Duke Phenom Zion Williamson Shows He’s Much More Than a Dunker in Blowout Win Against Kentucky

    Duke freshman Zion Williamson's official mixtape from his senior year of high school has nearly two million views on YouTube, which rivals his 1.8 million

    November 7, 2018

    Duke freshman Zion Williamson’s official mixtape from his senior year of high school has nearly two million views on YouTube, which rivals his 1.8 million Instagram followers. He’s a player uniquely created for viral moments on today’s social media platforms, thanks to his explosive leaping and ferocious dunking abilities at 6-7, 285 pounds.

    It doesn’t hurt that he plays for Duke, arguably the biggest brand in the sport. Even his name, Zion, which has historical definitions relating to height, monuments and promised land, just feels fitting of his game and the aura that surrounds him.

    In case it wasn’t abundantly clear before No. 4 Duke’s season-opening, 118-84 win against No. 2 Kentucky, Williamson is so much more than a dunker. He put his full game on display Tuesday night, when he had 28 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes.

    Here are some of the best non-dunks from Williamson that stuck out in the Blue Devils’ win.

    Block leads to fast break assist


    Williamson didn’t score on this play, but it may have been his most impressive sequence of the entire night. With Duke leading by nearly 30, he guarded Kentucky’s PJ Washington, who stood in the left corner. Knowing that Washington was a 23 percent three-point shooter last season, Williamson rightfully played off of Washington so that he could provide help-side defense if needed.

    Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson fed teammate Nick Richards on a screen and roll to the rim, and Richards appeared to have a clear lane to the basket at the time of the entry pass, as seen below.

    But Williamson slid over to block Richards’ shot. “Block” might not even be the most accurate word to describe what happened on the play. The ball never left Richards’ hand — Williamson simply took it and started a fast break in the other direction.

    Duke might be at its best in transition this season, given the athletes it has on its roster. It’s no surprise that Williamson can be dangerous on the receiving end of fast break passes and alley-oops, but he showed that he’s a capable, willing and creative passer as the lead ball-handler in transition.

    The Blue Devils didn’t necessarily have a clear advantage on this play given the positioning of Kentucky’s transition defense, but Williamson found fellow freshman R.J. Barrett, who’s running at midcourt in the picture below.

    Williamson threaded the needle with a hard, two-handed bounce pass that hit Barrett in stride before Washington could close the gap on defense. Barrett finished through contact, earning an and-one opportunity.

    The angle below shows where Barrett caught the ball from Williamson, who couldn’t have placed a better pass between Washington and Johnson (#3).

    In summation, this was a 285-pound forward running a fast break, which he started with a smothering block on defense, and using his court vision to find a teammate, rather than force the issue to try to create a highlight-reel finish for himself.

    Two dribbles and a cloud of dust

    With Kentucky freshman E.J. Montgomery guarding him, Williamson received a dribble handoff from point guard Tre Jones at the midcourt logo. Three Duke players stood outside the three-point line with center Marques Bolden on the right block.

    Kentucky’s defenders are acutely aware that Williamson has the ball and of where he’s at on the floor. Just look at the way Tyler Herro (#14), Ashton Hagans (right elbow) and Johnson (right wing, mid-range) are positioned below.

    However, it only took a between-the-legs dribble, a hesitation and a crossover dribble for Williamson to blow past his defender.

    He needed just two dribbles and a jump stop to get to the left block, where he was able to finish off the glass over Kentucky’s collapsing defense with his dominant left hand.

    Catch-and-shoot three-pointer

    This section will also serve as a “How not to defend Zion Williamson” public service announcement.

    Although shots around the rim will feature prominently on Williamson’s shot chart at the end of the season, he’s not a one-trick pony.

    He showed a glimpse of his ability to stretch the floor early in the game against Kentucky. Jones, the point guard, passed to Barrett at the top of the key and Williamson moved from his position on the left wing towards Barrett with his hands ready to receive a pass. Kentucky’s Washington was playing a few feet off of Williamson.

    Barrett passed the ball to Williamson, who paused briefly — perhaps in awe that Washington was going to give him the shot — but was ready to catch and shoot.

    Washington’s hands are at his side as Williamson starts his shooting motion.

    Williamson nailed the three.

    Take a closer look at his footwork and you’ll see that he’s lined up towards Duke’s bench rather than the basket, which is a technical part of his shot he’ll need to work on, but he had a great rotation on the shot, and it was a perfect swish.

    Williamson finished the game 1-for-1 from three-point range.

    The Blue Devils don’t need him to be the second coming of J.J. Redick, but if Williamson can maintain a level of three-point production somewhere between that of recent Duke one-and-dones Jayson Tatum (1.4 threes per game at 34.2 percent), Marvin Bagley III (0.7 threes per game at 39.7 percent) and Wendell Carter Jr. (0.5 threes per game at 41.3 percent), then Williamson can become the best version of himself and likewise for Duke.

    Williamson is a different type of forward than Tatum, Bagley and Carter, but if he can show a willingness and ability to take and make threes like his predecessors, then he’ll space the floor for his teammates and open lanes for his own driving ability.


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