With the future of the New York Knicks organization on the line at the 2019 NBA Draft, Ja Morant over Zion Williamson must be taken seriously.
Zion in the city. Zion in commercials showcasing such raw, physical attributes rarely witnessed throughout history. Zion on a Times Square billboard smiling so magnificently. Zion at the mecca, Madison Square Garden.
Zion Williamson, the freshest New York Knicks employee is a marketer’s dream come true. The aforementioned million dollar smile, the unbridled youth, the charisma, the unique prototype—it’s all part of the dream scenario while looking forward to the 2019 NBA Draft.
Before the marketer is granted that dreamy wish, it’s important to hold the actual basketball discussion. It’s only then when the name Ja Morant can destroy the overwhelming Zion in the city vision.
The struggle to actually contemplate a non-Zion choice at No. 1 is where it all begins. How could a fan base actually forgive an organization for a such a blasphemous move? The media already enshrined his name as the next in a long line of historical saviors.
Williamson, 18, is attached to a level of hype both uniquely rare and unfair. Choosing Duke as his one-year college served as the cherry on top of an already mythological high school career. The hype train has gone so far off the rails that the name LeBron James is uttered in comparison. He is not the next LeBron; the ludicrous notion is tough to duplicate.
Zion is a 6-foot-6 NBA big, a 4-man. His height and weight mixed with his specific skill set sort of places him in the land of a man with no true position. This may be a serious issue, especially in today’s league.
The lone athletic big is expected to play the five with small-ball ruling the NBA roost. Standing as tall as Michael Jordan, Williamson playing center is an unrealistic notion. The kid’s hops are other-worldly and his body can get the job done down low in most situations, but it’s an impossibility to expect him to defend a legitimate center every trip down the court when the game goes small.
He fits at the four, possibly the three. His handles aren’t great at 6-foot-6 but are excellent at 280 pounds. His shot leaves a ton to be desired. In fact, his most overlooked attribute is his passing ability. Also concerning is his 280-pound frame at 19-years of age. What’s the body and eventual deteriorating raw attributes going to look like in 10 years?
At this point in the story, it’s important to understand one critical thing: Zion will be an NBA stud from day one. There’s no question about it. The kid’s uncanny physical attributes are completely bonafide. Longevity and true superstardom value is the real question of the moment.
Is he that special? Is he Charles Barkley in a brand-new era? Or could he be an offensive version of Draymond Green who improves on the defensive end of the floor as time marches on?
Morant, 19, is a true NBA point guard. Murray State product brings gifts to the table that haven’t been realized in New York since the days of Walt “Clyde” Frazier. The Knickerbockers—even during the raucous Patrick Ewing days—have been without a showrunner for seemingly forever.
Today, it’s a perimeter game; the showrunner is more crucial to a team’s success than ever with the extinction of the big man. This, more than any other reason, is why the Morant over Williamson discussion is legitimate.
More than positional value, Morant’s game translates incredibly well to the next level. The 6-foot-3 point guard can do everything on the court. He’s quick, can lead the break and possesses filthy vision. Morant’s passing ability is out of this world as evidenced by his NCAA leading 10.0 assists per contest. If Williamson is a B student in the game of basketball court vision and IQ, Morant is an A+.
He knows exactly where everything is and where everybody will be at every given moment. It’s this uncoachable quality rarely witnessed at the collegiate level that forces this very discussion to be had.
The same body question Williamson faces on the far-too-heavy side, Morant experiences the other way around. At 175 pounds, the kid is a rail. Obviously, putting on weight is child’s play compared to the effort of keeping it off. The other question mark surrounding Morant is his long-range game. Though his shot looks fundamentally sound, he’s failed to consistently knock down his threes.
Defensively, both players still leave a ton on the table. Zion less so, as the combination of his body and agility make up any defensive awareness concerns. Nevertheless, I don’t see Williamson guarding quicker NBA threes. His lateral quickness in that regard just isn’t there and standing at 6-foot-6, that could be a major issue similarly to his questionable shot from 15 feet out and beyond.
What was once a runaway thought now has some teams thinking legit convo. Per Sam Vecenie of The Athletic, the Phoenix Suns may “prefer to end up with” Morant over Williamson if granted with the top pick in the draft.
Notice the phrasing of the report: “prefer to end up with.” The Zion story has become such a runaway that teams may fear passing on him if granted the top choice. Instead of “will select Morant,” it turns into “prefer to end up with” Morant. It’s really the heart of the issue: the pressure placed on every tanking franchise to select Zion the savior.
Buzz and fear run these organizations to an incredible degree. While the degree varies from city to city, the element, especially in the Zion case, is actively present.
Recently adding to the Zion camp is one of the greatest talent evaluators of all time. Jerry West likened passing up Williamson to not drafting Michael Jordan, via Andrew Perloff of the Dan Patrick Show.
"I don't know how you could pass Zion Williamson [at No. 1.] … That would be like passing on Michael Jordan in the Draft I think." – Jerry West on @dpshow
— Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) April 17, 2019
“I don’t know how you could pass Zion Williamson [at No. 1.] …” West said. “That would be like passing on Michael Jordan in the draft, I think.”
Without a dog in the fight, the retired NBA executive breathed further life into the no-doubt-about-it top pick.
In the end, The Logo (West, himself), NBA pundits, the everyday fan, and your next-door neighbor can hold any opinion they’d like; it’s the Knicks who, if they take the NBA Draft Lottery in grand 1985 style, will live and die with the decision.
Williamson may be the correct choice. His blend of skills and body brings something to the table never witnessed before. Busting shoes while planting could be a blip on an incredible, long-lasting basketball career.
Still, any basketball fan who dismisses the idea of Morant as the choice at No. 1 is a brand-new sort of fool. History has taught us too much to overlook the idea, especially in today’s extraordinarily different and perimeter-driven league.
Ja Morant over Zion Williamson is a legitimate NBA Draft discussion. It’s up to the New York Knicks to decide whether they believe it’s a real notion or pure fiction.