December 31, 2021
Forget the NBA’s top five point guards. Right now the Memphis Grizzlies’ young star looks like a top-five player who should have been the No 1 pick over Zion Williamson in the first place
Ja Morant is showing he should have been the No 1 draft pick all along
With the first pick in the 2019 NBA draft, the New Orleans Pelicans made the obvious choice. Back then 19-year-old Zion Williamson, a Duke University freshman, was inarguably the most mesmerizing player in all of basketball, pro or amateur – a 6ft 7in, 285lb flying sledgehammer who dunked with disturbing power, rejected shot attempts with stunning alacrity and otherwise defied the accepted physics of the game in ways too inconceivable not to retweet about in wonder. His rivalry game debut against North Carolina, already an NBA All-Star-level happening that featured former president Barack Obama and other bold-face names among the capacity crowd at Cameron Indoor Arena, became an even bigger deal when Williamson ripped a Nike shoe and limped off the floor with a knee injury a minute into the game.
These days, though, Williamson is a mixed bag. It’s not his talent that’s in doubt. (He’s rated among the league’s more productive players at both ends.) It’s his flagging durability, either a product of his unholy alloy of size and speed or the consequence of living in the fried food capital of the world. Williamson missed most of his rookie season with a torn right meniscus and has been dogged by injuries to his hands. He has yet to play a game this season because of a broken foot. All of this has made Williamson ripe for potshots from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Two years ago they roasted dire reports claiming Williamson had to relearn how to walk; in November they fell out laughing over footage of Williamson lumbering through a basic warm-up drill. “It’s like me and Shaq had a baby,” Barkley cracked. “You should not get hurt when you’re young.” All the while New Orleans continues to play mediocre ball.
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