Where Would Zion Williamson Rank If Eligible for SI's Top 100? | Open Floor Podcast

The month of September always brings about Sports Illustrated's Top 100 NBA players ranking. With that in mind, Rob Mahoney and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver stepped to the microphone for an August conversation to consider their past picks and future selections. With that in mind, they take a close look at Zion Williamson and where he would land on this year's list if he were eligible.  

(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.) 

- Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Ben Golliver: OK, the last and most important question, Rob. Hypothetically speaking, if Zion Williamson, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, was eligible for the Top 100 of 2020: Where would you place him? How aggressive would you get with the Zion hype? Now remember, he blows the doors off of all the college advanced stats, he's just breaking the calculators in college. But he blew out the shoe so he got injured, then he winds up not winning the title, which I don't know how much you would care about that.

But then he goes to Summer League, he makes it eight minutes, he has four dunks, he gets a shot blocked by Mitchell Robinson, who you mentioned earlier, a three-point shot blocking wizard he he falls victim to. There's that and then he's just done really because of a minor injury. So when you're looking at all the factors whether it's health whether it's ability to have immediate impact two way play does he have a position. Can he shoot? All those kinds of questions. Where are you putting Zion Williamson?

Rob Mahoney: Ben, I hate to do this to you, but I feel woefully ill-equipped to answer this question as someone who has seen precious little of Zion actually playing basketball. This is tricky and maybe irresponsible for me.

Golliver: Breaking news: we have our first NBA analyst who does not have Zion hot takes. Wow. This is crazy. We're always going to new, unchartered territory here at the Open Floor podcast. Now, I hear you. I mean, I'm setting you up to fail. There's no doubt about it. I'm just curious I guess, for somebody who doesn't follow college very carefully, how deep are you into the Zion hype machine? Because I have been swallowed whole. 

All I needed to do was see him play like less than a minute at Cameron, to see all the kids just dancing around like crazy, chanting his name. The 360 dunks off the backboard during warmups. The charisma that he's got off the court, how he handled himself during draft week in New York City. I'm basically head over heels for this guy, and yet every time I go to see him play in person he doesn't make it more than five minutes into the game. So it's a real philosophical quandary that I'm in. What do you think? How in are you on Zion?

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Mahoney: I'm very in. He kind of speaks to where I live as a basketball observer and in some respects somebody who plays pickup, like big guys who kind of think they're point guards and maybe he's on a Draymond Green track. I think you could look at our top 100 over the years and see how we feel about those kinds of players, these guys who are very quick on their feet but also strong and smart in terms of how they approach the game. Whether it's Draymond, Thaddeus Young or kind of anything in between. These are players who kind of really speak to me. And so the idea that you could have that guy, and he also be the best athlete and somehow also the heaviest player in the league at the same time is one of the great science experiments of our day.

And so I'm very curious to see how he does. I can't wait to watch him play against pro-level competition. In terms of ranking a young player, it's always going to come down to where their defensive baseline is, I feel like. Because, as we mentioned, he can come in and produce, he can come in and get some points and get some rebounds and blocks and steals. He's gonna put up some numbers. Whether he's a pre-assembled NBA defender is probably going to be the variable point in terms of where he would be potentially ranked. But he looks like a hell of a player to watch, and I'm not sure I would be as interested if he were just another really good point guard or another really good wing. This specific kind of player he is is just locked and loaded for the type of basketball that's playing the NBA right now. 

Golliver: He's a game breaker. I can't wait to see it. So just for like comparison sake, Julius Randle last year we had at 72. I know he's been compared by people who are Zion skeptics. They will just say, oh, he's basically Julius Randle. I think that Zion will have a better defensive impact as a rookie than Julius Randle had last season when he was putting up huge numbers for the Pelicans.

So, to me, when I was like kind of trying to place him within the list, I'm always pretty conservative on the young guys. I feel like he'd probably be somewhere in the 60s for me. I don't see a huge breakout, crazy offensive scoring season for him as a rookie. All the messaging from their front office and coaching staff has been like, hey, look, this is like a team approach. We want Jrue Holiday to be kind of a captain. It's still his team. We don't want too much pressure on Zion.

And I think that will come through in some of their strategies to where it's not like they're running every single thing through him constantly, and that's actually probably healthier for what they're trying to do. Given some of the other pieces that they've added there. So I think from that standpoint I don't see him in that All-Star conversation at all. I think that's too aggressive.

But I do think that when you put together the the plus value on defense, which I expect him to bring, and him being a helpful, useful offensive player who's going to have incredible flashes of athleticism, you throw together the motor, the lack of character concerns, the team-first approach, the ability to handle as many minutes as you want to play him, as long as he can stay healthy of course. I think that's probably where I would land, somewhere in that 60s group. 

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