By Hocine LOUKKAF
Everything opposes them off the court. On one side, you got Zion, the quiet kid from lowkey South Carolina. On the other side, Lamelo, the LA superstar, brother of the last draft #2 pick and son of the brashy Lavar. On the court, you could not find two most different players. Zion is a 6-7 270 athletic monster whose highlight dunks are known all over the web. Lamelo, the still growing lanky guard, has been dunking for less than a year but can shoot from anywhere on the court and possesses wizard like handling.
The paths they decided to follow separate them as well. Williamson committed to the most hated team in the NCAA, the Duke Blue Devils where he will be joined by the other two top prospects RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish. Lamelo is the first high school underclassman to go overseas after his sophomore year and must wait two years before entering the draft. Lavar found a deal for Lamelo and his brother LiAngelo to join Vytautas Prienai in Lithuania, a team not particularly famous for developing NBA prospects.
A lot has been said about how Lavar is handling business for his sons and the fact that he sent both LiAngelo and Lamelo so far. Now, more than two months after their fresh start, has this decision been so bad?
Let’s be honest, I was a bit afraid about the adjustment of living in a country like Lithuania, in a small town, for kids used to LA. Apparently Lamelo managed to stay focused and after two months, we can say that he will stay there until the end of the year (may or june). A lot has also been said about the level. Lavar has been very smart by launching his BBB challenge with mainly junior and 2nd division teams which allows his kids to get playing time. Now, the serious challenge is the pro championship. Basketball is really big in Lithuania with legends like Sabonis or more recently players like Motiejunas, Valanciunas or Sabonis’ son Domantas. We can evaluate the level from good NCAA mid major for the last team, Vytautas, to the best European level for Zalgiris Kaunas. Playing against men at age 16, Lamelo is averaging 7.6pts and 2.6as on 30% shooting with 1.4to. These numbers don’t really shine but with all the adjustement he had to go through and the fact that he’s far from being a finished product, that is pretty good. He improves much more playing in the Lithuanian championship than if he had stayed in high school and now knows what it takes to succeed at the pro level. He also faces failure for the first time, which should help him mentally and change some of his bad habits like his defense.
Zion hasn’t taken any risk by staying home at Spartanburg day high school. The level of play is pretty low and a lot of what he does now, like his below the rim scoop shots, won’t work at the next level. He also has to work on his effort which is pretty low on defense and in rebounding compared to his physical skills. Zion is smart but would have been better advised to get out of his comfort zone because the challenge he will face next year will be different. We can also question his coaches as he hasn’t improved a lot on his shooting and relies on his strength and athleticism against opponents who can’t really defend on him. The hype around him doesn’t help him either as some ignorant kids are screaming and yelling after each one of his dunks as if he was the messiah.
All that thinking brings us to our first question, which one of this player has the most chance to succeed at the pro level? Williamson, because of his strength, athleticism and the fact that he will attend Duke next year seems to be the safest bet, but I’ll go with Lamelo.
Zion will probably reach the NBA but a lot of unknown surrounds his pro potential. Some experts project him as a three, but his shooting is far from being ready and his handling, which doesn’t seem bad, has not been tested against real defenders. Can he handle like he does against Jaylen Brown or Paul George, I doubt it. At the four spot, Zion lacks the length or toughness some former undersized inside players like Barkley or Larry Johnson displayed. Actually, he reminds me a lot of a more muscular Miles Bridges but not as advanced yet as the Spartan, both classic tweeners.
Lamelo still has long ways to go, physically but also in his game, but his new challenge has already helped him improve over the last two months and that’s just the beginning. Lavar will have an important decision to take at the end of the year. A lot of teams in better championships like Spain, Turkey or Italy could be interested in developing Lamelo, but won’t be willing to take LiAngelo, who is more limited, as there are US player number restriction in every European country. Will Lavar take that into account and understand that his sons are not on the same level? We’ll see that pretty soon.
Hopefully, both Zion and Lamelo will reach their dream, as of now, it’s time to work.