2019 NBA Draft Preview: Zion the Star

The 2019 NBA draft begins Thursday, officially kicking off what should be one of the most interesting and fun offseasons the NBA has ever seen.

If you’re in Canada, the fun started on Monday when the Raptors threw a wild victory celebration that drew, according to some estimates, over two million people to Toronto to celebrate the first championship in Raptors history. The Raptors, heavy underdogs coming into the series, shocked the world by finishing off the Warriors in six games, potentially killing the Golden State dynasty for good. 

This NBA offseason represents the most uncertainty the league has seen in many years. Many superstars will be donning new jerseys next year and one of them, Anthony Davis, has already been traded to the Lakers.

For the first time in about 10 years, there is no consensus title favorite going into next year, and the shifting of superstars is a big reason for that. LeBron is no longer the consensus best player in the league, the Golden State dynasty is over and Kawhi Leonard might be leaving the team he just won a championship with. Thursday’s draft is sure to see more unexpected trades go down as well. Let the drama and madness begin!

There is a clear top choice going into this draft. From the moment the Pelicans surprisingly landed the number one pick a few weeks ago, everyone knew which jersey Zion Williamson would be wearing next year. The transcendent talent will be selected first on Thursday and immediately should turn the Pelicans into playoff contenders in the tough Western Conference. We’ve seen Zion’s name a lot before in this column, but he is simply too hyped to not be the focus and face of this year’s draft. His legendary hype, coupled with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the players in the draft after him, means that he will be the talk going into Thursday. He seems to be just about the only sure thing in this draft, while also being one of the surest prospects the league has ever seen. This week’s debate explores his hype: Is Zion the most hyped prospect ever?

Side 1: Zion is Undoubtedly the Most Hyped NBA Prospect Ever

Let’s call it the “social media effect”. Something like this would not have happened even 20 years ago. In fact, not even LeBron was as hyped or well-known going into the draft (mainly because he came right out of high school, so most people had not watched him play live or on TV). Due to the rise of social media and specifically YouTube, people knew Zion’s name and had watched his highlights before he even stepped foot on Duke’s campus. Millions of people watched him throw down ridiculous dunks, blocks and jaw dropping plays while he was still in high school. Many, including myself, were impressed but figured there was no way he could do this at the next level against some of the best athletes in the country. Boy, I was wrong. Zion not only reached the mammoth expectations he had coming into college, he somehow surpassed them, putting together one of the most dominant college seasons we’ve seen in recent history. No, he didn’t average the most points or rebounds, but he truly was purely dominant. His athleticism allowed him to jump out of the gym for highlight reel dunks nightly. 

His jump shot came on as the season progressed and he shot over 40% from three-point range during the NCAA tournament. Just as impressively, his defense was superb all year. It will be interesting to see how his individual defense translates to the NBA. His pure athleticism allowed him to stay in front of everyone and his roaming ability allowed him to block loads of shots against teams that did not move the ball as well. 

When we look at hype, it’s more than just a player’s performance that contributes to their hype. For Zion, there were two other factors this year: his crazy physique and Duke’s high exposure. The NBA has perhaps never seen a prospect with Zion’s body. He is visibly jacked and has a 45-inch vertical while also checking in at a hefty 285 pounds. He can simultaneously jump out of the gym while also bang down low with even the toughest players. Additionally, Duke had more national exposure this year than any team in recent history. They played countless national games, mostly due to the eye-opening show Zion put on every game. Furthermore, Duke had two other lottery picks on their roster this year in RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.

Although Duke obviously did not win the national title, they were bursting with talent and intrigue.

Zion’s game speaks for itself and we all saw him dominate this past year. Due to Duke’s number one ranking most of the year, their plethora of nationally televised games and Zion’s ability to show up in big moments, Williamson enters this year’s draft as the most hyped NBA prospect of all time.

Side 2: Let’s Pump the Brakes, Zion is Not the Best Prospect Ever

Let’s call it “being caught up in the moment”. While social media spawned the rapid rise of Zion and his highlight plays, it can also be the reason we need to chill on him for a minute. Recency bias comes into play when we think about Zion this year. Social media and the media in general created all of this hype. Despite how phenomenal Zion was on the court, his legendary status seems to be blown out of proportion considering he’s never played an NBA game and his team didn’t even make the Final Four this year. ESPN and other media outlets shoved his name down our throats nonstop for nine straight months. It was almost unfair to other top prospects and teams. To be honest, I am not the biggest college basketball fan, but I did not even know who Ja Morant was until right before the tournament, and now Morant will likely go number two in the draft. Some analysts like him more than Zion. 

Zion drowned out and overshadowed just about every player in college basketball this year. Let’s be clear: he had a great season and deserved the hype, but even this level of attention seems to be a bit much. Zion still has obvious flaws in his game. Despite being incredibly fun to watch and seemingly bust proof, he still has A LOT to prove. In today’s era of three-point obsession, will he be able to succeed without a consistent outside shot? We just saw the Raptors pummel the Bucks for four straight games, one of the main reasons being because they clogged the paint against Giannis, rendering him mostly useless. Will teams do the same thing to Zion if he struggles with developing an outside shot? Only time will tell.

While he had a fantastic year, you can argue that other players, such as LeBron, were more hyped coming into the NBA. 

My Take

This is a tough question to answer because I am relatively young and was not around during the drafting of many other hyped NBA prospects over the years. However, given what I have seen, I think Zion is the most hyped NBA prospect of all time. I think there is a difference between the best prospect of all time and the most hyped player of all time. This seems like a good place to bring up LeBron. At the time, many would argue LeBron was the most hyped prospect of all time when he came straight to the NBA from high school in 2003.

I personally believe that LeBron was the best prospect of all time, while Zion is the most hyped player of all time. There are lots of similarities between the two players. I believe LeBron would have been more hyped than Zion if he had come up in today’s social media era. It’s also hard to compare because Zion was forced to go the college route, while LeBron never played a minute of college basketball. The comparisons between the two will continue for many more years. For now, only one thing is certain: Zion will be wearing a Pelicans hat Thursday when he is selected first overall and begins one of the most hyped NBA careers of all time.

What do YOU think? Is Zion the most hyped NBA prospect of all time? If not, who do you believe is?

NBA expert and IU grad. '96 Bulls > Warriors. #FireGarPax

Twitter: @realdmill