Ever since the first tip-off in the 2018-19 season for the Duke Mens’ Basketball team, all eyes were on Zion Williamson, the 6’7, 285 pound freshman. Williamson could jump out of the gym and absolutely dominated his competition.
Williamson, a power forward, averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game at Duke that season. Duke made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division 1 tournament that year, with Williamson significantly contributing to that success. Due to his epic season, Williamson was selected with the first overall draft pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans. He had a solid debut in the NBA Summer League, where he maintained a dominant presence.
Williamson also played well in the NBA preseason, and it has become evident how New Orleans provides the budding young star an environment to thrive in. With young but experienced teammates like guards Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday and forward Brandon Ingram, Williamson appears on path to become a truly stellar player.
However, while Williamson has met some success in basketball so far, each season his success has been stunted by some form of injury. Williamson sustained a knee injury in the NBA preseason, in a game against the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 13, which sidelined him until Jan. 22. During the summer league, Williamson sustained a knee injury in early July of 2019 and only played four games. Williamson injured his knee at Duke too.
While an incredibly fit rookie can handle this plethora of injuries, once Williamson has a couple of seasons under his belt, he will not be able to recover as quickly.
History has proven that most athletes do not bounce back easily from knee injuries that require surgery, like Williamson’s did. NBA players Derrick Rose and Brandon Roy were both incredibly elite players who suffered knee injuries. After his injury, Rose fell from an MVP-caliber player to a bench player. Rose eventually recovered, and after an emotional 50 point game, he began to show flashes of his old self. However, Rose still lost several years out of his prime. Roy was not so lucky, and never really came back to being the same all-star player that he once was, forcing an early retirement.
Williamson’s latest knee injury was not as serious as either Rose or Roy’s, and he was far younger than both Rose and Roy were when they were injured. This is beneficial for him because he will be able to recover more quickly, as his body has not been under as much stress. However, Williamson’s age is also a double edged sword. He is really inexperienced, and does not know the proper recovery tactics yet. This means that his potential for the future stays relatively untapped but still limited.
While there are many factors hindering Williamson’s potential in the NBA, there are many positive aspects of his playing that can contribute to his success in the NBA. This was why he was drafted number one overall. His stunning athleticism allowed him to utterly dominate in college. His unbelievable 45-inch vertical let him snatch many rebounds and throw down monster dunks. This will surely help him while playing in the NBA, as Williamson will be able to simply jump higher up than his opponents, resulting in rebounds galore and many easy put-back layups or dunks.
Given his past playing, Williamson will probably have a solid career, which is consistent with how he has been playing this season. He scored 22 points in his NBA debut vs the Spurs in a mere 18 minutes of playing time and is averaging 23.6 points per game through 18 games. However, though Williamson has been having a great season, the extent of his potential remains uncertain, as it may be hindered by injuries, potentially wasting his athleticism and cutting his career short.