The NBA has quite simply never seen anything like Zion Williamson. A “unicorn” in the true form of the definition, a 6’7 285 pound ultra-athletic forward is unheard of when looking back at NBA history. When one tries to compare him to other players, it’s hard to see who he is similar to the most.
So let’s take a look at 5 legendary superstars who had a style of play that fits Zion the most:
In terms of excitement, Zion is for sure up there with Shawn Kemp. Specifically the dunking aspect. Just from the eye test, this is an obvious comparison. Kemp has multiple top 100 dunks of all time and made 6 straight All-Star games. It could be argued that besides Michael Jordan, Shawn Kemp was the most exciting player of the ’90s.
But the comparison really ends there. Kemp was 3-4 inches taller, and in today’s game, Zion is more adept on offense and defense when it comes to playing on the perimeter where Kemp played in a different era. The biggest major difference though is that Kemp was only listed at 230 pounds, 55 pounds lighter than Zion’s listed weight. To be fair, he had ridiculous strength for his size in his prime still but Zion’s strength far exceeds Kemp’s.
The athleticism and style of play are for sure fair comparisons. But Kemp was also 6’10 and much lighter. If this legend were a couple of inches shorter however this would likely be the most obvious comparison.
When it comes to athleticism the comparison between Zion and Blake Griffin at the early stages of his game are obvious. Both are (likely in Zion’s case) number 1 overall picks that are top 5 in terms of the most exciting players in the league immediately upon entering the NBA. Griffin, like Kemp, is also 6’10 but weighs 250 pounds which is a bit closer to Zion’s weight.
Really the comparisons end there though.
Zion is nowhere near the playmaking ability that Griffin had even in his early 20’s. Zion also has shown much more defensive potential than BG will ever have.
But one notable part of Griffin’s game that Zion can learn from is the development of his 3 point shot as he enters his 30’s. Zion will likely face a similar dilemma sometime in his career, and Griffin doing this has enabled him to be an effective player 10+ years in. In order for Zion to do the same, he will likely have to make similar changes, whether it’s with 3 point shooting or something else.
In terms of physical attributes, Larry Johnson is likely the closest comparison we have with Zion. Fans forget just how dominant a young Larry Johnson was as well. At 6’6 250 pounds, he had ridiculous athleticism (for 1990) and was an All NBA player in just his 2nd season. A number 1 overall pick, the hype train was in full motion with this player.
But over time the hype died down and he only lasted a full 10 seasons in the league. The athleticism he had when he was younger eroded over time and by the time he was 31 his usefulness had decreased dramatically.
Could Zion reach a similar fate? I’m not a fortune reader and time will tell. But the stories of Zion/Larry Johnson are strikingly similar and a lesson that Mr. Williamson can learn from.
The “Round Mound of Rebound” is an interesting comparison for Zion. Both 6’6, Barkley was a hefty 252 pounds, and when watching both of these players do their thing the comparisons can be intriguing.
They move the same way, that’s the most acceptable comparison. Barkley might not have had the athleticism of Zion but in terms of IQ, he’s closer than any of the 3 previously listed players. Personality wise Charles Barkley was also in a class of his own.
But they are very similar defenders and Zion for sure has the rebounding potential of this present TNT commentator and hall of fame player. Zion’s absolute ceiling is Barkley with better athleticism and size, time will tell if he’s able to meet that.
The primary comparison here is in terms of hype. In the last 50 years, the only player who can match the hype train of Zion is LeBron. The style of play between these two stud muffins are completely different but the hype train that has never stopped with LeBron since he was in high school is very much comparable to the potential hype train of this potential number 1 overall pick that has the body of an NFL defensive lineman.
LeBron was way more advanced at the same age in terms of passing IQ, that’s the main difference. And of all the players listed LeBron is the least comparable to Zion. But in terms of hype, he’s the only player to compare.
75% Larry Johnson, 25% Charles Barkley
Zion’s closest comparison is Larry Johnson. Same size and most similar comparison in terms of weight. Very similar playing styles and LJ was an all NBA player at just 23 years old. But he also flamed out within 10 years.
With Zion, he has the size and more potential to last longer which is why I’ve included the 25% Charles Barkley. The league has never seen a 285-pound player be able to do the things Zion Williamson is able to do and watching him play will truly be a unique experiment.
My gut instinct says 9X All-Star and one of the most memorable players in NBA history. Maybe doesn’t reach the hype that’s there right now but he sure as hell isn’t going to bust.
We’ll see you in the Naismith Hall of Fame Class of 2044 Zion.