By now, everybody should know that I am a huge fan of Zion Williamson. He's cool, he's entertaining, he seems pretty humble, and, most importantly, he's driven. I've never seen his motor run cold. I've never seen him resting on his prodigious physical abilities. He always wants to impress and never fails to do so. He's built like a tractor, but plays like he's still got something to prove and I admire that about him. Unsurprisingly, between his gravity-defying dunks, magnetic personality, and consistent results on the court, the Zion hype train has hit levels that we haven't seen in a long time. Some of his high school games were VIP-level events (https://www.sbnation.com/college-basketball/2017/7/27/16048624/lamelo-ball-vs-zion-williamson-live-stream-police-aau-game). His dunks have been all around Youtube for years before he even came to college. He's the next big thing and that makes people especially skeptical.
Of course, for every big thing, there are big detractors. When MJ was coming up, it was a hot debate on if he could ever be better than Magic. Especially early on, it was blasphemous to compare Magic Johnson, who had multiple championships while MJ got either destroyed in the playoffs or injured in his first couple seasons. Of course, when Jordan won his 6 championships, people started believing, but until it happens, there's always an anti-hype group. People who are disillusioned by the flash of the "next big thing", the next MJ, the next Kobe, the next Magic, the next Lebron. They have to see to believe. In Zion's case, it seems to take a little bit more than seeing.
You can't argue with results, unless you're talking Zion. "So... what, he's just a dunker?" is the most common response for a person who looks at Zion's profile and his standing as the near consensus number one pick. Yes, he's a dunker, but he's also averaging over 20 PPG, 9.5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 stocks (steals+blocks) while playing under 30 minutes a night. I'd say that's pretty well rounded. Usually, people who do what Zion has done in college thus far would get a little bit more benefit than that. In the past 8 years, there have been 3 freshmen to lead the league in Box Plus-Minus (BPM). You know them by their last names. Davis, Embiid, and Towns. Zion is on track to be #4. Zion also just so happens to have the highest BPM, PER, and WS/40 minutes out of any college basketball player in the past decade. He is on pace to be one of the greatest college basketball players to have graced the hardwood.
Of course, then, the only natural recourse is to point out his only possible negative comparison: Michael Beasley. Beasley was the quintessential case of a college basketball king gone wrong. His advanced stats were off the charts. He scored a ton, got lots of rebounds, didn't turn the ball over and got defensive stats at a respectable rate. There was nothing wrong on paper. You can't argue with results. Problem was, he could only keep those stats up if he stayed out of trouble. Beasley got into trouble from day 1. At one point, he landed on two feet in Minnesota, where he had his best season as a pro, but then injured his foot and was never really the same after that, getting in and out of trouble with the team and the league, eventually moving out to China to find himself. To me, this story sounds nothing like Zion.
I'm more of a believer in Zion's work ethic than in his pure athleticism or statistics. Fact: No college player can step onto an NBA court today and compete effectively. There is a huge gap there that has to be closed the summer after the draft and in training camp. No matter how good a player is, they have to work at an elite level to make up the difference between the college game and the pros. At the same time, having a higher starting point never hurts. Being able to hone in on specific skills (for Zion, it's his 3PT shot and playmaking), can do wonders. There are very few players who combine such raw ability with that kind of elite work ethic and attitude that Zion has displayed so far in his life. He's just such a special player and all that is there for public consumption. That's why I think that his hype actually hurt his reputation.
Take Zion on his own merit. He's the whole package as a prospect. He's got a ton of development to go. He's already the best player in college right now. He's the cake that you get to have and eat, too. You want someone who has the highest ceiling? Zion. You want the best player right now? Zion. Players who can combine these two things with a crazy work ethic and relentless motors are rare. The only thing holding him back in people's eyes are the highlights. They think that he's all flash and little substance, a trick of the ESPN hype machine and his own physical tools allowing him to do things that he could never do in the NBA. Well, all you have to do is go out and see him play, look at the stats and how he gets them. Then, you'll see, that he is in company with players who only come around once a draft, at best.
And, every time, they are worth the #1 pick