New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson may be trying to put concerns about his durability, weight concerns and ultimately his playing future to bed. Especially with a picture of a much slimmed-down version of him circulating the interwebs.
However, Zion has played just 29 games over the past two seasons. Over the course of his four-year career, the former first overall pick has played in just 114 games. That said, it’s going to take more than just a picture for him to prove he can hold up over time. As well for him to prove that his presumably improved nutritional habits will withstand the test of time.
Not in the least because Williamson was unavailable for the 2022 NBA Playoffs and 2023 Play-In Tournament, which helped lead to early exits for the Pelicans in both.
With that in mind, New Orleans would just be wise to find a potential replacement for Zion. A safety net.
Whether they were thinking of potentially trading him in the future or just wanted to make sure they had a dominant interior force that they could play if Williamson went down.
Which is why Indiana Hoosiers big man Trayce Jackson-Davis is the ideal prospect for the Pelicans if they retain the 14th overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Why Pelicans must target Trayce Jackson-Davis in 2023 NBA Draft
Trayce Jackson-Davis was one of the most dynamic and accomplished players in the NCAA during his tenure with the Indiana Hoosiers. Leaving Cedar Grove High School as the top recruit in the state per the ESPN 100, TJD stuck around in Bloomington for four seasons.
In that time, Jackson-Davis was first-team Consensus All-American for the 2022-23 season, as well as a finalist for the 2023 Naismith Award and the 2023 Wooden Award. He was also a four-time All-Big Ten Conference selection, a two-time Big Ten All-Defense selection, and a two-time All-Big Ten Tournament selection.
Notably, TJD ranks in the top-five all-time in the Big Ten in career rebounds (1,143), blocks (270), free-throws (558), and points produced (2,186). Ultimately staking his case as arguably the most productive Hoosiers player ever in a program that played host to several NBA lottery picks, including Hall of Fame inductees Walt Bellamy and Isiah Thomas.
Accolades aside though, Jackson-Davis is simply an impressive talent that’s very consistent but made major strides in his senior season as well.
A four-year starter that’s missed just three games in his college career, Jackson-Davis averaged 20.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.9 blocks per game in 2022-23 while shooting 58.1 percent from the field.
Nonetheless, at 23-years-old and a hybrid big that may not work well with every team, TJD is often discussed as a first-round prospect but not as a lottery prospect.
Listed at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, the biggest knock on the lefty may be that he doesn’t fit the modern-day idea of a power forward because his scoring focus is inside the arc. Furthermore, as a lean big man, there are some might wonder how he would perform against other centers.
However, there are many reasons to feel comfortable about his NBA projection.
Not in the least because he was coached by an accomplished former NBA player and coach in Mike Woodson in his last two seasons with the Hoosiers. Seasons in which Jackson-Davis playing more of a point-forward role that should translate well at the next level and increases his draft stock.
How does he fit the Pelicans?
Highly athletic, Jackson-Davis presents a mismatch problem for other big men.
He’s more agile than most centers and a better leaper than the average starting power forward. Now capable of making plays for himself and others off-the-dribble in both the halfcourt and fullcourt, the Pelicans should know exactly how to use TJD on the offensive end.
Simply put, he has a play style, strengths, and weaknesses that largely mirror Zion Williamson’s.
What’s more, Jackson-Davis might be even better than Williamson on the defensive end. His rim-protection from the weakside or in the box is impressive thanks to his timing and leaping ability. However, perhaps even more importantly, TJD can also guard players in the post or on the perimeter.
Zion is a player that defenses have yet to figure out how to stop. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, the problem with Williamson is that he often struggles stopping other players.
Can Trayce Jackson-Davis and Zion Williamson play together?
If Zion were to truly turn the corner with his durability, an interesting concept to consider is the prospect of Jackson-Davis and Williamson in the frontcourt together.
Their combination of athleticism, above-the-rim ability and playmaking would be tough to defend in transition. In the halfcourt, they give defenses plenty to worry about inside the paint while the Pelicans perimeter group of CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III provide floor balance with their outside shooting.
However, Zion would have to display more of a willingness to shoot from deep with 67 3-point attempts for his career (and doing so might actually improve his durability) with Jackson-Davis uncomfortable shooting 3s. As a result, although they could still look to play him and Williamson together situationally, TJD will more than likely begin his career as a change-of-pace center that plays behind Jonas Valanciunas.
As well as a safety net for the Pelicans, just in case Zion falls, again.
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