The New Orleans Pelicans have been among the most entertaining teams in the NBA this season, and superstar Zion Williamson is a big reason why. However, lost in Zion Williamson’s return from missing a full season with a foot injury has been the development of one particular skill. Williamson has evolved into an efficient, high-volume post-up threat. It’s an interesting development but makes sense considering how little he shoots from outside.
On the season, Williamson has attempted just eight threes; for a player who’s only 6’6, that would normally be a huge problem, but he isn’t normal. He’s a burly mini-hulk who plays much bigger than he actually is, thus making him an ideal post-up threat. Of course, being a threat in the post also requires skill, and he has that too.
Zion Williamson’s evolution into a post-up threat is big for the New Orleans Pelicans
When on the left block, he likes to immediately attack the basket by spinning and driving baseline, leaving his man in his dust as he gets to the rim and finishes before the help defense can arrive. On the right block, he often faces up after receiving an entry pass and attacks the middle of the lane with a quick move, taking advantage of defenders with slow reflexes or slow lateral movement.
With Williamson as a go-to option down low going forward, the Pelicans can play a unique inside-out style. Center Jonas Valanciunas is another bruising player but can also space the floor, giving Williamson room to operate and finish without another rim protector there to challenge him.
In fact, we could see Valanciunas throw more entry passes directly to him, taking the opposing center out of the play. Additionally, with shooters such as CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and, to a lesser extent, Herb Jones, there should be plenty of spacing around Williamson while he does his thing.
To be clear, he isn’t going to be the next Tim Duncan in the post; instead, he can use it in much the same way that Luka Doncic does. Doncic uses post-ups to isolate and take advantage of mismatches or just to get high percentage looks. Actually, he leads the NBA in post-up possessions, averaging 5.1 per game and scoring a terrific 1.20 points per possession.
Compare that to Williamson, who averages 4.8 post-ups and scores 1.00 points per possession. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s better than Nikola Jokic (0.98), Anthony Davis (0.92), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (0.72), and right on par with Joel Embiid. That’s great company to be in, and it proves that he is already among the league’s best post players.
Ultimately, Williamson’s post-up plays are a welcome addition to his game and allow him to take advantage of his physical tools and his skill as a finisher. While improving his free throw and 3-point shooting percentages should be the next steps in his offensive development, post-ups allow him to continue punishing opposing defenses with eye-popping efficiency.