Someone from a past generation calling out someone from the current generation – it’s a tale as old as time. This latest instance involves NBA Hall-of-Famer and 19-year veteran Karl Malone, who has joined the long list of retired vets that are giving their thoughts on the current crop of players.
While guesting on the Knuckleheads podcast earlier this week, Malone offered a critique on the New Orleans Pelicans’ sensational second-year forward, Zion Williamson. He’s old school so you can say he didn’t pull any punches. Some might say it was a tad bit unfair.
“Guys, I love Zion Williamson, [but] Zion needs to get into shape. If he doesn’t, we might not ever know his full potential.”Karl Malone
Knowing that he might get flamed by hoop fans everywhere, especially Williamson’s, Malone quickly addressed the probability and referenced that other NBA vets also share his take:
“There was a young man who played at LSU – [Glen] ‘Big Baby’ Davis – Big Baby made a comment about eight months ago [on ESPN]… And he came on that show and he said ‘Hey now, guys, I’m about to get into trouble with what I’m about to say. I know everybody loves Zion and I love him too. But Zion has the same body type that I got.’ He was talking about himself. And [Davis] said, ‘If [Williamson] don’t get into shape, we’ll never know his full potential.’ And he did get heat for that.”Karl Malone
Malone then followed it up with two more thoughts, which are both confusing:
“I’m still waiting on [Williamson] to play the whole damn season. News flash: We’re still waiting on it. And he needs to be averaging 40 minutes a game. You are a 21, 22-year-old kid, your ass shouldn’t be getting tired.”
Let’s get this out of the way before we get to Zion. Malone has the resume to talk about conditioning since he was an ironman back in his day. He missed a grand total of nine games in his first 18 seasons in the league, and built a very decorated career while he was at it, complete with All-NBA, All-Defense, and All-Star selections, as well as various scoring accolades. In fact, as you may probably know, he’s number two in the NBA’s all-time scoring ladder behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
However, the latter parts of his critique is off. Williamson, who’s 6’7 and weighs 284 pounds, does need to get in better shape, but criticizing him for still not being able to play a “whole damn season” this early is a reach. The 20-year-old is only in his second season, which is also just 13 games in. Malone made it sound like Williamson is consistently missing half of the year for multiple consecutive seasons.
The preferred number of minutes is also silly. While Zion’s 32.6 MPG this season is fairly lower than other stars, there’s no reason for someone to average 40 minutes per game, especially in a league that plays in such a pace. Malone was able to log 35-plus MPG in 16 of his 18 years because the game was slower and had much fewer possessions.
Lastly, the kid is doing considerably okay. Though you can argue that the development didn’t have the spike that the majority imagined, Zion is still doing Zion things on the court, like this one:
Williamson is posting 23.4 points and eight rebounds per game on 59.1% shooting this season, all while showing off his explosive athleticism and highlight reel plays.
Next on Zion and the Pelicans’ schedule are the Utah Jazz, happening tomorrow at 11 AM, Manila time. It will be the second leg of their back-to-back match-ups this week.