Momentum behind No.8 seed as series heads back to Arizona.
For those of you who believe that Zion Williamson is the chosen one to carry the NBA into the future, I regret to inform you this is not what the future holds.
Yes, Zion is a basketball phenom who at 6 foot 6 inches and 129 kilograms at times has made other grown men look like boys trying to play basketball against men, but the NBA has seen such a force before. Just rewind the tape back to the 2010-11 season, when a young Blake Griffin was exploding across our phones through the early social media world. In his first season playing he averaged 22-12-4 shooting around 50 per cent and made his first all-star appearance as a rookie. Throw in a unanimous rookie of the year title in there for good measure too.
Not only are his credentials elite, but Blake Griffin passed the ‘eye test’ with flying colours as we watched him embarrass NBA players with crazy finishes and dunks – sorry, Timofey Mozgov – with his once-in-a-generation-level athleticism that put basketball fans’ jaws straight to the ground.
By the end of the 2010-11 season Griffin was already seen as one of the most talented players in his position and was poised to take the NBA by storm.
Sound familiar yet?
Fast-forward to 2020 and we only got to see a glimpse of Zion Williamson’s NBA introduction. In just his first 19 games he already acclimatised himself to go an average 24-7-2, shooting nearly 60 per cent from the field while playing only 30 minutes a night. I know, right? Impressive stuff.
And just like a young Blake Griffin, Williamson’s high-flying ability has made it impossible for anyone in the world with the internet to not see at least one of Zion’s insane aerial feats on the basketball court. Zion has already been knighted by the sports media community as the future of the league, poised to take the NBA by storm.
But in midst of the endless highlight reels, insane dunks, jaw-dropping athletic feats – just like we saw for Blake Griffin – let me remind you of the often forgotten hard truth of being a professional sportsperson: the best ability is availability.
Unfortunately for Zion Williamson, the future looks bleak if the tail of Blake Griffin can teach us anything, with there being some clear connections between these NBA stars.
During their first year in the NBA both suffered severe knee injuries, with Blake Griffin sitting out his whole first season with a broken left knee cap and Zion Willamson missing the first 13 weeks of the season with a torn right meniscus. Granted, injuries are part of sport whether we like it or not, and all players get an injury at some point, but there’s more to it.
From the 2014-15 season onwards Blake Griffin has failed to play in more than 70 games – except in 2018-19, when he played 75 – for a variety of different injury reasons, including quad problems, hand injuries, staph infections and most importantly a number of knee problems in both knees. Bad knees in the NBA spell trouble just from the nature of the sport, especially for someone like Blake Griffin, who relied so heavily on his athleticism.
We will never see what Blake Griffin could have been and achieved in the NBA, especially where those lob city LA Clippers teams would be ranked historically if it wasn’t for the fact they were constantly crippled by injury. Blake Griffin’s best NBA year is arguably his rookie year. There, I said it.
As I look at the Zion Williamson career retrospective glass, unfortunately it looks half empty, and we’ll see Zion’s NBA career following a similar path.
Many pundits have expressed concerns over Zion’s longevity in the game. Just imagine being Williamson’s knees. He weighs 129 kilograms, launches himself into orbit multiple times a game – with a 46.5-inch vertical leap – moving side to side with generational-level athleticism while running up and down a court over and over again for an expected 82 games a year, not including the play-offs. Consider too that the New Orleans Pelicans were reportedly attempting to change the way he walks and runs to take the pressure off his knees.
All this just in the first half of his rookie year.
All I’m saying is Zion may not be flying through the air catching Lonzo Ball lobs and bullying people in the paint for as long as we’d hoped. And that’s okay. While the NBA world has him and he’s still on our screens let’s all indulge in his brilliance and gasp when he takes flight, but most importantly let’s soak it in like every game is his last, because unfortunately we may be closer to Zion’s NBA peak than we would like.