Duke is probably going to lose all five of its starters after this season – four one-and-done freshmen and senior Grayson Allen – so the Blue Devils definitely need to bring in more bodies. But Zion Williamson, the Spartanburg, S.C., dunk machine who ranks as 24/7’s No. 3 recruit in the class of 2018, does less to fill a need for Duke and more to satisfy a want.
The Blue Devils now have the top three players in 24/7’s rankings coming in, an unprecedented sweep, as well as Tyus Jones’ little brother, also a point guard. Duke’s class already included two small forwards, both 6-7, and what the Blue Devils really need is a big post player and some backcourt depth. Williamson can’t help with that, but he sure can dunk.
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Williamson is built like a tank, almost 280 pounds and only 6-6, with an explosive jumping burst despite that physique. Where does he fit, though, on a college roster? Is he tall enough to be an impact player in the post, and does he have the quickness to score against longer players? That remains to be seen – and he hasn’t, to this point, demonstrated he’s a very strong shooter, although that may not need to be a huge part of his game, at least not yet.
Either way, he’s an extra piece for the Blue Devils, not a crucial one, which is mildly ironic because when last year’s big undecided recruit, Kevin Knox, passed on Duke and UNC to go to Kentucky, it seemed like a big loss at the time. But North Carolina landed grad transfer Cam Johnson to fill the spot vacated by Justin Jackson, and Duke ended up with the reclassified Marvin Bagley III. Combine that with the way Knox has played at Kentucky – solid, but no Bagley or Trae Young – and things worked out just fine here. So far, anyway.
None of that means Williamson figures to be any less fun to watch at Duke, because he does have such a unique package of physical attributes and skills. But it does mean that the Blue Devils aren’t done recruiting, and that Williamson’s role will be, initally, unclear. For Duke, which would have been just fine without him, Williamson might be the piece that gets the Blue Devils over the top. Or he might just be an extra piece, swept up in an annual talent grab that has become a goal in itself as much as what can be done with that talent.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock