By: Drew King (@drewking0222)
Wednesday night was an anomaly in AAU basketball.
High-flying senior forward Zion Williamson of SC Supreme and junior prodigy LaMelo Ball of Big Baller Brand went head-to-head in what might be their only matchup before both players make it to the NBA.
A crowd of nearly 40,000 people packed into the Cashman Center in Las Vegas, Nev., causing safety concerns that lead to police barricading the entrance. That crowd included current NBA players such as Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins, almost LeBron James, and, of course, Lonzo Ball. Ball is Life live-streamed the game, which at one point had as many as 75,000 viewers.
Big Baller Brand showed a lot of heart, battling a team that appeared to be twice its size and keeping the lead within single digits for most of the game. However, SC Supreme ultimately prevailed, winning the game 104-92.
Here are some quick takeaways from the phenomenon that was Zion vs. LaMelo I.
Zion Williamson’s athleticism is not overhyped…
Williamson gained internet stardom thanks to his ever-expanding highlight reel full of dunks, blocks and whatever else he can think of with that vertical. You know the kid is special when Drake is wearing a 17-year old’s high school jersey. Williamson placed his bounce on full display Wednesday, gliding his way to smooth finger rolls, alley-oops and some of the best missed dunks ever recorded on video.
He struggled with his jumpshot (he didn’t attempt a three pointer and went 7-20 at the free throw line), but he’s got the physical tools to be a threat in the league someday.
…but he needs to use it more often
While Williamson’s final stats on the night look great (31 points, 9 rebounds, one block and three steals), he was actually rather unimpressive for most of his minutes.
The Spartanburg star didn’t make his first shot until a little before the midway point of the first half, and he barely tried on defense (as seen above). The only time he really flipped the switch was when he had the ball in his hands.
For the country’s 2018 No. 2 recruit, with his size and agility, Williamson should’ve been dominating for longer stretches. If conditoning is an issue for him now, it’ll certainly be exploited on the next level. His athleticism alone will make him a good player in the pros, but he’ll need to improve his motor if he wants to be great.
Playmaking runs in the Ball family
This is one of the toughest aspects of the game to learn. Coaches can teach a player how to pass a basketball, when it’s appropriate to make a pass, and where guys will be open. But the one thing they can’t teach a player is how to see it.
Playmaking vision is a trait that has to develop naturally and often progresses with knowledge of the game. At age 15, Ball already has a basketball I.Q. well beyond his years.
On many occasions, Ball darted towards the basket, drew the double team and kicked it out to an open shooter (who usually missed the three). He finished the game with five assists and seven turnovers, but that ratio should swing in his favor as the level of talent around him rises.
So does confidence
It’s no surprise that a player who’s been committed to a Division I school since the eight grade would have some swagger in his step. It’s not a crime either, as long as it’s used to benefit the team.
The clip above is a perfect example of both the pros and cons of being a Big Baller. Down eight with two minutes left, the team looked to Ball to lead them in a last-ditch comeback effort.
At first, Ball tried to be the hero, pulling up from basically halfcourt, off balance and contested; terrible shot selection for even the best NBA players. The shot rimmed out, but Ball’s teammates snagged the board and reset the offense. This time, Ball slashed his way into the paint and layed it in for an easy finish.
If Ball would’ve cooled it with the Curry impressions and just played as smart as he’s shown he can be, his team might’ve won the game. He’ll need to grow out of that hero ball mentality, and as a junior, he’s got plenty of time.
So who impressed more?
Williamson gets the nod here for taking over and leading his team to victory. Most of his stats came late in the game when he really turned it on and exerted his will.
That’s not to say Ball wasn’t impressive though; 36 points is nothing to scoff at on any level. But those seven turnovers combined with lackluster 3-12 shooting from deep really hurt his team down the stretch.
It’ll be exciting to see how both players develop moving forward.