Williamson, who was selected with the first pick in the 2019 draft by New Orleans, is entering his fourth season in the NBA. Last summer, he signed a five-year, $193 million rookie extension with the Pelicans.
Make no mistake: when he’s on the court, Williamson is one of the most unstoppable players in the league. With career averages of 25.8 points and 7 rebounds on 60.5% shooting from the field, there is no single defender on planet Earth who can prevent the former Duke standout from getting to the basket when he wants to.
At 6’6″, 284 pounds, Williamson has one of the most unique physical profiles we’ve ever seen in the NBA, resembling an NFL defensive end with otherworldly leaping ability and a level of agility that should not be possible for someone his size.
The problem, as has been well documented, is that Williamson cannot stay on the floor. After playing just 24 games his rookie season, Williamson managed to take the floor 61 times in 2021 before missing the entire ’21-’22 season and then playing in only 29 contests this past year.
Most experts noted before the 2019 draft that the relentless pressure Williamson puts on his ligaments, especially considering his gigantic frame, could potentially spell injury trouble down the road, but few could have predicted that things would go off the rails this quickly.
The Atlanta Hawks should tread carefully with potential Zion Williamson trade
All of this brings us to the Atlanta Hawks and whether or not they should be willing to part ways with the large number of assets it would likely take to get Williamson.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that Williamson was indeed traded to Atlanta and when he got there, he was able to get his weight under control and consistently stay on the court. The on-court fit in Atlanta would still be questionable at best.
Even after Atlanta gets rid of either Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu this offseason, which is looking more and more likely by the day, they will still be left with a center who is not a threat from outside the arc. Adding Williamson to the fray would automatically mean that 40 percent of the starting lineup does not have to be defended on the perimeter, a problem Atlanta dealt with this year in the form of John Collins’ nightly assaults on the State Farm Arena rims.
With a team led by Trae Young, and whose shooting guard in Dejounte Murray is really not all that great of a perimeter shooter, it is absolutely essential that spacing at the other positions is at a premium. For all of the pressure Williamson puts on the rim, his presence would still partially offset Young’s greatest strength, which is also getting to the rim and collapsing the defense.
With the lane automatically clogged with defenders due to Williamson and whatever center the Hawks hold onto already being there, Young’s craftiness would be mostly neutralized. Three perimeter shooters and one lob threat is a much better palate of options for a pick-and-roll maestro in the modern NBA than two perimeter shooters and two lob threats. It’s just a lot of redundancy.
Consider this: the only NBA finals participant in recent memory that didn’t have at least four bona fide outside threats in their starting lineup was the Golden State Warriors, and they had the two greatest shooters of all time in their backcourt. At some point, it really is as simple as three points being more than two, especially in a Quin Snyder-revamped offense that will surely be looking to launch more threes in 2023-24.
All of this assumes that Williamson can stay healthy and avoids any more off-court distractions that may hang a cloud over the franchise. Would Atlanta be better with Williamson at the four than Collins?
You bet they would. Would they be maximizing their roster’s strengths and be ready to compete in the modern NBA? Not remotely.