Zion Williamson is the most exciting college basketball player of my lifetime. His combination of size, speed, power, and athletic ability is something we collectively as the human race have never seen before. A Shawn Kemp/Charles Barkley/Vince Carter hybrid, North Carolina fans can’t even deny the entertainment value Williamson brings to the basketball court. He is must watch TV and I his existence within the college basketball landscape is the closest resemblance to what we would have experienced if LeBron James would have gone to school instead of jumping straight to the NBA.
With the Chicago Bulls near the bottom of the standings as we begin Q2 of the NBA season, it is becoming more and more likely that that the Bulls will have a lottery pick come 2019 NBA draft time. Injuries have destroyed my dreams of reaching the playoffs as an 8-seed, but those playoff dreams have quickly been replaced with dreams of adding yet another young piece to our promising core. Shockingly, those dreams start with Zion.
The Bulls Young Core
When I talk about the Bulls young core, I should be more specific, as the Bulls have many young players, but most will not be invited to the 2023 NBA championship parade down Michigan Avenue. For example, Kris Dunn isn’t invited. When the Bulls become competitive again in the East, it will be with a different starting point guard and it’s nothing personal; Dunn just can’t seem to stay healthy and although he is a lock down defender, his ability as a scorer just won’t cut it. There are too many good point guards out there to settle for someone like Dunn.
On the flip side, you can count on a Finland flag waving off one of the party buses, as Lauri Markkanen will be at the parade, chugging champagne and making the ladies of Chicago swoon. Markkanen exceeded all expectations in his rookie season and showcased the potential to be a lethal scoring in the NBA. Although he may not quiet be the alpha the Bulls will one day to make a championship run, he is a more than capable beta and also a safe bet to average twenty points per game for the next decade.
Starting shooting guard Zach LaVine has also proven to be a part of the Bulls future plans. Currently 11th in the NBA in scoring at 24.5 points per game, LaVine is finally putting together his raw talent into a package that resembles a high caliber shooting guard. He still isn’t shooting as well as we would like him too, but he is getting to the line at an impressive clip and outside of Victor Oladipo and Bradley Beal, is probably the third best shooting guard in the Eastern Conference.
Finally, the latest member of the core is rookie Wendell Carter Jr. The newcomer has quickly proved to be our center of the future. He has defensive anchor written all over him and already has made a major difference with his shot blocking and defensive versatility. Carter Jr. has all the intangibles you would want from a center and at the young age of 19, projects as an elite rebounder and shot blocker moving forward.
Where Does Zion Fit?
This seems like a dumb question; you can’t basically worship a player like a god that walks among us and then state that you wouldn’t want him on your team. But, as I think about it, I will. As a Bulls fan, my number one priority is to win a championship and as entertaining as Zion would make the Bulls night in and night out, I am having a little trouble seeing how Zion would fit alongside our current core pieces. Part of me hopes my inability to put the puzzle pieces together is due to the fact that Zion is essentially an alien in the sense that there is no one quite like him.
As of today, I see Zion as the future of the center position in the NBA. Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriros has set the standard for small ball centers and Zion is the next iteration of the position. Although Zion will never be as good as a defender as Green, who is one of the best the NBA has ever seen, Zion comes in at the same height as Green, but with an extra sixty pounds of cushion (introduce him to deep dish and Portillos and that 60 will balloon to 100 quickly) and far more athletic ability. He has the weight to hold his own against traditional centers, while possessing the speed to keep up with point guards. If he puts it all together, he can be quite scary.
With Carter Jr. and Markkanen in our frontcourt though, Zion would be forced into a role as a wing player on the Bulls. Out of the three, Zion has the most potential to adjust to playing the small forward position, but by placing him there, the Bulls would be at a disadvantage. In today’s NBA, your wings need to be able to shoot and Zion does not have the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter. He is shooting 20% from three and less than 70% from the free throw line. Although his shot is not broken by any means, he looks like more of a player that will need to play around the rim.
With Markkanen being the only core player with a reliable outside shot, it may not make sense to draft yet another player who cannot shoot from outside, especially if Duke teammates and franchise-caliber freshman RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish are on the board. I don’t see the NBA shifting away from the long ball anytime soon and if they drafted Zion, we would really only have one knock down shooter in Markkanen. Reddish and Barrett both have the ability to be a threat from downtown and although they might not make half as many highlight plays as Zion, may make a lot more sense in today’s NBA.
The phrase “positionless basketball” gets thrown around in today’s NBA circles now more than ever. In saying that, it would be basketball malpractice to write Zion off just because he is not the perfect fit for the Bulls. Reddish and Barrett may make more sense on paper, but if Zion continues to dominate the college game as he has so far, it might be very hard to pass on him come June. Remember, the Portland Trail Blazers passed on Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft because they already had selected a shooting guard (Clyde Drexler) the year before. If I lived in Portland, that would haunt me forever; I don’t need any ghosts in my life. If available, draft Zion.