Zion Williamson: Defense
Our scouting grades represent the composite opinion of at least three different scouts. Each category is graded based on how we view a player’s current ability level relative to NBA players at the same position (guard, wing, forward or big). A grade of 1 indicates replacement level, a grade of 5 indicates NBA average, and a grade of 10 indicates historically elite. Our composite scouting notes help provide context for our grades.
Zion’s combination of strength, agility, and explosiveness give him a strong foundation as an on-ball defender. Against post players, his strength and low center of gravity prevent them from establishing deep post position. Against perimeter-oriented players, his quick hips and lateral agility make him difficult to shake loose. His vertical explosiveness enables him to regularly block shots in on-ball situations. Some quicker perimeter players have been able to blow by him, however. His motor in these situations is inconsistent, offering little resistance sometimes but at other times simply obliterating offensive possessions.
Zion often puts himself at a disadvantage with his tendency to watch the ball and drift toward the primary action. His ability to cover ground quickly enables him to recover effectively in most cases. However, intelligent players can take advantage with well-timed cuts and smart relocation. He can become disengaged guarding weakside actions, another area where his motor can be inconsistent. However, when engaged, he has displayed the ability to effectively chase his man off screens and successfully navigate other weakside actions.
Zion is a strong help defender with clear potential to thrive as the ‘free safety’ in an NBA defense. His timing as a weak side rim protector is excellent. His ability to cover ground quickly and explode into the air enables him to block shots in situations where the offensive player seemingly had no reason to account for his presence. Moreover, he is a smart positional defender, understanding how to use his large frame to dissuade the offense from attempting to drive to the basket. He can be a bit overzealous in help defense and drift too far from his man, but his speed typically enables him to recover.
Zion combines the build of a linebacker with the mobility of a wing. He seems likely to become one of the most switchable big men in the NBA. He possesses both the lateral agility to stay in front of guards and the strength to guard post scorers. His recognition of when to switch can be lacking at times, particularly on pindowns. However, his ability to guard all five positions in a switch-heavy scheme is not in doubt. He may have trouble guarding some dynamic lead guards, but then again, so does nearly everyone else.
High impact plays
Zion’s physical tools and quick reactions enable him to rack up impact plays at a high rate and in a variety of ways. His vertical explosiveness empowers him to alter and block shots both at the rim and on the perimeter. His burst allows him to deflect or steal passes frequently. His agility makes it possible for him to shut down dribble penetration and cause players to pick up their dribble in poor spots on the court. His strong frame lets him blow up plays simply with good positioning.