New Orleans Pelicans

Summer Workout Plan: How Pelicans star Zion Williamson can become even more unstoppable

Welcome to "Summer Workout Plan," our annual offseason series in which we dive into a specific area for improvement for certain players to take the next step in their development. After looking at the next step for Fred VanVleet, Michael Porter Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Zion Williamson takes the spotlight.

Zion Williamson did something last season that we haven't seen in a very, very long time.

According to NBA.com, the New Orleans Pelicans star averaged 20.3 points per game in the paint. Not only did that put him ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo for most in the league, but it also made Williamson only the second player since 1996-97, which is when the NBA started tracking the stat, to average 20 or more points per game in the paint in a single season.

The only other player to bulldoze his way through teams like Williamson did last season? The one and only Shaquille O'Neal.

MORE: The NBA has no answer for Zion

Opponents simply had no answer for Williamson around the basket, showing just how unique of a talent he is. The NBA had him listed at the same height as Luka Doncic (6-7) last season but the exact same weight as Nikola Jokic (284 pounds). You might not think someone with Williamson's measurements would be able to hang on an NBA court - Shaq, for comparison, is listed at 7-1 and 325 pounds - and yet he's arguably the most athletic player in the entire league.

His combination of size, speed and athleticism makes Williamson a walking mismatch. Put smaller players on him, and he'll go into bully mode, overpowering them like he's a man among boys.

Defend him with size, and he'll burn those opponents with quickness and finesse.

And if he gets a runway, you might as well cut your losses.

Dominating the paint in a way that would make Shaq proud gives Williamson a strong foundation to build off. What's exciting is that he's entering his third season with clear plans to expand his game, making it known that he's hoping to show more of his shooting touch.

"I guess the best thing I can say is, a lot of floaters, a lot of midrange shots," Williamson said in an interview on SiriusXM Radio ahead of the 2021-22 season. "I worked on that a lot this [summer] because I'm a rhythm player. If I have the ball, like I'll just create a rhythm, so the midrange shot for me feels really good. So, it's going to be a lot of that."

Williamson took some floaters last season. Midrange jumpers? Not so much.

Of the 1,037 field goals Williamson attempted last season, 987 came in the painted area. (That's 95.2 percent of his field goal attempts in case you were wondering.) He went 6 of 16 (37.5 percent) from midrange and 10 of 34 (29.4 percent) from 3-point range.

Williamson's shot chart hammers home just how paint-dependent he was.

Again, it didn't really matter that Williamson wasn't a threat to score outside of the paint last season. It's no secret what his tendencies are, and he still waltzed his way into averaging 27.0 points per game on 61.1 percent shooting from the field, numbers we've never seen before. (Seriously, not once.)

Still, becoming a more well-rounded scorer would save him from having to battle in the paint as much as he did last season and make him a less predictable player. If the Pelicans reach the playoffs, Williamson will almost certainly face the same wall Antetokounmpo has had to navigate in each of the last three postseasons.

MORE: Can Zion lead Pelicans to playoffs?

Not that Williamson is going to turn into Kawhi Leonard overnight - that sure would be something, though, wouldn't it? - but even getting to a point where a shot like this is on the scouting report would be a big development for him because giving him space is about the only hope teams have right now of slowing him down.

Of course, none of this matters unless Williamson can stay healthy. He appeared in 61 of a possible 72 games last season, but a torn meniscus limited him to 24 games in his rookie season. The Pelicans are optimistic that he'll be good to go for opening night, but it was recently revealed that he underwent surgery in the offseason to repair a fracture in his right foot.

Hopefully, it's nothing more than a blip on the radar because, with the way he's trending, the fully-fledged version of Williamson has the potential to be one of the most dominant offensive forces we've ever seen.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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