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Zion Williamson doesn’t need to show NBA scouts anything else during the NCAA tournament. Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, he’s all but locked in as the surefire No. 1 overall pick.
However, he can still check more boxes before completing perhaps the most impressive one-and-done season ever, just in case a team wanted more assurance with Murray State’s Ja Morant on the rise.
If Williamson does the following five things during March Madness, he would leave general managers without any questions about his future star potential.
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Power, quickness, agility and explosiveness define Williamson’s game and fuel his effectiveness. A whopping 74.1 percent of his field-goal production comes from transition (52 baskets) or finishes at the rim in the half court (134 baskets).
Williamson has relied heavily on athletic plays. Scouts would ideally like to see more skill plays from him, as he’s made 13 shots out of isolation in 29 games and is 5-of-24 on open jump shots and 2-of-9 off the dribble.
Shooting is the obvious hole in Williamson’s game (he’s 17-of-54 from three this season). He’d pull further away from his competition for the No. 1 overall pick by making some jumpers over the next few weeks. If nothing else, that could raise optimism regarding his shooting development.
Even in the post, where he ranks in the 99th percentile in points per possession, he’s relatively predictable. That hasn’t helped college defenders hold Williamson in check, but NBA opponents will quickly learn and adjust to his preference for getting to his left hand.
He’s made only two shots all season turning over his left shoulder. He’s 16-of-22 shooting over his right shoulder, often using just his legs and strength to rise above and through his man.
If Williamson wanted to show off, he’d flash more counters and other skill plays that highlight ball-handling moves for shot creation and outside touch for shot-making.
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Gerry Broome/Associated Press
Defensive upside remains an exciting selling point for Williamson, who’s averaging 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks. His quickness and anticipation put him in position to ignite the signature explosiveness that helps launch him toward the ball to make a play.
However, his highlight playmaking isn’t always indicative of defensive discipline throughout a game.
Williamson does a lot of gambling. He hunts for steals and blocks. He’ll leave his man to trap, reach or swat a shot, which forces his teammates to help and results in an eventual open look for the offense.
And though he’s a fierce, competitive pressure defender in one-on-one situations, he isn’t always in an ideal stance off the ball. That occasionally leaves him straight up and down on his heels.
Given Williamson’s “wow” plays, effort and Duke’s record, there hasn’t been a need to call out his defensive technique. However, NBA coaches will.
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Given Williamson’s physical style of play, he should expect to spend plenty of time at the free-throw line both during the NCAA tournament and over the course of his NBA career.
However, he’s left a good amount of points there this season. Among recent No. 1 overall picks since Blake Griffin, only Markelle Fultz (64.9 percent) entered the draft with a lower mark from the charity stripe than Williamson (65.4 percent).
It’s hardly ideal for a team’s best player to struggle from the line, particularly in late-game situations.
Williamson will improve with more repetition in the NBA. In the meantime, the right team could make Duke pay if he has a cold-shooting game from the stripe during March Madness.
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Gerry Broome/Associated Press
Durability questions have popped up for Williamson, particularly after he burst through his sneaker and sprained his knee against UNC in February.
With a massive upper body, the 285-pound Williamson puts extreme pressure on his knees. He’s similar to Derrick Rose in that way, as he relies on unusually powerful burst that requires a ton of work and support from the legs.
The way Williamson can go from zero to 100 is both exciting and advantageous, but it’s also distressing. It recently cost him three weeks and a pair of kicks.
More than anything, scouts want to see him fully healthy entering the draft. Another setback during March Madness could raise more questions about the sustainability of his violent style of play over the long run.
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Williamson’s college career would come to an anticlimactic end if Duke gets bounced early from the tournament.
Williamson is in the mix for the most dominant college player in the modern era, but that argument would take a hit if an underdog upsets Duke before the Elite Eight or Final Four.
Scouts may want to compare his impact on winning in March Madness with previous top picks who’ve become NBA stars like Anthony Davis, who led Kentucky to a national title, or Karl-Anthony Towns, who propelled his Wildcats to the Final Four.
Even if Duke loses in the round of 64, Williamson is still likely to go No. 1. But March Madness is a high-stakes and pressure-packed setting, and this will be the first time he’ll perform in one outside of the ACC tournament.
Williamson will look even more special by carrying Duke to six wins between now and April 8.