Entering the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were the two headliners, expected to do great things in the league. Who would be the most successful was debatable but based on his natural ability and peculiar skillset, Williamson was the consensus jewel of that class.
Interesting how things work out, isn’t it? Three years later, Ja Morant is been the alpha on the second-seeded, 56-26 Memphis Grizzlies, while Williamson hasn’t seen the court since May 4, 2021, just shy of a calendar year ago.
I’ve never been one to judge a player on his misfortune. And by misfortune, I’m talking about injuries, but in Williamson’s case, setback after setback, the question continues to arise: is he turning into the NBA’s most recent bust? It’s too early to predict that, but the discussion on the topic is right on time. Think back to the 2007 NBA Draft. The two “big names” coming out of that class were Kevin Durant and Greg Oden. Oden went No. 1 to Portland and Durant went No. 2 to Seattle. They got drafted by teams from the same geographical region and division. Portland vs. Seattle, Oden vs. Durant should have been something. But due to microfracture surgery on his left knee three months after he got drafted, plus a few other debilitating injuries that caused him to miss significant time, Oden’s expectations and overall career started to dissolve until he officially retired in 2016.
As we’re all aware, Kevin Durant has gone on to potentially be the best scorer in NBA history while still playing at a superstar level 15 seasons later.
Morant and Williamson’s situation is very similar to Durant and Oden’s. Williamson was drafted by New Orleans first overall, while Morant went to Memphis second. Both franchises are in the south, quite close to each other, like Portland and Seattle. Both are in the same division, and the trajectory of Morant and Williamson’s careers, so far, has been quite similar to Durant and Oden’s.
Zion’s injury is one thing, but the aura of controversy surrounding his injury, return date, how serious he’s taking his rehab, his physical shape, and the chemistry between him and the Pelicans franchise seems to be overshadowing everything. So, while he’s not playing basketball, Ja Morant, even with ticky-tacky injuries, continues to propel his brand on and off the court, just like Durant did.
Williamson, while on the court, is a potential transcendent player. On the court, in 85 total games, Williamson averages 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 60.4 percent shooting. He, paired with Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum (who are still a playoff team without Zion), would be exponentially better with Zion playing.
Questions surrounding Williamson’s ambition to get healthy and back in shape are swirling, especially after a video showed him doing a 360-windmill dunk in a team shootaround. Shortly after, Zion “suffered a setback in his recovery.” His weight (clearly over 300 pounds) doesn’t coincide with his height (6-foot-6) either.
Zion’s situation is odd, to say the least. His intentions aren’t clear, and after three seasons, his health has constantly been in question. The article you’re reading isn’t a predetermination of his career; this would only be his third season, and he’s only 21 years old with a world full of potential. But you’d be in denial that things are getting quite sketchy. It just feels like we’ve seen this before.