Zion roundtable: Will he actually become a fantasy star?

Ten games into Zion Williamson’s NBA career, he has averaged an eye-opening 22.1 PPG (57.6 FG%, 65.4 FT%), 0.4 3PG, 7.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.7 SPG and 0.4 BPG.

That’s enough to make any fantasy manager giddy with excitement, but what exactly is his upside the rest of this season and for his career? Whom should you trade to acquire him? Is Zion or Ja Morant the better long-term keeper?

As we head into Friday’s tilt between the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers (ESPN, 10:30 ET), we gathered our experts — Jim McCormick, André Snellings, John Cregan, Eric Karabell and Joe Kaiser — for a roundtable to determine the answers.

What will Zion’s final stat line look like at season’s end?

Jim McCormick: Williamson’s final line will approximately look like 21.5 PPG on 55% from the floor and 66% from the stripe to go with 0.3 3PG, 7.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG and 0.7 BPG. I think the shooting success and volume from 3-point range will dip a bit, but success on 2-pointers and blocks will sustain or even improve.

André Snellings: 24.0 PPG, 56.2 FG%, 68.9 FT%, 0.7 3PG, 8.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG. I took his current per-36 numbers, tweaked them slightly, projected them to just under 31 MPG for the last (projected) 22 games, then averaged those numbers with his current 10-game averages to get this stat line.

John Cregan: 24.0 PPG, 58.0 FG%, 66.0 FT%, 0.5 3PG, 8.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG.

Eric Karabell: 21.9 PPG, 55.8 FG%, 64.1 FT%, 0.1 3PG, 8.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG. Solid in most areas but offers nothing in 3-pointers, and his free throw shooting is a bigger problem than expected, since he attempts — and misses — so many. Bottom line: 30 games was not quite what was expected back in September.

Joe Kaiser: 23.5 PPG, 56.5 FG%, 67.0 FT%, 0.5 3PG, 8.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG.

The Pelicans have 27 games remaining on their schedule. How many will Zion play?

McCormick: Zion will suit up for 23 games, is my guess. With three back-to-back scenarios still on the schedule for New Orleans and a tight finishing schedule during the last week of the season, I can see him sitting at least four contests going forward.

Snellings: Twenty-two games. The Pelicans play four back-to-backs in their final 27 games, any or all of which he might sit. And I’ll add a cushion game as well, maybe the season finale.

Cregan: I expect him to play 20 games the remainder of the season.

Karabell: Twenty. The Pelicans are not making the playoffs, so pushing him in any instance seems odd.

Kaiser: He will play in 15 games the rest of the way.

If you were to trade or acquire Zion today, name a player you’d consider to be a fair swap in terms of overall value.

McCormick: If I were marketing Zion in trades, I’d go for names that might not be as exciting but certainly offer higher floors (and arguably ceilings) from a production standpoint. The Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis, for instance, doesn’t have the zeal or upside appeal, arguably, in the marketplace, but he is a dynamic multi-category force who might be available in such a swap. I’d look to market Zion’s upside as a measure of valuable mystery. In terms of trying to acquire Williamson, I’d be a bit conservative and aim to package multiple middle-tier names for him, such as Danilo Gallinari and some pieces. Until or unless Williamson flashes game-changing defensive rates, I’m not sold he’s going to be a league-winning option this spring.

Snellings: For the rest of this season, I’d value Zion similarly to players like Deandre Ayton and Pascal Siakam in points leagues. His per-game production projects slightly higher — in the realm of Joel Embiid — but similar to Embiid, there are potential game availability concerns that bring him down a notch. In Zion’s case, that takes him from knocking on the door of the top 10 to more in the 15 to 18 range.

Cregan: Jaylen Brown. Until Zion gets his defensive stats up, or starts hitting more 3s, his fantasy upside is going to be limited. We’re basically talking about an early-model Blake Griffin: eye-catching scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage but precious little else. And Zion’s sub-replacement-level free throw percentage is going to kneecap what should be a key fantasy strength: drawing contact and getting to the line. Right now, the free throws are a net negative. Brown comps out nicely. He’s a high-volume scorer who gives you one supporting category (3s). Brown is also a poor free throw shooter, so you won’t be swallowing a poison pill there.

Karabell: I would not trade for him for the rest of this season. I would deal him for dozens of players, but how about Gordon Hayward? The Celtic veteran is scoring and rebounding much better lately, makes all his shots — fantasy managers need shooting security — and his team is playing for something. As solid as he is playing, Zion is barely among the top 150 on the 30-day Player Rater. We all love him, but facts are facts.

Kaiser: John Collins of the Hawks. Both are efficient power forwards who score and rebound, and while Collins is more of a shot-blocker than Zion, the Pelicans rookie is more of a distributor. Also, with Collins being eligible at both PF and C, that adds to his appeal a little bit when compared to Zion, who is currently only eligible at PF.

What will Zion’s ADP be next season, and where should he be taken?

McCormick: I think his ADP will rise into the late second round, given how his offensive numbers will sparkle over this small sample size in 2020. I think his ADP should actually land in the third round, at the earliest, given the lack of elite shooting or defensive rates thus far.

Snellings: Zion’s ADP in points leagues next season will probably be in the 6 to 10 range, mid/late first round. His upside would certainly fit him into that range for points leagues, but if the health concerns persist, then his actual safe ADP zone would probably be more early/mid second round.

Cregan: His ADP will far outpace where he should be taken. The dopamine rush from rostering Zion outweighs his actual fantasy value. ADP: 32. CreganDP: 64.

Karabell: Oh, people love Zion, so I guess his ADP will be top-30 for sure. I think it is generous and aggressive for someone likely to help mainly in scoring, rebounding and field goal shooting, and who has questionable durability. Sorry, but we need some realism here. Round 5 or 6 would be more like it in case he makes adjustments.

Kaiser: I expect all the hype surrounding Zion to vault him into the back end of Round 2 next season, so somewhere between picks 19-24 in most leagues. That is high in roto formats, considering his minimal impact in a number of categories (3PG, SPG, BPG) and the durability concerns that come with Zion, who continues to be one of the heaviest players in the league despite being only 6-foot-6.

In keeper/dynasty leagues, would you rather have Zion or Ja Morant?

McCormick: I’d rather have Williamson if for the higher valuation the marketplace will likely afford him. Which is to say, he could net more in dynasty deals than Morant, who plays at a more crowded guard position. I could see Morant being the healthier and more enduring value long term, but give me the more valuable player when it comes to a format that relies on marketability and maneuverability. It’s quite possible Zion surfaces with elite block numbers next fall, as he did at Duke, and thus becomes an awesome fantasy option.

Snellings: In keeper/dynasty leagues with no salary component, I’d rather have Zion just due to sheer upside. In that situation I’d rather take the chance on a player that has best-in-league upside as opposed to likely All-Star, maybe All-NBA, upside. In leagues where salary is a factor, presumably Morant was much less expensive than Zion on draft night, and he does have All-NBA upside with less long-term injury concern, so if he’s much cheaper, then I might prefer him.

Cregan: Ja Morant. The fantasy value gap between them for next season is very close. To me, it’s about upside. Who has a better path to adding production in just more than a couple of categories? Morant needs to improve his 3s and steals. Zion needs to improve his free throws and defensive stats. What makes the decision for me? Morant offers elite upside in fantasy’s scarcest category: assists.

Karabell: Zion can still be a dominant fantasy option, adding value in several more categories, and is potentially a top-10 overall choice in a few seasons. I just think he needs more time. Morant boasts different upside, assuming he develops his outside shot and defends better, but point guard is not particularly shallow in fantasy. Gotta go with Zion here.

Kaiser: Despite the impressive start to Zion’s NBA career, many could argue that Morant has been just as impressive as a rookie. A PG who is able to shoot 49.3% while dishing out 7.1 APG as a rookie is very enticing, and Zion’s lack of contributions to the defensive categories and 3-pointers has me leaning toward Morant in keeper/dynasty leagues. While Morant isn’t a 3-point shooter either, his scoring, assists, durability and efficiency from the PG position makes him a more valuable fantasy asset going forward.

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