Zion Williamson: Investigating his statistical impact

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Zion WIlliamson different years
Zion from high school, college and the NBA

The hype surrounding Zion Williamson dates back to his high school years, where a new highlight reel would surface with an insane regularity. Ridiculous dunks, thunderous swats, and tales around campfires of an unearthly second jump. Yes, Zion has been the talk of NBA fans for quite some time now, some see him as the second coming of LeBron James, others a new transcendent talent capable of ushering in the next evolution of NBA basketball.

Naysayers would argue that Zion’s high school impact couldn’t possibly transfer to the college level, rather he would get exposed as a supposed one-trick-pony. Those naysayers were wrong, so so wrong, instead, Zion continued to make a mockery of all who stood in front of him.

Zion simply dominated almost every aspect of offense during his time with the Duke Blue Devils, destroying teams in a plethora of ways. If a team forced Zion to operate out of Isolation, he would cook them with his hulk-like strength and deceptive speed, force him to play off the ball and Zion would cut towards the hoop like a freight train.

Zion  Williamson's play type statistics from Synergy Sports.

A quick look at Zion’s play type statistics as tracked by Synergy show a player who was able to dominate in almost any scenario, his versatility was beginning to shine brighter than his athleticism. Ranking in the top 10 percent of college players that year for seven-play type categories, Zion was worthy of his consensus number one draft pick hype.

True stars are able to play both ends of the floor at transcendent levels, something Zion was able to do with consistency during his time in the NCAA. Williamson was able to do just that in his role on the perimeter, holding spot-up shooter to just 28.3 percent scoring over a total of 92 attempts. Zion was as hard to score on as he was to stop.

Zion  Williamson's defensive statistics as tracked by Synergy Sports

Having sustained a freak knee injury during a game for Duke, Zion only played in a total of 33 college games during his one-and-done season. Over the course of that season, Zion averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 boards, 2.1 dimes, 2.1 strips, and 1.8 swats per game. Having impacted the box score so diversely, it was no surprise to hear the name Zion Williamson called the overall 1st draft pick for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Following draft night Zion was ruled out of pre-season and regular season activity due to a persistent knee injury.

That knee injury kept Zion out of contention until January 22nd when he made his debut against the San Antonio Spurs. Following that game, Zion went on to make a further 18 appearances for the Pelicans before the league was placed on hiatus following the emergence of the coronavirus.

Zion’s impact over those 19 games cannot go unnoticed though, his presence on the floor elevated the Pelicans level of play exponentially, most notably the play of third-year guard Lonzo Ball. On the surface, Zion’s numbers are exceptional for a rookie, basketball reference has him averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 boards, and 2.2 assists per game.

Cleaning the Glass has Zion as the most influential player on the Pelicans roster when it comes to the win/loss differential with the team expected to win an additional 29 games due to his presence on the floor. As things currently stand, Brandon Ingram (who is having a most improved candidate season) is leading the Pelicans in the win-share column with 4.9, had Zion been healthy all year it would be safe to assume he would be heading up that category too.

When looking at the Pelican’s most effective lineups, Zion playing the four is light-years above the rest. Granted, that lineup will have a far smaller sample size to work with, but the differences are so vast a safe assumption would be that the lineup would still be the team’s most effective regardless of sample size. With a starting five of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, JJ Reddick, Zion Williamson, and Derrick Favors, the Pelicans are among the best in the league in offensive rebounding (93rd percentile), limiting opponents scoring (97th percentile), and defending without fouling (89th percentile).

Pelicans line-up statistics on both offense and defense

A team that consists of both Zion and Favours will always be an interior threat, as evidenced by the teams success when using that lineup – 98th percentile, shooting 49.5 percent within four feet of the rim. However, any further out and the teams scoring percentages plummet faster than the New York Stock Exchange. Such a percentage drop is a clear indicator of Zion’s next step, he has to increase his output from deep. Throughout Zion’s 19 games, he attempted just 13 three’s, making six of them, the threat of him driving will create space for others once he becomes consistent from beyond the arc and increases his attempts per game.

In regards to Zion’s individual numbers, Synergy shows that his current role on the Pelicans is that of a post player and rim runner. Zion is shooting 50 percent from the post and hitting on 71.7 percent of his attempts in transition, this clearly displays that his core talents are being utilized in New Orleans which will allow him to develop the more niche aspects of his game under less scrutiny. When you’re performing well in the areas you’re meant to perform in, the media microscope doesn’t zoom in as much as it could.

Being a player of his size, with his unique frame and freakish athleticism, Zion has begun drawing admirers around the league too. The most notable admirer coming in the form of Anthony Davis, the player Zion replaced in New Orleans. Following the first battle Zion and Davis had, Davis went on record about Zion’s unbelievable second jump.

“It was fun. He’s a great player. He’s got a quick first step, very explosive. Second jump is unbelievable. There was some times when we tried to foul him when he got by us or had an easy layup or dunk and he made free throws,”

Anthony Davis on Zion Williamson ( https://www.lakersnation.com)

Zion is clearly on an upwards trajectory, which was the common train of thought coming into the season. While the time he missed to start the year, and the subsequent postponement of the NBA has shortened his debut season, there is a feeling in the air that the Pelicans have their new messiah, their next chance at developing a player capable of drawing attention away from football long enough to fill the arena with noise and cheer – but most importantly, they will be confident Zion is the guy to take them to the NBA finals sooner rather than later.

Early impressions would suggest the Pelicans are right.

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