New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has a scintillating skillset but even his above-the-rim antics can no longer mask the growing concerns about his durability and mentality moving forward.
A player rumored to weigh up to 330 pounds last year, Williamson’s curious combination of weight, strength, and explosiveness is still a mismatch for whatever player draws him as their defensive assignment.
In fact, though Shaquille O’Neal constantly compares himself to two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo due their physical dominance and interior scoring, Shaq’s game is more comparable to Zion than Giannis.
Like Shaq, Zion’s weight and strength simply a load to handle down low. At 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, not many men were built to battle with this behemoth of a man.
The same can be said of Williamson and he knows it, as the two-time All-Star flexing his biceps after scoring inside paint is a common sight.
That said, unlike Zion, Shaq’s competitiveness and mental toughness weren’t in question.
An excellent segway for the three reasons why the Pelicans must consider trading Zion in a blockbuster deal.
3 reasons Pelicans must consider blockbuster Zion Williamson trade
Confidence is key
When assessing the on-court value of Williamson, his on-court ability may inspire images of Shaq.
His intangibles though? Those are trending towards the land of Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons.
Simmons, like Zion or Giannis, is a terror in transition and capable of making savvy plays for his teammates with the ball in his hands. However, Simmons isn’t nearly as aggressive a scorer, notching his career-high scoring average (16.9 points per game) in 2018-19.
This season, Simmons has averaged a career-low 6.9 points per game due to a combination of injuries and timidity.
Williamson may never quite post a single-digit scoring average. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting how dramatically a passive mindset can diminish a player’s potential.
In the case of Simmons, a player once heralded as the next LeBron James has become the leagues laughingstock. A potential reality that Zion may face if he doesn’t regain his confidence.
As they say, confidence is key.
Without it, Williamson may never fully unlock his potential.
His trade value may never be higher
If Zion has one more major injury — or has another offseason when his weight gain appears to be a serious issue — opposing executives will become even more wary of adding Williamson than they already are.
Not in the least because Zion is owed $193 million over the next five years, with his salary ballooning to $33.5 million next season. At 22-years-old, the length of the contract should carry Williamson into his prime.
However, a player who has only played in 114 games since being drafted in 2019, the next four seasons of Zion’s career may be more of the same. Though Williamson is a generational talent with career averages of 25.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the field, his output is irrelevant if he won’t or can’t suit up.
Fortunately, a contract that large can net a star in a trade headlined by Zion.
After all, when Simmons was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers received a 10-time All-Star in James Harden.
Perhaps the Pelicans can land a player like Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, or Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, all players who have been linked to trade rumors this season.
Or, in the case of Morant, a player that could feasibly be moved in the right package given his off-court drama and their play without him.
The face of the franchise?
The face of a franchise represents that team and host city, and the fan base wants to be represented proudly by that player.
Zion, who probably would rather play in the Big Apple than the Big Easy, has already failed to establish a connection with New Orleans akin to the one that Morant has with Memphis. That said, his recent comments are unlikely to have gone over well with the fan base, as fans prefer confident leadership rather than players intimidated by the moment.
So, aside from the easy questions about whether or not the Pelicans front office can trust Zion… (no)… is the question about whether or Zion is the right leader for the group.
Unfortunately, that answer also seems to be a resounding no, because there isn’t a single team in the NBA whose leader wouldn’t do all they could for their team to win.
Except for Zion, apparently.
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