During the 2020-21 NBA season, Zion Williamson averaged 27.0 PPG (61.1 FG%), 7.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.9 SPG, and 0.6 BPG while playing in 61 of the Pelicans’ 72 games, starting the season at age 20.
The problem? In the other two full seasons Williamson spent in the NBA, he played a total of 20 out of a possible 154 games, including zero last season.
Now 22, Williamson is said to be in the “best shape of his life”. He just signed a max rookie extension this offseason. He’s still the star player on a Pelicans team with legitimate playoff buzz this season.
But where should you draft him in your fantasy basketball league?
Oh. This is a difficult question.
Williamson has the potential this season to be a better and more productive player than he was in his second campaign two years ago. He still has his unmatchable explosion-circumference combo that makes him one of the toughest players to keep in the NBA, but he’s also had time to mature physically and emotionally, as well as another full season around the game. to work on his craft.
However, the Pelicans also had a full season to get used to playing without him. During this season, Brandon Ingram became an NBA star in his own right, able to average 27.0 PPG, 6.2 APG, and 6.2 RPG during the playoffs with a top usage percentage at 29 in the regular season and playoffs.
They also brought in CJ McCollum in a late-season trade that revitalized the team and led to their playoff push. McCollum averaged 24.3 PPG and 5.8 APG in 26 regular season games with the Pels. McCollum and Ingram averaged 37.1 combined field goal attempts during the season and a whopping 40.5 FGA during the playoffs.
While it could be argued that having talented teammates should make it even easier for Williamson to score, efficiency has never been the issue. He’s already shooting over 60% from the field. But it’s hard to imagine him getting the usage he’d need to match even the 27 and 4 he averaged two seasons ago, let alone surpass it. Its volume is capped by the need to share the rock.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: health. Williamson suffered a lower-body injury that sidelined him for huge games in three of his four seasons after high school, including his only season at Duke. The surge of explosiveness he generates at his massive size generates incredible amounts of torque and forces on his lower limbs that can be pathological if his jump form isn’t precise enough.
Stephania Bell has done a great job of breaking that down over the past few years, and that’s true this year as well. At this point in his career, fantasy managers just have to accept that he is going to be an injury risk.
On a per-game basis, Williamson’s production should put him in the top 25 fantasy producers, and that’s conservative. But, with the risks and upside cap he faces this season, I’m unlikely to draft him before the fifth round of (m)all leagues. That means I might miss having Williamson on (m)any of my teams, because his ADP will be higher than that. With one week remaining in September, it is currently at 29.6.
But I prefer to have peace of mind. I swung for the fences with Williamson on several of my teams last season, and I got out. Mixed baseball metaphor aside, I’m unlikely to get burned again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… I can’t be fooled anymore! I may miss a magical Williamson season, but I’m content to let someone else take the risk/reward step.
That said, what if it’s the fifth round and Williamson is still there because everyone else is afraid to draft him too? Sign me up! I’m going to try a potential first-round pick-type season if I can get it with my fifth pick. He’s a potential league winner, if things go the right way.