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Sport The Whiteboard: How are teams trying to stop Zion Williamson?

08:00  05 may  2021
08:00  05 may  2021 Source:   fansided.com

Charles Oakley says Julius Randle is 'a better version of Zion Williamson'

  Charles Oakley says Julius Randle is 'a better version of Zion Williamson' The Knicks came two picks short of drafting Williamson in 2019Charles Oakley doesn't think of it as a particularly damaging loss. In his eyes, the Knicks signed the superior power forward a month later when they inked Julius Randle to a three-year deal. During an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio (h/t Marc Berman of The New York Post), Oakley celebrated the fact that New York finally "got a superstar" by declaring that Randle is the better and more versatile player.

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a man making a face for the ball © Provided by Fansided

Defending Zion Williamson is, increasingly, becoming one of the most complex strategic challenges in the NBA. His size, agility and touch around the basket give him at least one distinct advantage in almost any individual matchup and the Pelicans have increasingly put the ball in his hands, giving him opportunities to create and choose his mode of attack.

To this point, no team has been all that successful. Williamson is averaging 27.1 points and 3.7 assists per game, shooting 61.4 percent from the field with just 55.9 percent of his made field goals assisted on. Toronto is the only team against which Zion is averaging less than 20 points per game in multiple matchups this season but the Pelicans played the Raptors in their first and sixth games of the season, while everyone was still finding their rhythm and before the Pelicans had really opened things up for him as an on-ball creator.

David Griffin is blames NBA officials for Zion Williamson's fractured finger and he's right

  David Griffin is blames NBA officials for Zion Williamson's fractured finger and he's right The New Orleans Pelicans lost their best player at the absolute worst time as they make a push for the West's final play-in spot. They're going to have to do it without Zion Williamson, who is out indefinitely with a fractured finger. Williamson injured his finger against…They’re going to have to do it without Zion Williamson, who is out indefinitely with a fractured finger. Williamson injured his finger against the Warriors when going up for a rebound. Draymond Green incidentally swiped at his hand as he was going for the ball and injured his finger.

You could see the challenges Zion presents in Monday's loss to the Warriors. Zion put up 32 points, shooting 12-of-24 from the field, with Draymond Green as his primary defender. Green may be one of the few defenders in the league who can come close to matching Zion's blend of strength and agility. He's an elite defender and was still given the business, and most other teams don't even have any defender in that physical archetype to try and throw at Zion.

What kind of defenders have opposing teams thrown at Zion Williamson?

The NBA's new Court Optix statistics don't display data for every player but it's at least somewhat telling that Zion does not rank among the top-20 players in double-teams received per game. He spends about as much time per game, on average, with the ball in his hands as Bradley Beal. But Beal sees an average of 22.5 double-teams per game, 47.1 percent of his possessions, whereas appears somewhere below the cut-off for this list — 18.6 double-teams per game.

LOOK: Jordan Brand unveils Zion Williamson's first signature shoe named 'Zion 1'

  LOOK: Jordan Brand unveils Zion Williamson's first signature shoe named 'Zion 1' The Pelicans star's shoe will be released on April 23There will be four different colorways of the shoe, including Gen Zion (black and white), ZNA (crossover of "being out of this world, but also down to earth"), Noah (dedicated to Williamson's brother), and Marion (Williamson's South Carolina roots).

There also isn't much evidence that a specific kind of defender gives Zion trouble. In all, 28 different defenders have been matched up with him for at least 25 possessions this season and there is a fairly even split between defenders who could be loosely classified as 3/4s (Julius Randle, Robert Covington, Keldon Johnson, etc.) and defenders who could be loosely classified as 4/5s (Brook Lopez, Naz Reid, Draymond Green, Marvin Bagley). Against the hybrid forwards in this group, Zion averaged 43.2 points and 4.7 assists per 100 possessions with a 78.2 effective field goal percentage. Against the hybrid bigs, he's averaged 46.1 points and 7.3 assists per 100 possessions with a 74.1 effective field goal percentage. So maybe when trying to match Zion with quickness, opponents are getting a slightly less aggressive Zion, but at that level of productivity and efficiency who the heck cares?

David Griffin blames Zion Williamson's injury on NBA officials: 'He's been absolutely mauled in the paint'

  David Griffin blames Zion Williamson's injury on NBA officials: 'He's been absolutely mauled in the paint' Griffin added that "There's more violence encouraged in the paint against Zion Williamson than any player I've seen since Shaq"It's a tactic that has infuriated the New Orleans Pelicans. So mad is Pelicans vice president David Griffin that he outright blamed the officials Friday for the fractured finger that now has Williamson out indefinitely.

Only three defenders in that group of 28 have had any reasonable measure of success against Zion, holding him below his season average for points per 100 possessions and holding the Pelicans below their season average for points per 100 possessions while they're on Zion (showing that they're impacting his scoring but not at the expense of letting someone else go off) — Brook Lopez, Draymond Green and Jae Crowder. However, all three of those defenders are on the lower end in terms of total possessions defending Zion (11th, 18th and 27th among this group of 28) so we may be looking at small sample size more than any meaningful pattern.

The idea of a "stopper" for a player of Zion's talent and skill is always a bit of a fantasy — the best offensive players will eventually overwhelm the best individual defenders. As he continues to develop he's going to be in that class of player who dictates a defensive strategy far beyond "who's got Zion?"

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Zion Williamson came up big for the New Orleans Pelicans over the weekend and joined an exclusive club for his record-breaking performance. On Saturday night, the Pelicans suffered a critical loss to the San Antonio Spurs which could possibly squash their playoff hopes this season. Now for the go od news: Williamson broke a pretty incredible record that night. Even though Williamson recorded 33 points and 14 rebounds, his double-double wasn't enough to secure the win for the Pelicans in a game that had fans grumbling about free throws. It was, however, enough to join the 2,000 career points club.

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