily have to be the savior but given the make up of that team considering that they added JJ Redick and have Al Gentry who is going to space the floor well and with really good guard play, I think he is going to fit right in as a rookie.
Mannix: Not that position matters in the NBA anymore but how do you project him? I’ve seen people try to call him a stretch five but he might be too small to play that position.
Frashilla: I think he is a power forward but given how the game is, I think certain nights we have seen Draymond Green play the five and he is not a full-time five. He is going to be a power forward who will eventually be able to stretch the floor with his jumper that I think will improve if he puts the work in. But no, I think his combination of ball skills and dynamic athleticism and size is going to be a revelation. I think one thing that really helps New Orleans is getting Aaron Nelson from Phoenix. I don’t know what his title is (ed. note: Vice President of Player Care and Performance) but he is a player’s body guru. I think between David, Aaron and the front office, I think they are going to make sure that Zion is as physically as fit to play NBA basketball. Nelson has worked miracles with guys like Grant Hill in the past and others, so I think that really helps behind the scenes.
Mannix: The questions with Zion and you can really see it right away with perimeter shooting, it is a set shot that is launching. Not that he has to be Bradley Beal or Ray Allen but how much does that have to change as he evolves?
Fraschilla: The game is evolving so that is really going to help him. If you look at Brook Lopez for an example, he made three threes in his first eight years in the NBA and I think over the last three years it has been over 400. Same thing with Marc Gasol and same for a lot of guys who have learned how to stretch the floor after they got to the league. Paul Millsap is another guy and even Alex Len who is another guy that is shooting threes. I think it is going to be important for his development because it is going to give him another weapon. Can he get away without it in the NBA? I think he can but the way the game is going and the way player development is going, if he puts the time in, I think there is a possibility he can become an average or above-average shooter.
Mannix: I am really interested to see what his body looks like in year two. Because right now you see he has the baby fat on him and most teams will tell you that you can’t really reshape a players' body between after the draft and the start of the season but when you get done with your season in April or May or whenever it is, you now have research and all the data you need to get better. I think Zion can become a physical presence within a couple years.
Fraschilla: Let’s just take a look at Luka Doncic. When we talked about Luka at this time last summer, one of the things I read was that he probably played 400 games a year between his old team and the Slovakian national team. Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle shut him down. This guy was the Rookie of the Year and he was over 15 pounds of his ideal playing weight. And when people were snickering about Zion’s conditioning in game one, my first thought was he probably hasn’t played in serious basketball game since Duke got eliminated in the NCAA tournament. I joke a lot that he was hermetically sealed because during the pre-draft, there were players going to city to city to workout and Zion didn’t have to do that. I think Zion’s conditioning will be big but I think he is in good hands. The question going forward and when a year from now when we talk again is going to be if he dropped some weight because he is a large human being. I think it is exciting to watch his development over the next 12 months.