CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One of the most-talked-about players heading into NBA All-Star Weekend isn’t even in the NBA.
Zion Williamson, currently playing basketball for Duke about 140 miles north of the Spectrum Center, doesn’t yet qualify to be in the league’s Rising Star Challenge. That hasn’t kept NBA fans — especially Knicks fans — from fantasizing about what it would be like to have Williamson represent their team in that game next year.
With his strength and mature body, Williamson, 18, is drawing comparisons with LeBron James when he came out of high school. James was intrigued enough by what he has heard to fly to Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday to catch Duke’s game against Virginia. He told ESPN on Friday that he was impressed.
“What strikes me? His agility and his quickness,” James said of the 6-7, 285-pound Duke star. “For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he’s very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That’s obvious, that’s ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves [with] at that size is very impressive.”
Having endured so much losing this season, Knicks fans are pinning their hopes on somehow winning what is now being referred to as the Zion Sweepstakes.
The Knicks (11-47) entered the All-Star break with the second-worst record in the NBA. If they can finish the season with one of the three worst records in the league, they will have a 14 percent chance of winning the draft lottery.
Kevin Knox, the Knicks’ top pick in the 2018 draft, said he hasn’t thought specifically about what it would be like to be a teammate of Williamson’s. Still, he can’t help but be a big fan of his and what he might bring to the league.
“A lot of people say he can’t shoot, can’t do all this. But the other things he does for the game is really good. He can rebound, defend, he can really pass — which is really underrated for him. So I think he’s going to be really great,” Knox told reporters at the media session before Friday night’s Rising Stars game. “But yeah, it’s crazy how fast he moves and how agile he is for his weight. So it’s definitely crazy how strong he is, the way he can move. Especially him being that big.”
Knox, who was an injury replacement for Lonzo Ball, played for Team USA on Friday night. He scored 11 points in 16 minutes, shooting 5-for-9 from the field, in a 161-144 win over Team World.
Team USA’s coach? The Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, a pending free agent who also has been a focal point of Knicks fans’ fantasies during this difficult season.
With the Knicks opening up room for two max contracts this offseason and not much to cheer about now, fans have been dreaming about a talent infusion that includes at least one big-time veteran such as Irving, Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis.
Knox, 20, has had an up-and-down season. He has struggled since being named Eastern Conference rookie of the month in December, shooting 32.4 percent in his last 15 games. Still, there are flashes in which fans can see that he has big-time potential. One of those occurred Wednesday night when he drove for a spectacular dunk over the 76ers’ Ben Simmons.
Knox said he has long dreamed of being a part of NBA All-Star Weekend but now is looking to the future.
“I just want to get better as a player,” he said. “I just want to get better both ends of the basketball floor, get more efficient from the field and get my rebounding up. I think that’s something I can do a lot better. Get some more wins hopefully. Get some more wins for the team.”
Just not too many wins.