Now that Zion Williamson’s college career is in the books with an Elite Eight loss to Michigan State, the focus has immediately shifted to his potential impact at the NBA level.
Sure, Williamson needs to improve his outside shot and we really don’t know which position he’s best suited for at the pro level, but anyone who watched him play at Duke can tell you the 6-foot-7, 285 pound forward is a special talent.
An athlete that big isn’t supposed to be so skilled, so fast and so agile, but Williamson answered all the doubters with an amazing season at Duke. The raw numbers are impressive enough, 22.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks on 68 percent shooting from the field.
Williamson also brings some intangible qualities that may prove to be even more important in the long run. His passion for the game, competitiveness and ability to inspire his teammates and fans with freakishly athletic plays will immediately lift the prospects for whichever lottery team is lucky enough to land the No. 1 pick. Plus, he’ll be a huge hit for the marketing department with his outgoing personality.
In terms of potential impact on the court, Williamson is probably the best prospect to come into the league since Chicago native Anthony Davis in 2012. Davis has battled injuries throughout his career, and only led the Pelicans to the playoffs twice in his seven seasons. But he is unquestionably one of the league’s top talents, and will be highly sought after on the trade market this summer.
A report on Monday indicated USA basketball will explore the possibility of adding Williamson to its 12 man squad for the World Cup this summer, a rare honor for a collegiate player. And, with LeBron James telling the Athletic he won’t be part of that team while keeping his options open for the 2020 Olympics, the possible inclusion of Williamson is symbolic of the young star’s place in the future NBA pecking order.
Now, let’s be clear. I don’t think Williamson will have a LeBron or Kevin Durant type impact on the sport. James is the greatest small forward in NBA history and Durant is one of the top scorers the league has ever seen, already a top 20 player all-time.
Williamson is more likely to be more of a Blake Griffin or for older fans, a Shawn Kemp type talent. He’ll be a regular fixture on highlight clips and add wins to whichever team he’s on. But let’s wait to see him play a couple seasons in the NBA before adding him to the list of all-time greats.
Being drafted No. 1 overall is just the first step in Williamson’s pro hoops journey. And, Bulls fans are hoping some draft lottery luck on May 14 will result in the next stop being Chicago.
AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
Purdue’s Carsen Edwards probably helped his draft stock more than any other player with his showing in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot shooting guard poured in 139 points in four games, including a pair of 42 point performances.
Edwards had been listed as an early second round choice in most mock drafts, but his strong tournament showing could move him into the first round, which means two seasons of guaranteed money. Even though he’s better suited as an off-the-ball scorer, Edwards’ size will likely mean a point guard role in the NBA, so he’ll need to improve on his ball-handling and passing skills. Still, Edwards’ Steph Curry-like tournament run should help him land a rotation role as a rookie.
While Edwards’ stock is rising, the disappointing freshman season of Duke forward Cam Reddish came to a close with an injury limiting his ability to contribute in the Blue Devils’ last two games.
Once considered a lock to be a top three pick in the 2019 draft, Reddish will need to show well in individual team workouts to rehabilitate his standing among NBA talent evaluators. Reddish was considered to be one of the nation’s top three point shooters at the start of the season, but after shooting just 33 percent from the college line, he could drop into the back half of the lottery. Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver has passed Reddish as the likely No. 4 pick after the consensus top three of Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett.
Congratulations to former Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg on his new position at the University of Nebraska. Hoiberg had indicated a preference to stay in the NBA game as a coach or front office executive, but his family has several links to Nebraska, including one of his grandfathers serving as head basketball coach in the 1960s.
Hoiberg enjoyed tremendous success at his alma mater, Iowa State, before coming to the Bulls in 2015. He’ll face a major challenge in trying to make Nebraska a contender in the ultra-competitive Big Ten conference. Current Windy City Bulls coach Charlie Henry is expected to join Hoiberg’s staff.
The Bulls will get back about $3.5 million dollars of the money owed to Hoiberg as a result of the off-set provision in the original five-year contract he signed, but that doesn’t change the plan to bring Jim Boylen back as head coach next season.
Turns out Ernie Grunfeld didn’t have a lifetime contract as President of Basketball Operations with the Washington Wizards. Grunfeld was fired on Tuesday after 16 seasons on the job, which could lead to even more changes this summer for the underachieving team.
Remember when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs? With a young core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza, plus physical big men Nene and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards were expected to be contenders in the East for years to come. But Washington never had much success in the playoffs, leading to a coaching change and several trades that had little impact.
Now, the new head of basketball operations will be saddled with the max extension given to Wall that will pay him an average of over $40 million per season while he tries to work his way back from an Achilles tendon injury. Beal is hinting he might look elsewhere instead of re-signing with the Wizards, and the players Grunfeld acquired in the Otto Porter Jr. trade with the Bulls, Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, will both be free agents this summer.
Whoever replaces Grunfeld will have a major rebuilding job on his hands, but at least they’ll know owner Ted Leonsis is committed to spending whatever it takes to try to make the franchise relevant again.
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