Duke basketball: Insider discloses troubling secret about Zion Williamson

Former Duke basketball forward Zion Williamson (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Former Duke basketball forward Zion Williamson (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Former Duke basketball sensation Zion Williamson needs to watch his weight.

It’s no secret the NBA version of Zion Williamson lacks the otherworldly airtime — both in terms of heights regularly reached and highlights on SportsCenter — from his heyday as a frequently airborne Duke basketball one-and-done. Also, it’s no secret the physique of the New Orleans Pelicans forward has consistently varied since becoming the No. 1 pick at the 2019 NBA Draft.

Some nights, the 6-foot-6 Williamson, whose weight has appeared on all rosters at around 285 pounds ever since his arrival as a Blue Devil in 2018, looks like a chiseled superhero. Other times, the 20-year-old looks like a college kid who’s been gobbling away at one too many Twinkies a day.

Now, the secret is out about the sheer level of fluctuation Williamson has seen in recent months when stepping on the scale.

Though there is no Zion weight tracker available to the public, according to ESPN insider Brian Windhorst on his “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective” podcast this week, the showman has hauled around about the equivalent of an extra car tire at times this year.

Windhorst pointed out that Williamson, perhaps due to inactivity during quarantine, was likely at his heaviest when entering the league’s Orlando bubble in July to wrap up his rookie campaign:

“I was told that Zion — and I don’t think [the Pelicans] really wanted to publicize where he was physically when he came back to the bubble — but I have heard that it’s in excess of 25 pounds that he’s lost from where he was in the bubble to where he is now. He is not as svelte by any stretch of the imagination, but he definitely is moving better.”

Is the Duke basketball product again packing on excess pounds?

Whether due to holiday-related weight gain or just general hoops fatigue — the latter would be a bad sign considering he’s still played only 28 total NBA games — Zion Williamson sure appeared sluggish in a 111-86 road loss against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

Honestly, for the first time across New Orleans’ 2-2 start to the 2020-21 season, he appeared as weighed down as he did in late summer. Williamson seemed particularly gassed on the glass, from the charity stripe, and when trying to close out on sharpshooters beyond the arc.

As a result, while scoring 20 points in 29 minutes of action, the former Naismith winner and probable 2021 All-Star pulled down only two rebounds, shot an ugly 2-for-6 at the foul line, managed only one steal, failed to register either a block or an assist, and allowed several open 3-pointers to the red-hot Suns.

In other words, it wasn’t the kind of night where one could envision Williamson pulling off the type of phenomenal 3-point swat that former Virginia star De’Andre Hunter must still see in his nightmares. It wasn’t the kind of night where one could envision him doing a 360. And it certainly wasn’t the kind of night where his energy positively impacted his team — no, quite the opposite.

Granted, some of Williamson’s struggles in Phoenix were likely due to the lingering uncertainty regarding his exact role and ideal position to hold down for the extremely young Pelicans. Plus, it’s not as if his season averages of 21.1 points and 9.3 rebounds are anything but promising for a second-year pro.

Nevertheless, his moves aren’t as crisp, explosive, or emphatic as they have been in the past, especially in comparison to his Duke basketball days.

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Maybe it’s a matter of Williamson’s knee surgery in October 2019 before his rookie year. Maybe the Pelicans hindered his progress by trying to teach him to restrict his movements last season. Or maybe, as with so many of us, he simply has trouble when it comes to watching what he eats.

Whatever the primary obstacle, there’ll be no limit to Zion Williamson’s potential once he overcomes it.

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