Cheat code: Duke’s Zion Williamson would fix unfixable for Suns
The Phoenix Suns are stuck.
They need a boost, whether that’s the ascension of Devin Booker to a level where the roster around him doesn’t matter for the win total, Deandre Ayton becoming an All-Star closer to his second year than his fifth, or a big-time transaction to bring in a top-level player.
But there’s also a quick fix here, a cheat code, if you will.
The Suns could win the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery and select Duke forward Zion Williamson, one of the best basketball prospects of the last two decades.
With Williamson, Booker and Ayton, everything that was impossible for the Suns to do would now be possible, but more on that in a bit.
Let’s chat Zion. And let’s start our discourse by establishing a simple concept.
Williamson does not have a position. We’re not sure he can shoot.
That doesn’t matter. At all.
Fit is irrelevant with a talent like Williamson. You’re trying too hard and embarrassing yourself if you think otherwise.
We’ll get into this more but most of you have seen Williamson play, so we don’t need to break him down too much.
Williamson is 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds. His 6-foot-10 wingspan is uninspiring.
But you know what’s inspiring? A transcendent combination of agility and strength capable of making plays like this.
How did Zion get to this? pic.twitter.com/TFWbOQDu79
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
Only Zion Williamson can make you gasp simply by grabbing a rebound pic.twitter.com/lil4fiqpki
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 31, 2019
Zion really just grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast, took on 4 Virginia defenders, finished a monster dunk with his weak hand, and got fouled. Smh. pic.twitter.com/DP5bJJEBYp
— Austin Pendergist (@apthirteen) January 19, 2019
I STILL cannot get over this sequence. Robinson’s move against anyone else breaks ankles. It just made Zion angry. pic.twitter.com/LSI32PKntP
— WE GOT SOME JERKS OVER HERE (@Franklinaire) March 30, 2019
If you’ve watched him for five minutes, you understand we’re not exaggerating discussing his athleticism.
The first time I saw him in Duke’s opener against Kentucky, I remember being completely aghast by a layup finish he had. How is this human so much different than all the others where he can take a step from there and end up that high in the air?
Like, dude, what is this recovery for weak-side rim protection?
Normal human being stuff here from Zion. pic.twitter.com/Nn2JnC3bz8
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 30, 2019
Maybe you claim screenshot manipulation, but it’s even scarier on the video! Three steps and he evaporates that young man’s soul.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 30, 2019
The best part about watching Williamson play, though, has not been those remarkable feats of leaping.
It’s when he uses all his athletic gifts and skill with the ball in a sequence of plays that scream generational talent.
Cut off the baseline, grab-and-go kick-ahead to his signature jump-cut drive.
This exchange from Zion Williamson: wow. Helps on the baseline drive, grabs the defensive rebound, hit-ahead pass to Barrett, and gets yet another finish at the rim after trailing the play. pic.twitter.com/Ah0dM8NKD3
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) December 9, 2018
Listen to Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas react to Williamson’s weak-side block here before an excellent pass. How else do you react?
This sequence is absolute 🔥 from Zion. pic.twitter.com/T61RMLxO98
— ESPN (@espn) November 7, 2018
Everything that makes Williamson special as a prospect came together on Jan. 28 against Notre Dame. It is the Zion Game for projecting his game in the NBA.
Attacking closeouts off the dribble, expert finishes around the rim, playmaking, pull-up jumpers and the usual freakish stuff on the offensive glass and his rim protection duties.
Just to make sure you didn’t skip watching the video, I implore you to watch him switch and slide with a guard three times smaller than him and beat him to the spot FOUR different times before sending his shot attempt to the shadow realm.
This perimeter defense by Zion… goodness
No 280-pound man should be able to move his feet laterally like that pic.twitter.com/eU3Xihhk0w
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) January 30, 2019
That ain’t changing in the league, folks. He’s still going to be the best combination of speed and strength on the floor by a wide margin once LeBron James holds an official commencement ceremony and hands over the title.
As you’ve seen and can see if you hadn’t before, Williamson has enough skill with the ball in his hands as a facilitator.
Him being capable of those reads and passes is crucial because he’s so rapid with the ball in his hands and gets to his spots so much faster than everybody else. You really want to back off him and force him to shoot? Have you seen what Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons have been doing with that space?
Williamson’s lateral quickness is ridiculous, meaning not many guys are getting by him, and being built like a rhino means no one is overpowering him, either.
Play him at the three or the four. Doesn’t really matter.
As any youngin, he has flaws. He falls asleep enough off the ball defensively and the line-drives off the bounce lead to some trouble occasionally. He’s going to need to stay in peak shape to maximize his frame, a preseason concern heading into Duke he quickly quelled. Those are slight, slight flaws you shouldn’t get sucked into.
He improved over the season as a Blue Devil and he will continue to do so as a professional.
More importantly, to get back to the top, he is an off-the-charts competitor. The intensity Williamson plays with comes through the TV and smacks you in the face the first time you see it. There’s that Patrick Beverley branch some players grow off and he’s firmly on it.
It’s a franchise-changing combination of talent and competitiveness. He could change any organization’s bleak outlook, including Phoenix.
Yes, the same Suns building that has been plagued by a toxic culture, from the locker room to the front office.
Williamson is the elixir.
Not only is he a tone-setter, but Williamson would push the Suns’ young talent over the edge into the league’s top collective.
And the best part is he doesn’t even need the ball that much! This isn’t a guy you need to map out touches for. Williamson is going to change games no matter how that works out, a mouthwatering mold of a future superstar to consider next to a high-volume scorer in Booker and a big needy of touches like Ayton.
You know how hard it is to convince people Booker is good at basketball? That goes away now. National media will start paying attention to the Suns, even if they aren’t so good the first year or two of the Zion era. Williamson has 3.1 million Instagram followers, more than Booker and Ayton combined. That brings eyeballs. Yes, also more tickets are being sold, blah blah blah.
But the arrival of Williamson puts the Suns square back into the national NBA conversations, a spot they have held a handful of times in their history despite the lack of an NBA championship.
About that lack … OK I’m not going to go that far, but it’s difficult to imagine how a core three of Williamson, Booker and Ayton isn’t championship upside.
Remember your anxiety growing about Booker potentially wanting out? About Ayton not dunking on that dude and instead opting for a finesse finish?
It’s all gone with Williamson’s arrival. Optimism from here on out.
Talk about making the impossible possible, eh?