DURHAM, N.C. -- Knicks coach David Fizdale may not be able to comment on Duke phenom Zion Williamson because of NBA tampering rules, but another high-profile New York City coach can.
In the wake of Thursday's blockbuster trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis and several other players to the Dallas Mavericks to open up cap space for the summer of 2019, St. John's coach Chris Mullin talked up Williamson, whom Knicks fans are dreaming about landing in the NBA Draft.
"I mean he's athletically and physically strong and quick and explosive," Mullin told SNY.tv outside Cameron Indoor Stadium where his St. John's team will meet No. 2 Duke on Saturday (noon, ESPN). "Very unique. If I had to pick a guy like him, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp, those type of guys. Comparisons don't make any real sense. But he's his own guy and he's pretty amazing."
Back page of today's NY Post pic.twitter.com/b65QK6S7rH- Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) February 1, 2019
Entering Friday's tilt with Kyrie Irving and Boston, the Knicks (10-40) own the NBA's worst record and have a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick and a 52.1 percent shot at a top-4 pick. Phoenix and Cleveland share the same odds. (The Knicks also have about a 50 percent chance at the No. 5 pick.)
Mullin hasn't paid much attention to the Knicks' campaign to "Stop Tryin' for Zion," but he has no doubts Williamson will translate immediately to the NBA.
"Absolutely, no question he'll have more space, and his jump shot will improve and all those things," Mullin said. "He's a pretty gifted and skilled guy. He's not just strong and powerful, he's unselfish, he rebounds. All those things he needs to do he does. The other parts he'll get better at."
Neither Williamson nor Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski were available to the media Friday, but will be after the St. John's game.
Williamson and Duke have actually won more games at Madison Square Garden since Dec. 1 (1) than the Knicks (0).
"If they draft me, I would love to play for the Knicks," the 6-foot-7 Williamson said after Duke beat Texas Tech last month at the Garden. "I don't really care where I go, just the experience of being in the NBA. Whoever wants me and whoever sees the most in me, that's where I want to be."
Duke guard Tre Jones says he and his teammates laugh about the idea of NBA teams tanking for Williamson and teammate R.J. Barrett.
"It is crazy to think about they're not even half way through and they're doing this for college guys already but that just shows how good these guys really are and how much of an impact they can have on the game," Jones said Friday. "
If the Knicks miss out on Zion, his running buddy Barrett wouldn't be a bad second option.
The 6-7 Barrett is averaging 23.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists, while Williamson is averaging 22.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
"Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett know they're going 1 and 2 in the draft," ESPN analyst and former Duke forward Jay Bilas said recently on air. "It's just a question of which order, so there's no jealousy."
Barrett is a left-hander who is a pure scorer and has drawn comparisons to perhaps the NBA's most prolific current scorer.
"R.J. Barrett can play man," Bilas said. "He's a James Harden-type player."
Of course, in terms of pure box appeal, Williamson is the clear No. 1 pick. He has 2.3 million Instagram followers, 191,000 Twitter followers, and is seemingly throwing down dunks on every single SportsCenter.
Some have estimated he could earn $1 billion on and off the court before it's all said and done.
"I can't recall a college player in his freshman year being as big a phenomenon as this guy is," Bilas said.