Hall of Famer criticizes Duke basketball legend Zion Williamson

Duke basketball legend Zion Williamson (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball legend Zion Williamson (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

Karl Malone has a strong take on Duke basketball’s most marketable product.

On Tuesday night, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, former Duke basketball one-and-done Zion Williamson became the youngest NBA player to ever drop 30 points in back-to-back outings while shooting 70-plus percent from the field both times.

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Also, Williamson became the first Pelican to ever pull off that feat. And this marked the second time the second-year pro has scored 30-plus twice in a row.

Granted, in the followup to Williamson’s 31 points on 13-for-15 shooting from the field in a 128-123 road win over the Sacramento Kings (5-9) on Sunday, his 32 points and 14-for-19 clip weren’t enough for the New Orleans Pelicans (5-8) to avoid a 118-102 road loss to the Utah Jazz (10-4).

Nevertheless, the stats and highlights scream superstar.

Now, across 12 appearances this season, Williamson is averaging 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 59.1 percent from the field.

Hard to complain about that.

Production aside, though, prior to the team’s defeat in Utah, former Jazz big man Karl Malone chimed in on The Players’ Tribune “Knuckleheads” podcast, joining a long list of folks who have voiced a similar serious concern regarding the 6-foot-6, 284-pound budding forward’s stamina and longterm durability.

While the 14-time NBA All-Star made sure to first note his sincere admiration of Williamson, Malone was quite frank in his judgment of the 2019 Naismith Player of the Year and subsequent No. 1 draft pick:

“I love Zion Williamson. Zion needs to get into shape. If he don’t get in shape, we might not ever know his full potential.”

Comparing the Duke basketball alum’s endurance to that of the Hall of Famer

Karl Malone, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound bruiser in his playing days, does have the right to talk. After all, the USA Dream Team member ranks second all-time in the league with 54,852 minutes of action.

Plus, Malone appeared in 80 or more regular-season games in each of his 19 NBA campaigns except for the lockout-shortened one in 1999 and his final one in 2003-04 at the age of 40.

Yet it sounded a bit harsh when Malone took an apparent shot at Zion Williamson for lacing ’em up in only 24 contests as a rookie after recovering from preseason knee surgery:

“I’m still waiting on him to play the whole damn season. News flash: We still waiting.”

Next, Malone laid out a seemingly unrealistic expectation for Zion’s playing time right now:

“And he needs to be averaging 40 minutes a game. Look here, you’re a 21-, 22-year-old kid — your [expletive] shouldn’t get tired.”

First, Williamson is actually 20. Second, his average of 32.4 minutes so far this season ranks No. 2 among the Pelicans, trailing only the 35.0 minutes per game from fellow Duke basketball sensation Brandon Ingram.

Furthermore, at Williamson’s age, Malone was just a sophomore at Lousiana Tech, averaging only 31.6 minutes per game. Finally, the modern-day critic went on to average only 30.6 minutes as a 22-year-old rookie and then 34.8 minutes in his second year.

All in all, the assessment from Karl Malone this week came across as nothing more than a friendly challenge. At the same time, however, it’s not as if Zion Williamson is currently some overweight bum.

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