How Much of an Impact Was Zion Williamson to the Sport of Basketball?
Everyone in America that tuned in for Michigan State and Duke yesterday in the Elite Eight hoped for a storybook finish with tons of excitement—and they got it.
With the game on the line, RJ Barrett went to the free throw line with 5.9 seconds left to try and tie up the game at 68 all. His first shot clanked off the rim in a poor miss and in an attempt to miss his second free throw, Barrett’s shot bounced up the rim and he accidentally made the shot.
Izzo and Michigan State would clinch a trip to the Final Four afterward, leaving Duke in shambles.
It made the college basketball world reflect on the season Duke had and how they assembled greatness by landing three of the top-5 high school recruits but ultimately weren't able to sniff the Final Four. What a disappointing coaching job by the greatest coach in college basketball Mike Krzyzewski. As storied as Coach K is, he wasn’t able to properly assemble a team around three NBA Lottery picks and never seemed to structure any sort of offense other than, "Hey RJ, go buy us a bucket by shooting 20 times in a game!"
It also made me reflect on the sport of basketball as a whole.
We are enduring a wonky year in the NBA, where everything is going wrong from one of the sport’s best in LeBron James, while Golden State looks like they will easily cruise to a three-peat title. There’s not much parity in the NBA, besides the Eastern Conference being a hodge-podge of talented rising stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Hence the reason why the casual sports fan doesn’t like the NBA this year, or for the past three years for this top-heavy matter.
So to circle back to college hoops, Zion Williamson may have saved the up-and-down relationship of casual sports fans back to basketball. What's his only downside—the fact that he plays for one of the most hated programs at Duke?
Seemingly a month ago, tons of people were giving off their takes as to why Zion should never play again following his Nike shoe burst injury. But that’s simply not him. Zion reminded us this season why fans should still love basketball through his passion of the sport. If he forwent the season to become the eventual NBA No. 1 pick, no one would have blamed him. But he didn’t and reaped the rewards for playing with Duke.
In a season where the NBA seemed more fixated on offseason moves and free agency, Zion brought us back to the hardwood and made Duke basketball must-watch television.
Zion will be the number one draft pick in the NBA Draft. There’s little to no debate on that.
He became the only freshman to ever win ACC Player of the Year and ACC Tournament MVP. He is expected to become the soon-to-be National Player of the Year. Shooting 68 percent from the field is the best by any freshman in Division I history. And, his 104 points in the NCAA Tournament are the second-best by a freshman only behind Derrick Rose.
Zion is the best NBA prospect out of college since Anthony Davis in 2012 and his ability to be such a dominant two-way player is what makes him so exceptional.
He is the best college basketball player I’ve ever seen.
For what happens in the future, that will be a spectacle to watch. Everyone will be watching the NBA Lottery (May 14) to see which team will get Zion. His hype will be through the roof. Even his rookie shoe deal might possibly be the largest since Kevin Durant’s Nike deal (or, to be fair, Marvin Bagley III’s record deal with Puma last year).
Few have lived up to the childhood expectations set upon them in any sport. Tiger Woods was the first to live up to the hype, winning 107 professional tournaments in golf. LeBron was the second after garnering worldwide attention as a high school senior basketball star.
Can Zion be the third?
My money says yes.
Let’s say he doesn’t pan out. Let’s say Zion joins a crappy organization (like the Suns or Cavaliers, which is realistic) and quietly makes an impact on a bad basketball team. Let’s say he never tastes an NBA Championship or an MVP award.
Then I would still be happy with what he did during the spring of 2019 at Duke for the sake of basketball. It would have been an average, not great March Madness without the likes of Zion. Duke showed no capability to run a full-forced offense and while RJ Barrett proved to be a top-5 NBA prospect, it never meshed as it should have. Too many non-shooters on Duke trying to become shooters led to their ultimate demise.
Now, Coach K is left to gear up for another recruiting expedition while Zion—along with Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones—will embark on the NBA Draft.