Duke basketball: Pundit says Zion Williamson ‘not willing to be exposed’

Duke basketball alum Zion Williamson (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball alum Zion Williamson (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) /

The shot chart of Duke basketball legend Zion Williamson is under scrutiny.

A myriad of flaws explains why the New Orleans Pelicans — including three Duke basketball greats in Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and JJ Redick — are off to an increasingly disappointing 4-7 start. Those issues were on full display on Friday night as the squad relinquished a 15-point lead on its way to a 112-95 road loss versus the 11-3 Los Angeles Lakers.

ALSO READ: The 100 greatest Blue Devils under Mike Krzyzewski

One of the more noticeable problems appears to be inadequate spacing on offense. And that seems to be a symptom of a starting lineup that contains two big men, power forward Zion Williamson and center Steven Adams, who each pose no real shooting threat from beyond the arc.

When it comes to Williamson, the 6-foot-6, 284-pound tank has yet to knock down an attempt past 16 feet across his 10 appearances this season. Perhaps making matters worse, such attempts have been practically nonexistent.

While averaging 21.8 points and 8.5 rebounds, the 2019 No.1 overall draft pick is 0-for-3 from 16-plus feet and only 3-for-3 from 10-16 feet. In contrast, Williamson is 67-for-114 around the rim (19-for-21 on dunk attempts) and 17-for-39 from 3-10 feet.

Some argue Williamson has no need to try his hand from deep when his soft touch and emphatic finishes down low yield a 54.7 field goal percentage. Yet since that mark is a definite drop from his 58.3 percent as a rookie and astonishing 68.0 percent as a Duke basketball one-and-done, it could be that defenses are gradually figuring out how to keep in check the 20-year-old’s MO.

It could be that Williamson will soon have no choice but to sometimes launch 3-pointers, both for his own benefit and to encourage less predictable ball movement in the New Orleans offense. After all, it’s not as if his 3-point percentages are abysmal: 33.8 percent at Duke and 37.5 percent with the Pelicans.

But keep in mind that four of Williamson’s six total makes from downtown as a pro came in his NBA debut last January.

In-game criticism toward the Duke basketball product

Against the Lakers, Zion Williamson finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and four turnovers while shooting 9-for-19 from the field.

Not too shabby.

However, despite occasionally bringing the ball up early on in the absence of an injured Lonzo Ball (knee), the former Blue Devil once again shied away from open looks on the perimeter. Granted, as is typically the case, he had his fair share of highlight moments anyway.

His visible trepidation to even pump fake outside the post, though, certainly caught the attention of ESPN commentator Mark Jackson in the second quarter. Here’s a snippet of the rather harsh take on Williamson from the one-time All-Star, who implored the rising star to focus on developing a formidable pull-up jumper:

“He’s absolutely dominant in the paint. The good teams are gonna stop that…At some point, you gotta make them play you honestly and at least be willing to take jump shots.”

Jackson then tried to identify the root of the matter:

“I think he understands that the spotlight is on him every single night, and he’s not willing to be exposed with the lights on. He’s gotta get past that.”

Zion Williamson and the Pelicans, who have now dropped five straight while serving as turnover machines, are set to play their third game of a six-game road trip when they face the 5-8 Sacramento Kings at 9 p.m. EST on Sunday.

Trending. Jalen Johnson has tens of millions at stake. light

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more on Zion Williamson plus other Duke basketball news and views.