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Should the Rockets trade for Zion Williamson?

Zion is a huge question mark.

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans
Could Zion Williamson be the Rockets’ saviour?
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension of not only sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone.

In this episode, the Houston Rockets are linked to the same trade target. Over, and over, and over again. Should the Rockets trade for Ben Simmons?

Joking! Now that the blow has been softened, here it is:

Should the Rockets trade for Zion Williamson?

How did the Rockets get here?

Before we talk about Zion Williamson, let’s talk about the Rockets.

This team has been violently tanking for three seasons. They’re ready to stop. The purpose of the last three seasons was to give the team the best possible odds of drafting a potentially franchise-altering talent.

Did the odds play in the Rockets’ favor? It depends on who you ask. You’ll find folks who think any of Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, or Jabari Smith Jr. can be that type of player.

Others are willing to invest that hope in Amen Thompson - provided he’s on the board when the Rockets select fourth overall, that is. On the other hand, let’s be realistic - Thompson is a boom-or-bust prospect. I’ve been as vocal as I can about his potential - I want the Rockets to draft him - but there’s no denying that his limited shooting ability could prove problematic.

Now, let’s talk about Williamson. You think Thompson is a walking paint touch? Williamson is the walking paint touch. The most anticipated prospect since LeBron James, before Victor Wembanyama. Unlike any other player mentioned here, Williamson has already flashed franchise player potential.

Through four NBA seasons, Williamson has had one year where he played a reasonably full slate of games. In 202-21, Williamson posted 27 points per game on a blistering 65.2 True Shooting Percentage (TS%) over 61 games.

Yes, you read that correctly. Williamson shot 61.1 percent from the field. Basically, he generated dunks with the raw efficiency of prime Deandre Jordan - only he generated them for himself.

We’ve never seen a player like Williamson. This is a 6’7”, 285-pound human cannonball. You can’t describe Zion Williamson without evoking great names of the past. He may be the elicit love child of Charles Barkley and the Orlando Magic version of Shaquille O’Neal. What could possibly go wrong?

Through four NBA seasons, Williamson has had one year where he played a reasonably full slate of games.

A risky proposition

So Williamson has played 114 games in four seasons. If that doesn't concern you, I’d like to trade psyches, please. Surely, you’re not concerned about global warming or the geopolitical tensions that could result in a third World War, either.

At the same time, there’s a lot of moral grandstanding about Williamson’s missed time. If you’re not up on the recent gossip, Williamson seemingly... cheated on a porn star with another porn star recently? I think?

It feels gross to even write about it. This is not TMZ. Frankly, I don’t care about Williamson’s sex life. I find the suggestion that his extracurricular activity somehow correlates with his inability to stay healthy quite odd.

This feels like a quirk of human nature. When athletes can’t stay on the floor, it makes people angry. Without fail, they want to blame it on the athlete.

Is Williamson unable to manage his weight, or is his weight unmanageable? Folks need to get with the program here: in 2023, we understand that everyone’s body is different. For example, this writer ate like an absolute moron throughout his 20s and hardly gained a pound. He is built like a bundle of sticks carrying a bag of milk to this day.

Moreover, it’s not even that simple. Suppose Williamson dropped 30 pounds. What makes him special? If he’s a 6’7, 255-pound forward, what makes him radically different from, say, Miles Bridges?

(Besides the obvious. This was the best basketball comparison I could find).

The point is that Williamson needs his excess brawn to pummel his way to the rim. That’s always been his ace in the hole. Williamson is huge, but still relatively mobile, with an absurd vertical leap for a man of his stature. Take away the weight, and I’m not sure if that TS% is still as eye-popping.

So that’s Williamson. The human embodiment of high-risk, high-reward. Should the Rockets take the risk?

Should the Rockets trade for Williamson?

Yes. No. Yes. I don’t know!

Williamson can quite obviously be a top-10 player in this league. It’s possible that he can be a top-five player in this league. Players like this do not come around often.

With that said, it’s also possible that Williamson can make another top-five list: the top-five biggest busts in NBA history. Forget his personal life, and leave aside the issue of whether he can balance his preferred playing weight with his health. If Williamson can’t get right, it’ll be a disaster for whatever team rosters him.

All things considered, I think I would roll the dice on Amen Thompson. He’s got a full spectrum of possibilities. Thompson could be an MVP candidate, he could be a bust, and he could be a lot of things in between.

The set of outcomes for Williamson is a binary. He’ll either contend for MVP, or he won’t be in the league for much longer. I would argue that while his MVP odds are higher than Thompson’s, his bust odds, at this point, are too.

It’s all likely a moot point. It’s been reported that the Pelicans covet Scoot Henderson. They won’t get him with the fourth pick. Sure, the Rockets could pursue a convoluted three-team deal - provided that the third team involved wouldn’t prefer to just outright trade for Williamson.

It’s also possible that the Pelicans want to move on from Williamson whether or not they’re getting Henderson. In that event, the Rockets could explore this as a buy-low option. I can’t go as far as to advocate for it, but it wouldn’t break my heart, either.

If nothing else, it would bring this week’s episode of The Twilight Zone to a conclusion.