Zion Williamson was a viral superstar before he stepped on campus at Duke, but he showcased in front of NBA scouts in Tuesday’s 118–84 win over Kentucky that he is the real deal. The Open Floor podcast dissects Williamson’s NBA future, his viral past, player comparisons, and what happened to the Kentucky Wildcats at the Champions Classic.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: What do you make of Zion Williamson right now? He kind of broke my brain against Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Ben Golliver: He’s a very talented player. It’s not like we just stumbled upon him. We have been watching his mixtapes on Ballislife for like 15 of the past 17 years. Pretty sure he was able to dunk at the age of three. The high school competition he was playing against really afforded 27-minute long mixtapes where he is just dunking on poor kids. I have been on the Zion train for a few years now.
The biggest thing now is this style or substance? Is he going to be able to have this level of impact athletically as the competition improves? And I think what you saw in game No. 1, that’s not really the question.
He is still the biggest, strongest, fastest player on the court. I’ve seen some different comparisons: I saw Charles Barkley and Larry Johnson mentioned. To me, there’s some Draymond with a handle and this crazy downhill mentality but also significantly more ups. And Andrew, you know how I feel about Draymond. Draymond to me is like straight out a laboratory and is exactly what I want a player to be like in terms of two-way impact, how hard he plays, leadership, and defense. I think Zion's got some ways to go in terms of consistency defensively, and that true interior presence if you are going to play him at the five, but he’s a really special offensive player.
I guess my takeaway was this, and this is always how I feel about college basketball, I’ve seen enough of Zion at the NCAA level. I’m good. I don’t need to see another game. Just imagine Zion within a spread offense with four shooters right now. Take Giannis [Antetokounmpo) off and surround him with four shooters, is that going to be a great NBA offense within two to three years of him being in the league? The answer to me is yes.
I think right now with players coming up, I am looking for one-on-one guys who can pose consistent matchup issues, beat their guy off the dribble, take advantage of space and have the pass-making ability to serve as the No. 1 playmaking option within an offense. To me, Zion checks all of those boxes.
Sharp: That’s really interesting. I am not totally sold just yet but we will get to that. For now, that’s the wrong take. That’s a bad take from you. I am not done watching Zion Williamson in college basketball, because I think he is just going to murder people all year long and it’s going to be so much fun.
Golliver: When you come along three years late, you want to get caught up, I understand.
Sharp: What do you mean? I am three years late on Zion? What are you even talking about?
Golliver: This guy has been an internet sensation! You only want to talk about him once he plays at Duke. I know you visited the school. Zion has been Zion since he was 15 years old, Andrew.
Sharp: …With Zion you can just see nobody could handle him physically, and also his first step is so much more explosive than probably anyone in college basketball is going to have this year. R.J. Barrett is in that conversation too, but it’s going to be really fun to watch him make teams look totally helpless.
The other part of this story that I love—you mentioned the 16-year-old viral sensation clips—that’s part of it for me because in a lot of those clips he was dunking on 5’8” white kids in South Carolina and he was 6’5”. I really thought it was going to head into a dark place, because he was becoming nationally famous at 16 years old and people were talking about him like a future NBA superstar, and he really just didn’t have the massive makeup of somebody who would have that timeline.
And yet, like you said, we are here now and he just made Kentucky look like a bunch of 5’8” white kids, so I don’t know where this is going. I really wish I could say he’s definitely the next LeBron or he’s definitely going to be in that Giannis mold, but there is still enough room to doubt that and worry about how he will fit and what position he will play at the next level. It’s going to be really exciting.