Zion Williamson is one of the future faces of the NBA.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke said Zion’s vertical jump maxed out at 45″.
A truly incredible feat for a player who is 6’7″, 285 lb.
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) July 6, 2018
Jordan is 6’6″, 198 lbs.; LaVine is 6’5″, 200lbs. – substantially smaller than Zion.
This incredible blend of size, athleticism, and raw power led some people to compare him to the great Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq was arguably the most dominant big man in NBA history.
Measured at 7’1″, 325 lbs., “Diesel” simply bullied opponents in the post with his sheer size and strength.
Most disrespectful dunks ever! pic.twitter.com/QlUujFVwBt
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 20, 2020
And while most remember him from his later years when he plodded around, he was fairly athletic when he entered the league.
Zion and Shaq have some similarities in their play styles.
Zion is a tier (or two) above ‘The Big Artistotle’ in terms of leaping, but they both dominate the paint.
Here’s how the two compare on the court.
Zion and Shaq Own the Paint
The most obvious comparison between the two is their dominance in the paint.
O’Neal played during an era when the big man reigned supreme and was supposed to live around the basket.
Zion, even in an era where the 3-ball is vital, scores most of his points from near the rim.
Shaq attempted 19,457 shots in his career.
A whopping 22 of those attempts were from behind the arc, and exactly 1 ever went in.
Fun Fact: This was the first (and last) 3-pointer of Shaq's NBA career! 👀😂 pic.twitter.com/JMXmcOpcLf
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 20, 2018
51% of his field-goal attempts came within 0-3 feet of the basket, and another 41% came between 3-10 feet.
For his career, O’Neal shot 74% on shots between 0-3 feet of the basket and 44% on shots between 3-10 feet.
Nearly 20% of his career field-goal attempts were dunks.
Shaq very rarely ventured outside of the paint and for good reason – nobody could stop him.
‘Superman’s’ career lasted 19 years and saw him appear in over 1,200 games.
Zion is only at 49 games so far, but we can take a look at his shooting stats.
Williamson has attempted 747 field-goals in his career thus far.
As a sign of the times, he has already surpassed Shaq in 3-point attempts with 27.
But his FGA by distance stats are relatively similar.
73% come within 3 feet of the basket, and 21% come between 3-10 feet.
Zion Williamson: 23 points.
10-10 FG. pic.twitter.com/QSRpEyMCZ4
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) February 13, 2021
He shoots 67% on those shots within 3 feet and 40% on shots between 3-10 feet.
Zion plays in a completely different era from Shaq.
But their shot profiles are surprisingly similar and reflect their comparative play styles.
Zion the Better Shooter
Due to the extremely small sample size for Zion, it’s hard to make any real comparisons.
The eye-test and stats paint Williamson in a similar light to O’Neal on the offensive end.
But Zion has the potential to have a more expansive offensive game than Shaq.
Williamson was 6-14 from deep last season and is 4-13 so far this year.
That puts him at 37% for his career on little volume.
His form leaves some to be desired as his base is directed sideways and his elbow is slightly flared.
But he isn’t hesitant to let it fly and he has a smooth release.
If he continues to work on his form with NBA shooting coaches or trainers, there is no reason to think he can’t maintain his current shooting percentages on greater volume.
Zion is averaging 25 points on 69.2% TS over his past 12 games & I don't even think it's really unsustainable. He's shooting 68.8% at the rim, 76% at the line & 44% (4/9) from deep. 41% of his makes are unassisted. Probably a bit of regression, but this seems fairly sustainable.
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 10, 2021
And if he ever adds a consistent jumper to his arsenal, that is a scary thought for opposing teams.
Forcing defenses to guard him all the way out to the 3-point line will open up driving lanes and the paint.
An area where Zion shoots an astounding 67%.
Adding a jumper to open up the paint on offense could allow Zion to flirt with Shaq’s career 74% mark from shots within 0-3 feet.
Shaq Defined Dominance
While Zion has the potential to approach Shaq’s numbers on offense or even surpass them, he will never reach O’Neal’s level of dominance.
The stats only tell one part of Shaq’s dominance.
Without watching him play, you never truly get a feel for just how much he controlled a game.
"The more stronger I get, nobody can stop me!" – @SHAQ
Two minutes twenty of sheer Diesel dominance.
— Hoops Nostalgia (@HoopsNostalgia) February 11, 2021
He was unguardable on offense and essentially eliminated the paint as a source of offense for opponents.
‘Shaq Daddy’ averaged 2.3 BPG for his career, giving him 2,732 total blocks – good for 9th all-time.
He led the league in scoring twice and free-throw attempts six times.
There was simply nobody in the league who could handle Shaq on either end.
A major reason why he has a regular-season MVP award and 3 Finals MVP awards.