Look out below! The Zion Williamson era is set to begin

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January 22nd, 2020

BetAmerica has teamed up with Covers and Oddschecker to break down the latest news and trends from around the Association. This week NBA columnists Andrew Caley, Sam Farley, and Ryan Murphy discuss the Grizzlies' recent seven-game winning streak, Zion Williamson's long awaited debut, and LeBron James' extraordinary longevity.

The Grizzlies recently pulled off a seven-game winning streak. Does Memphis have enough talent to slip into the playoffs this season?

Andrew: Of course, they can! Ja Morant is without a doubt the most exciting player to watch in the league right now. His shooting has been better than expected, his court vision is excellent, and he violently attacks the rim (sometimes I worry about his long-term health because of this, but for now woo-hoo!). Triple J is a perfect fit for him on offense, Dillon Brooks is having a bounce back year, and they have depth, with six players averaging double digits. Plus, they’re basically battling just three teams for the final spot: The Spurs, Trail Blazers, and Suns. The Blazers and Spurs can make a run, but the Grizz certainly have the talent to hold on to that spot. It will be interesting to see if they make a move at the trade deadline, or if Andre Iguodala would show up now that the Grizz are good.

Sam: Memphis have become must-watch, largely down to Ja Morant, who has been wild this season. The arrival of Morant has led to more eyes on the team, and the rest of the roster is probably better than I thought it was. That said, I don’t think they’re a great team in terms of talent, and that ultimately will stop them from sneaking into the playoffs. They’ve been on an incredible run but are they better than the Spurs or the Trail Blazers? The answer is no for me, and I think the coaching in San Antonio will ultimately lead to them leapfrogging Memphis.
Ryan: Color me skeptical. The Grizzlies have been red hot lately, but many of their victories have come against cellar dwellers like the Suns, Timberwolves, Warriors, and Cavaliers. I have far more faith in the San Antonio Spurs, who have a pair of established All-Stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, and a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich. Pop has guided the Spurs to the playoffs for 22 straight seasons and has a knack for getting his team to play its best ball after the midseason mark. Ja Morant and the Grizzlies may have the brighter future, but the present belongs to the Spurs.

Zion Williamson is scheduled to make his NBA debut on Wednesday against the Spurs. What are your expectations for him for the remainder of the season?

Andrew: My expectations are that the Pelicans keep the training wheels on Zion for the rest of the season, because the goal should be to head into next season with Williams 100% healthy. So, that could mean some of that dreaded “load management.” But that could be a necessary evil, because like Morant, Williamson is a violent player and so athletic that injuries could be an issue. I want to see some flashes of that athleticism, to see if he continues to develop his three-point shot and to see if he continues to be a good passer at the pro level. But mostly, I want him to be healthy so we can enjoy watching him for a long time to come.

Sam: He won't win Rookie of the Year honors as Ja Morant already has that nailed down. There will no doubt still be great expectations, but with this feeling like a lost season, Williamson should be able to play with slightly less pressure. I’m not sure what exactly I’m expecting from, because it’s almost certainly too much. Just give me some dominant performances, some highlight reel dunks and glimpses of his potential, and I’ll be happy.

Ryan: My expectations are still sky high. The first thing you have to understand about Williamson is that he’s unlike anyone else in the NBA. We’re talking about a guy who gained 100 lbs. in just two years in high school and then packed on an additional eight lbs. of muscle during one week of weightlifting this past summer. He’s a freak of nature (in the very best way, of course), and should be back posterizing fools by the time you read this column. Williamson’s presence alone won’t be enough to lift the Pelicans into the playoffs, but he will at least make their games worth watching again, and that should count as a minor miracle.

What’s more impressive: the fact that Luka Doncic has 12 triple-doubles in his second season, or that LeBron James has nine triple-doubles in his 17th season?

Andrew: I want to say LeBron. But he is an alien and doesn’t count. So, we’re going with Doncic instead. And it doesn’t hurt that Luka has done something that LeBron didn’t. Doncic has 12 triple doubles in just 38 games in his second season, brining his total to 20 for his career. LeBron had just (just is a relative term here to be clear) eight through his first two full seasons. And the most impressive part of what Doncic is doing, is that the way he is playing is leading to Mavs wins. Dallas has 27 for the season and sits in fifth place in the West.

Sam: I’m torn. LeBron’s longevity is hugely impressive, for him to be doing this at his age is wild, considering there’s only been a marginal drop off since his peak. Doncic's rise to prominence is equally impressive given the pre-draft doubts around how he’d adapt to the league, not to mention his supporting cast not being as strong as LeBron’s in L.A. If I’m pushed, then I’d have to side with LeBron, but just barely.

Ryan: As an old guy myself, I'm giving ultimate props to LeBron James. It's easy to run circles around your opponents when you're 20 years old, but it takes discipline, drive, and unwavering commitment to still dominate the game once you hit 35. Hell, I couldn't even tie my shoes without getting winded when I hit my mid-thirties. LeBron deserves our adulation for still stuffing the stat sheet after running up and down the hardwood for 17 seasons. Long live the King!

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