Duke's Zion Williamson is projected as the top pick in this year's upcoming NBA Draft. At 6'7 and 284 pounds, Williamson is one of the most physically imposing college prospects in recent memory. Thanks to Williamson, Duke is viewed as one of the favorites to make this year's Final Four. But his availability for the remainder of this season is in doubt after sustaining a knee sprain less than a minute into Duke's game against North Carolina on February 20th. Zion suffered the injury after planting his right foot with such force that it broke through his Nike branded shoe.
Bound for NBA stardom in the very near future, people have questioned what is in Zion's best interest to do during his final months as a college player. Should Zion finish out the year or shut if it down in perpetration for the upcoming draft? As motivated as Zion is to win a national championship and finish out his required year of prep before the draft, he should shut himself down to avoid further injury. The first reason for shutting himself down is that Duke doesn't even necessarily need him to win a national championship.
Between R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, two additional lottery picks on the same roster besides Zion, Duke is one of the country's most talented teams. When that talent is also grouped together with the coaching prowess of someone like Coach K, even without Zion, the Blue Devils should be a tough out for most teams. That's not to say that Zion doesn't make Duke better, any logical person would make that conclusion. But if there is a team in college basketball who could lose a star and still manage to successfully adjust, it's Duke. So as selfish as it is for Zion to leave Duke, it's a business decision. A business decision that hurts Duke, but not as deeply as other rosters in college basketball.
Zion shutting himself down to prepare for the draft could also set a bad precedent, causing other stars to follow through with the same actions. But Zion through his play into late February has done enough to solidify himself as the top pick. College football prospects have opted to skip their final bowl games or drop out of school entirely to pursue their NFL ambitions.
Running back prospects Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette skipped their final college game to prepare for the NFL Draft. The physical toll of college football to a position like running back is different than playing college basketball. But they each understood for every bit of energy invested that isn't financially compensated, they are risking millions of dollars, for themselves and for their families that could be earned at the next level.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa withdrew from school entirely after suffering a core muscle injury this season. Nick's decision to leave the Buckeyes mid-season was probably influenced by his brother Joey Bosa, who has already established himself as a high level defensive end for the Chargers.
An interesting component to this argument of whether Zion should play or shut it down is who benefited most from Williamson attending Duke. Zion was able to prepare for the demands of the NBA with Coach K, one of best coaches in the history of college basketball. Zion also had the benefit of playing in a difficult conference like the ACC, getting national media coverage on a game to game basis. Zion has also been able to play on the team with two other lottery picks in R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, who have pushed him to be even better.
But the opposite could be argued with Duke benefiting from Zion. Duke games have become must watch TV with Zion on the team. The ACC is a tougher conference solely because of Zion, and future recruits will be attracted to Duke even more now having seen his success this year.
The clear answer is that Duke has benefited more from Zion with his star power and ability to draw fans from around the country. Zion would have had the same development if not better, playing in the G League or overseas this season with the kind of potential he has as a player. Zion would have had the added perk of getting paid for his growth, something that Duke has been able to exploit this season.
The amount of buzz, media attention, and financial upside Zion has provided Duke is enormous not just for this year, but for future seasons, in Duke's ability to recruit the country's best talent year to year.
There is no reason why Zion should risk his health and future earning power anymore for Duke knowing he won't get any portion of those profits. If the injury happened at the beginning of the year and scouts hadn't seen as much from him, the best option would be to return and improve his draft stock. But having already solidified himself as the clear top pick, there is nothing more for Zion to prove. Knowing his life changing pay day and dream career is months away, it's in Zion's best interest to make a business decision. A business decision to forgo his remaining time at Duke, and start preparing for a bright future in the NBA.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes Zion Williamson should shut himself down to prevent further injury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org