Atlanta Hawks: Pels F Zion Williamson’s situation is a big red flag

Nov 27, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) watches from the bench in street clothes as his team plays the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) watches from the bench in street clothes as his team plays the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks (28-30) need to steer clear of players like Zion Williamson. A generational talent, Williamson’s tenure in the NBA has been marred by injury and, now, by the perception that he can be disconnected from the team when disenchanted. Even if you look past what has been one-sided coverage of his situation, the list of concerns is substantial enough.

It is no secret that this space has been used to advocate for Williamson’s teammate, Brandon Ingram, as a superior alternative to the New Orleans Pelicans tweener big man.

Ingram’s positional fit as well less concerning bill of health are the primary reasons.

But we cannot deny that, when right, Williamson offers many of the qualities and traits we have clamored for the Hawks to either find, acquire, or cultivate from his ability to get his own shot to defending and protecting the rim while stretching the floor.

Zion Williamson is a prime example of the kind of situation the Hawks should avoid

This is an issue that we have addressed in many forms. But it is coming up again after new Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, a respected voice around the league, saying he had spoken with the Pels star since being traded to the team a few days prior. What has followed has been a mix of former teammate JJ Reddick corroborating McCollum’s story and piling on.

Then came the report from The Athletic’s Will Guillory (subscription required) detailing the disconnect between Zion and New Orleans’ front office as well as teammates.

In it, Guillory details how Williamson went from the willing face of the franchise to virtually being a recluse in regards to communication. The most anyone has got often comes from outside sources and rarely from Williamson himself.

That is where the Hawks interest should cease but, of course, it has not.

Williamson’s ability on the basketball court is undeniable. He was a 20-point-per-game scorer right out of the box putting up 22.5 points per game as a rookie and then 27.0 points per game last season. Williamson is one of 87 players to put up at least 27 points, seven boards, and three assists in a season in NBA history.

He is the only one to do it while shooting better than 60.0 percent from the floor.

When people use the adjective ‘dominant’ to describe him, it is as accurate as it has been for any player in league history.

He’s shown the ability to hit the three-ball, knocking down 42.9 percent of his looks from outside in his first year. That dropped to 29.4 percent in his second season despite coming on nearly identical volume as the previous year.

Even still, he shot 37.7 percent on catch-and-shoot threes.

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But the Hawks have put an emphasis on chemistry, going so far as to move Cam Reddishat his request – despite his skillset being a perfect fit in theory. The reality was it didn’t work and Reddish was the worst rotation player while he was in Atlanta. This despite putting up career-best numbers.

Reddish and Williamson’s situations are very different. But Reddish showed an ability to make the best of a bad situation. By all accounts, Williamson has exacerbated the situation.

John Collins is another player who has vocalized displeasure with his role. But he has managed to play through it and has put together what is arguably the most well-rounded season of his career.

Collins has also been the subject of numerous trade rumors and will be again this summer.

Right there the Hawks have two examples of players who have been unhappy to different degrees and both have handled it better than Williamson has. Per Travis Schlenk, Reddish asked for a trade over the summer and it didn’t come out publicly until he was moved some six-plus months later.

Perhaps a change of scenery changes Williamson’s attitude. The latest is that he and McCollum have connected.

But that does nothing for his suspect health that has led to him missing more games (118) than he has played in (85).

And if it somehow does, then what does that say?

To his credit, Williamson has said he wants to be in New Orleans whenever he does speak but his actions have not matched those sentiments. Still, Zion in Atlanta has been a fun idea ever since Williamson tapped the Hawks podium during the NBA Draft Lottery in 2019.

Williamson is immensely talented. But, as the old adage goes, the Hawks have to seriously question whether or not the juice is worth the squeeze.

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For as dominant as Williamson can be, he cannot dominate from the sideline beyond, apparently, the public discourse.