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Where Should You Draft Zion Williamson in 2019 Fantasy Basketball Drafts?

Not since LeBron James has there been so much hype for a number one draft pick. Zion Williamson has drawn comparisons to LeBron and Charles Barkley and a whole raft of players in between. Yet, Fantasy Basketball managers are presented with a bevy of questions regarding his value during the 2019-20 season.

  • What is Zion Williamson’s real value going to be this year?
  • What can we learn from his college statistics that should apply in the NBA?
  • What does Artificial Intelligence predict Williamson will do in his rookie year?
  • What do we know about New Orleans’ system and how will Williamson fit in?
  • What are Zion’s key weaknesses that NBA teams will be scouting?
  • Does his insane athleticism make him more of a risk of injury?
  • Will he be just as valuable in Roto leagues as H2H? Where should Williamson be taken in fantasy drafts?

Is Williamson the closest thing to a real-life NBA Jam Player? Yes, yes he is! He’s heating up….

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Zion Williamson for Fantasy Basketball 2019-20

JB’s Stat Prediction for Zion Williamson in the 2019-20 NBA Season


 What Can We Learn from Zion’s College Statistics?


Alright, time to get a little nerdy! There has been detailed analysis done over the years in relation to how college players’ statistics correlate to their NBA statistics. Generally, certain categories appear to have a greater correlation to NBA statistics as outlined by Fri Lavey from here. Lavey states that:

“The skill that seems to most consistently translate to the NBA is shooting, particularly three-point shooting. While by their second year, three-point shooting percentage for players coming from the NCAA seems to fall more in line with their college days, it appears as though they really struggle in their first year, perhaps due to adjusting to NBA defenses and the NBA three-point line”

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Zion’s Likely Offensive Statistics in the NBA

Everyone that has studied Williamson usually has two specific concerns about his overall game; his shooting and his weight. Zion will no doubt have a good field goal percentage simply by utilizing his insane athleticism. I should note that a lot of his points in College came off quick moves in the post. I think these opportunities will decrease in the NBA. However, this will be offset by additional chances in transition and with more spacing to work off the dribble. His transition skills will be furthered in the NBA with faster-paced offenses and more opportunities to score on the break. Having Lonzo Ball in his back-court will be very helpful. Payton to Kemp alley-oops versus Ball to Williamson alley-oops would be a great stat to track!

Zion’s shooting mechanics improved as his college year went on. When given time, he was a solid standstill shooter. However, I can see a regression in his three-point shot in his rookie year because he will have less time to get his shots off. Consequently, his field goal percentage will drop from his College year as well. No doubt he will be forced to work on his three ball as part of his overall game though. His shooting should improve as his career lengthens.

Remember, Zion is not just a dunker though. He is a good decision-maker in both the half-court and transition offense. Whilst he isn’t on the same level as LeBron in terms of court vision, his speed and ability to play under control in transition led to numerous passing highlights in college. I’m expecting his assist numbers to jump slightly over his college 2.1 per game, to 2.9, primarily due to the pace of the New Orleans system.

Zion’s Likely Defensive Statistics in the NBA

On defensive stats, Lavey propagates:

“Both blocks and rebounding seem to translate pretty well to the NBA…. The defensive numbers do lend credence to the hypothesis that NCAA players come to the NBA more ready to adjust to NBA defenses, as nearly 60 percent of NBA steals per game and 80 percent of blocks per game can be explained by college stats…”

Zion’s incredible athleticism obviously led to good steals and shot-blocking numbers in College. His shot-blocking was more predicated on gambling off the ball though. This will not fly in the NBA where teams can easily pick apart poor team defenses. My read is that his blocks per game don’t translate as well to the NBA as a result. I can see his steals staying close to his college numbers. He will be able to shoot the lanes better than most power forwards in the league. The Pelicans don’t have a plethora of depth or athleticism at the forward spot this year. Therefore, I expect Zion to be relied on for rebounding more than he was beside RJ Barrett in College and we should see a jump in his rebounding numbers as well.

What does Artificial Intelligence tell us Zion will do?

The Affinity Propagation Artificial Intelligence (AI) model here describes Zion as a hybrid of Blake Griffin and Deandre Ayton, and it correspondingly estimates that he will put up the stat line of 19.4 Points, 11.2 Rebounds, 2.8 Assists, 0.85 Steals, and 0.7 Blocks per game.

What do we know about New Orleans’ system and how will Williamson fit in?

New Orleans will run the ball, and by these comments, they will run it a lot:

“If we don’t lead the league in pace next year, I’ll be disappointed,” Coach Alvin Gentry says. David Griffin, GM does one better: “We’ll probably play the fastest style of ball that’s been played, maybe ever,” he says. Zippy teams spell doom when their roster can’t guard at the speed its offense requires. New Orleans boasts switchable, long perimeter hounds across its line-ups. “We’re going to be able to defend at an alarming pace,” Griffin says.

Take note folks. The Pelicans will put up numbers next season. This obviously bodes well for fantasy teams with Pelicans players. I can see many a fast break with Zion finishing with authority. The Pelicans system should mean that Zion’s points per game stay close to his college numbers as a result.

What are Zion’s key weaknesses that NBA teams will be scouting?

The obvious weakness is his shooting. Zion’s overall shooting form is not horrible, but the speed at which he gets his shot off and his ability to shoot off the dribble will be tested. NBA teams will pack in their defense (think Ben Simmons) against Zion. He is going to be dared to shoot jump shots. Regarding his shot mechanics, his right elbow hangs a lot wider than the way a traditional coach would teach kids to shoot. This is not the be-all and end-all for his shot. However, if he starts to change up his mechanics, expect inconsistency at the free-throw line for years to come. His College free-throw percentage is below an average NBA player today. So, expect him to be fouled on the drive. He will have to earn a good chunk of his points from the line in his rookie year.

The other aspect of his game to consider is his how he plays defense on pick and rolls, and off the ball. NBA teams run very different schemes to most college squads. It will take time for Zion Williamson to adjust to more screening and floor spacing. I can see his fouls increasing as a result of the adjustment to the NBA game.

Does his insane athleticism make him more of a risk of injury?

Yes! A hot topic this offseason is ‘Load Management’.

How the Pelicans manage their star rookie could play a big part in his overall fantasy success in his rookie year. We already saw the Pelicans brass pull Zion from Summer League festivities altogether after a bump on his knee.

I think the team will take a low-risk tolerance to any signs of fatigue and ensure Zion is set for long term success. Don’t be surprised if he sits out a good portion of games this upcoming season.

The bigger risk with Williamson is the way in which he attacks the rim and how this might impact his overall chances of a significant injury. At 6-foot-7, 285 pounds drawing a charge from Williamson is like getting hit by a car.  When you have two, 285-pound players meeting at the rim, that’s a significant car crash. Imagine a scenario where Williamson is playing in Phoenix and meets Aaron Baynes at the rim. The result for either player may be ugly. The big Australian loves challenging players and getting dunked on.

If Williamson doesn’t protect himself and land properly, his injury risk is high. I hope Williamson controls his high-flying antics in the half-court offense because this is where I see most of his injury risk coming from.

Will Zion be just as valuable in roto leagues as H2H?

Roto leagues with turnovers and both percentage categories should see him rank 15-20 spots worse than his H2H ranking.  In standard 9 category leagues, there shouldn’t be much of a difference. I have him slightly higher ranked in roto than our lead analyst, Adam King has in his H2H rankings.

Where should Zion Williamson be taken in fantasy drafts?

Late second round or early third round is probably a fair place for him to be drafted. No doubt Williamson will get a lot of attention if he has some highlight real dunks in preseason, so don’t be surprised if he goes earlier in a lot of cases.

What’s your take on Zion Williamson? For more great analysis check out the 2019 Fantrax Fantasy Basketball Guide!

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