NBA Legend Reveals How Pelicans’ Zion Williamson Can Be Greatest Power Forward

Getty Zion Williamson

Before the coronavirus pandemic halted NBA play, the New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson was putting together solid statistical numbers.

For those keeping score at home: In 19 games, the rookie Duke product posted 23.6 points and hauled in 6.8 rebounds.

Good numbers so far.

Listed at 6’6 and 284 pounds, Williamson can get to the basket off the dribble, can post up and dunk at will.

Some have compared Williamson to Charles Barkley.

Barkley doesn’t see it. “The kid is more explosive than I am,” Barkley told me of Williamson.

“He seems like a great kid too. He’s really explosive, he might want to learn to play basketball at a little lower level.

“Right now he does everything above the rim and it’s taken a toll on his body,” he said.

“A sprinter doesn’t try to set the world record in practice. They talk about golfers, they don’t hit the ball with their club at 100% all the time. He’s got to learn to drive 55 instead of 100 mph all the time. That’s the one thing he’s got to learn.”

If not Barkley then who? Larry Johnson is another intriguing comparison.

During his collegiate career at UNLV, Larry Johnson was named a First Team All-American twice, and won the Big West Conference Player of the Year and tournament Most Valuable Player awards in 1990 and 1991. Johnson also won the John R. Wooden Award and was named Naismith College Player of the Year in 1991.

The first pick in the 1991 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, Johnson was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1992.

Last year, esteemed New York Times writer, Marc Stein wrote: “One league personnel man told me recently that he sees Williamson as a cross between Larry Johnson and Charles Barkley, which is obviously monstrous praise. Another personnel expert followed that up by telling me that Williamson is so strong that he sometimes makes it look as though the brutish Johnson, by comparison, didn’t even like contact.”

At 6’6 and 250 pounds, Johnson played both forward spots and averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest with both the Hornets and the New York Knicks.

Many in New York City remember Johnson for his four-point play during the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals series against the Indiana Pacers.

With the Knicks down, 91-88, with just 11.9 seconds remaining in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals,

Johnson took one dribble left, absorbed contact from Antonio Davis and launched a three-pointer. The whistle blew and the shot went in; tying the game at 91 apiece.

Johnson hit the free throw and in the next possession, the Pacers missed their shot and the Knicks got the win and a 2-1 lead in that series. The Knicks would later win the series and a visit to the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. “The four point play, it’s just one play,” Larry Johnson told me.

“It’s the greatest play I’ve had. I’ve had some pretty good moments in this game. Winning a championship in college, being the number one [pick in the 1991 NBA Draft], but making a four point play against one of our arch rivals at Madison Square Garden, that was the craziest.”

Meanwhile back at the ranch: NBA legend and NBC Sports Chicago analyst Kendall Gill, appeared on this week’s episode of the Scoop B Radio Podcast, Scoop B Radio Podcast.

I asked Gill if Williamson reminds him of either Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp or Larry Johnson.

“He doesn’t play like any one of those guys,” Kendall Gill tells Scoop B Radio.

“But he has the same body type characteristically of a Larry Johnson being 6’7”. Now he’s about 35 pounds heavier than Larry was, but Larry was an EXTRAORDINARY athlete, okay? But Zion, is a – once in a lifetime athlete the way that he can jump and everything. I think that once Zion develops, you’re not going to be able to compare him to anybody. And I believe hopefully he’ll lose some weight – he needs to lose about 25-30 pounds so he’s not susceptible to injury the way that he plays jumping up crazy and how explosive he is. But I think he’s going to be his own man. Larry Johnson was the BEST player I ever played with…pre-back injury. If he had not hurt his back, I think he would’ve gone down as one of the greatest power forwards of all time. I think Zion can get there if he stays healthy.”

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