( Photo Credit: AP)

Welcome to the fourth and final of our four-part series analyzing Duke’s premier players as we lead up to the IU v. Duke showdown on Tuesday, November 27th. Each article will be divided into three sections: (I) general overview of the player and comparison to his IU one-on-one matchup, (II) the player’s signature strengths, and (III) potential game plan strategies to minimize the player’s impact. In the final edition of the series, we will focus on Duke wing Zion Williamson.

General Overview

At 6’7″ and 285 pounds, Zion Williamson is a physical specimen unlike anything ever seen in college basketball. His athleticism explodes off the screen and overpowers opponents. Williamson is stronger and more athletic than 99% of the people he plays against. It’s like The Rock living in a world of Kevin Harts.

Yet, Williamson is not an athlete that happens to play basketball. He is a basketball player that just happens to be extraordinarily athletic. And, anybody who watches the game can tell the difference. You probably have seen clips of his high-flying drunks from high school. But, Williamson is not an Instagram creation. He is not a one trick pony. Williamson has a great basketball IQ and an impressive technical skill-set. He truly is one-of-a-kind.

Williamson is averaging 20.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 2.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is excellent at driving to the basket and has several crafty moves to make sure he can get off his shot, including an impressive spin move. With his frame, he can easily absorb contact. He can play multiple positions. Another strength is his ability to block shots and compete on the defensive end.

Like most freshmen, Williamson still has areas where he can improve. He is extremely dangerous in the open-court but can occasionally struggle in half-court sets. He can sometimes resort to bully ball. There are times when Williamson can become turnover prone, particularly when he plays as a point-forward. Despite having good form, Williamson struggles from three, only shooting 25%.

Matchup comparison – Williamson will likely be guarded by Juwan Morgan. However, expect Justin Smith to also see time guarding Williamson. Williamson against Morgan is a mouthwatering matchup. Both are extremely versatile and key players for their team. Moreover, Morgan’s ability to stretch Williamson away from the rim and to the perimeter could cause problems for Duke’s defense. As for Smith, his overall athleticism also makes him an intriguing option to put on Williamson. 

Williamson’s Signature Strengths

  • Finishing with his left hand – Williamson always prefers the left. He will initiate spin moves or whatever he can to finish with his left.
  • Exploding to the rim – His is extremely quick to the rim. He can jump off of either foot. He also has impressive hang time and superb body control. You will often see him capture a rebound and explode for a put-back jam. He doesn’t need to gather to jump, but can spring upward even when standing still.
  • Help-side blocks – Williamson averages 2.7 blocks per game. Often, this comes from him flying in the late to help bail a teammate out.
  • Getting fouled – Williamson loves to draw contact. He gets to the free-throw line quite often. However, he is not particularly good at the line, only shooting 68.6%.
  • Excelling in the fast-break – The open-court is where Williamson thrives. Trying to stop him is like trying to stop an oncoming train. His speed, strength, and athleticism make him almost impossible to stop on the break.
  • Passion – It’s easy to see that Williamson loves basketball. He shows his emotions on his sleeve and always plays with extreme passion. His intensity is infectious and is often motivating to his teammates.
  • Extraordinarily nimble feet – One of the more surprising aspects of his game is his footwork. For someone with his body, quick moving feet is certainly an exception to the norm. It is largely because of this agility that he is always in the perfect position to score or rebound.
  • Rebounding – Williamson is terrific on the boards. He has great instincts and his physicality allows him to get to any rebound. He averages 9.5 rebounds per game, which is the best on the team.

Game Plan To Minimize His Impact

  1. Make him finish with his right hand – Williamson always tries to finish at the basket with his left hand. ALWAYS. In fact, he deploys a spin move quite frequently to create space for him to go up with the left. It is crucial that IU force Williamson into only using his right hand. While he is still proficient with his right, he is much less comfortable and slightly less effective.
  2. Force him to the perimeter – As described above, Williamson only shoots 25% from three. The IU defense should play off of him when he catches the ball on the perimeter and guard the drive. IU should give him the three and make him knock it down. If he takes down the Hoosiers with the three, so be it. Let him take as many jumpers as he wants. When he is on the perimeter, he is not in the paint and that’s a victory in itself. Moreover, occasionally, he will play point forward. When running the show, he is somewhat turnover prone and occasionally clumsy with the ball. If IU can force the ball out of Tre Jones’s hands and into Williamson’s, the Hoosiers should view this as an optimal outcome.
  3. Know where he is defensively – IU needs to know where Williamson is on the defensive end at all times. He is a monster shot blocker. It is crucial that IU put a body on him at all times and prevent him from help-side blocks.

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