Landing a top-20 talent in the NBA is not easy, landing them outside a large market is very difficult. So, if the Washington Wizards want to land a superstar at some point, it will either need to be someone with flaws, or they have to get lucky in the draft.
Russell Westbrook was that guy for the Wizards a couple of years back, and it worked out great! He was with the right coach, complemented Bradley Beal’s game nicely, and the lob threat with Daniel Gafford was a thing to behold.
Zion Williamson is similar to Westbrook because he also has plenty of question marks about his game, impacting his appeal around the league. The difference between Zion and Russ is that Zion hasn’t even reached his prime, and the question marks about his game are more prominent than Westbrook’s at the time.
Zion Williamson is a high-risk, high-reward gamble
That said, Williamson is probably worth kicking the tires on and seeing if there’s a fit. If it works out, there is nothing but upside for Washington. It’s important to note that Williamson coming to D.C. is a low probability as the Wizards’ front office is conservative and patient. They likely won’t make a swing-for-the-fences type of trade this soon.
Williamson has played just 114 games in his four-year career and missed the entirety of the 2021-22 season because of a foot injury and only played 29 games last year. Reports of his personal and professional life have been less than glowing. The off-court baggage is certainly doing him any favors in terms of trade value.
Moreover, he is due $34 million this year and will make $44.9 million at the end of his five-year extension in 2027-28. Whether the extension is team-friendly will largely depend on his availability to play.
Could Williamson follow the same trajectory as Joel Embiid?
That said, remember when Joel Embiid suffered the same injury early in his career? For the first four years of Embiid’s career, he played in just 94 games, less than Zion Williamson. Embiid overcame that injury to become a top-5 player in the league. The difference was that Embiid had a patient front office that believed in him and allowed him time to heal and get better. The same might not be true for Williamson.
Should Washington want to play the role of Philadelphia and swing for the fences on Zion Williamson? Just because it’s unlikely that this front office will do it, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. In fact, the Wizards might not have a choice but to swing for the fences on him.
The biggest question concerning whether Williamson should play for the Wizards is motivation. Does Zion Williamson believe he is a top-20 talent in the league and is willing to put in the work to be a top-20 player in the NBA consistently? If the answer is yes, and the Pelicans aren’t willing to trust the process, then the Wizards should take their shot.
The chances of Williamson becoming and remaining a top-20 talent for the Wizards are better than the Wizards’ chances of finding a needle in the haystack in the draft this year or next. Unlike other teams who trade their best players, the Wizards didn’t get a haul of first-round draft picks in return for their assets.
So, whether fans like it or not, a player like Zion may be Washington’s only hope of becoming relevant in the NBA.