Amongst all the prospects who returned to school, Robert Williams was by far the one most affected by it all. Projected as a near consensus lottery pick, if not top 10, Williams decided on returning to Texas A&M to try to and boost his stock even further. That didn’t happen, because Williams’ stock has now gone in the other direction with the group of elite bigs remaining in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Instead of being guaranteed in the lottery, Williams is settling into being the most realistic candidate to slip outside it on draft night. With high school unknown Mitchell Robinson nipping on his heels during the predraft process, Williams might end up being the seventh big taken compared to maybe being the first one over Zach Collins and Bam Adebayo last year.
During March Madness, though, Texas A&M’s run to the Sweet 16 helped propel more eyes back onto Williams when his stock was continuously slipping behind his counterparts. Against Providence and North Carolina, Williams was impactful on both sides while terrorizing guards who drove at the rim.
With the Tyler Davis effect put into place on Williams during his sophomore campaign, which pushed him further away from the basket, he still produced nearly identical box score numbers with an even lower usage percentage with Davis’ presence.
We have spoken on it before with Deandre Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. being hampered by overly big lineups pushing them away from anchoring defenses, but Williams also falls into this category after diving further into his game tape. All too often was Williams surrounded by non-shooters or assigned the stretch 4 while the slower-footed Davis camped out down low.
Both years at A&M, Williams never tallied above 30 minutes of average playing time but stretched into starter minutes he stuffs the stat sheet in Capela-esque ways. Per 36 minutes, Williams averaged 14.6 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3.7 blocks. For comparison, Mohamed Bamba only put up 4.4 blocks in that allotted span.
Out of all the big men projected in the top 20, Williams was the only with his USG% below 20 at 19%. However, Williams still put up double-digit advance numbers across assist, rebound, and block percentiles.
The only underclassmen bigs who carried true shooting percentages above 60, block percentages above 10, and amass a defensive box plus-minus (DBPM) above 9 since 2010 are Anthony Davis, Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Jackson Jr., and Williams.
Are many national draft boards undervaluing Williams or is his lower stock warranted?
Well, the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year has put together a strong case as to why he should be viewed in similar light to bigs rated ahead of him. Carrying an overall block percentage of 10.4% and total rebound percentage of 18.9% places him in the top three for both categories when ranking this year’s top seven bigs.
For blocks, Williams only trails the consensus top shot swatters in Jackson Jr. and Bamba while both Williams and Bamba are just behind Ayton in terms of advanced rebounding metrics.
Williams not only fits the best player available model at No. 16 but he instantly slides into his long term role if he’s placed alongside above-average shot creators in Luka Doncic and Devin Booker.
Lets dive into the perceived pluses and minuses on this big man from Texas A&M.
Williams is undersized for typical 5s but the playoffs have proven size doesn’t really matter while instinctual play and head above the rim athleticism trump it. Like Capela in Houston, which is Williams’ ideal ceiling, he’s the ideal rim runner for today’s pace-and-space offenses that can surround defensive-minded bigs with maximum shooting.
Not only that but Williams also has anchor potential of defenses revolving around versatility and wings who are compatible switching 1-4 constantly. Williams with his above-average foot speed himself allows him to be able to hang with guards in pick-and-roll opportunities.
On both ends, Williams is the prototypical fit as the athletic small-ball 5 who can cover ground quickly. He feasts out in transition and especially in pick-and-roll lobs that are reminiscent of DeAndre Jordan during the Lob City days with Chris Paul.
The offense is rather raw, but he could be able to become more of a threat outside the restricted area once his shot is overhauled.
Also, if you put him in a pass-happy system predicated on ball movement (Igor Kokoskov’s system is pointing this direction), Williams wouldn’t be a liability as he showed off plenty of times his ability to zip the ball through for cutters or spot-up shooters. Williams is actually underrated compared to other bigs like Wendell Carter Jr. with passing ability. Sure, he’s not as advanced reading the floor, but he doesn’t make many errors that I tracked in these scenarios.
With the way league is shifting towards portionless basketball, Williams could turn into the new-age rim protector who makes up for his 6’9” height with a freakish wingspan of 7’5” (+8” H2W discrepancy). Having him capitalize off ample easy looks from Booker and Doncic could allow him to flourish and focus more on anchoring down the league’s worst defense in 2017.
And after a year of seasoning behind former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, Williams could be ready to step into his 30-35 minute role of causing two-way havoc.
Even though his consistency maintained during his sophomore season at A&M, he didn’t really improve all that much in areas he was expected to further develop.
The presence of Davis rarely allowed Williams to show off improvements as far as back to the basket offense, but his go-to’s were getting picked up on often during the year. Williams doesn’t have many tricks in his bag offensively, but when he’s dominant on defense it covers up those possible warts.
I’ve noticed on a few occasions in games where Williams would rotate late but he would still make the block, but those quick-twitch decisions will be make-or-break on the next level. If he’s slow reading situations, that’s a possible red flag in terms of anchor potential but Houston quickly drilled in positives habits after selecting Capela in the mid-late first.
I imagine Kokoskov would focus heavily on Williams’ development in becoming a more consistent two-way presence while also correcting his habits that haven’t been improved upon over his two years at College Station.
From a pure shooting perspective, Williams’ 47% clip from the free throw line is troublesome. If he’s unable to develop a consistent jumper, how will that hamper his upside when he’s on the smaller side for 5s? It’s a tricky question, but Jordan Bell has proven in Golden State that plus rim protectors are valuable, even if your offensive ceiling is capped early.
Fit in Phoenix
Behind Chandler, Williams would learn the tricks of the trade from a proven winner and defensive stalwart. And outside of Chandler plus Alan Williams, Phoenix has no true centers on the roster unless they believe one of Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender will transition over there eventually.
This offseason, which has been advertised for months by the Suns’ front office, their main needs to fill are at point guard and center. The domino effect will begin once they decide upon Ayton or Doncic at No. 1.
For Williams to land in Phoenix, it would take the Suns drafting Doncic and hoping one of Williams or Robinson is on the board at No. 16. At this point, with the way Robinson surprised in his first workout in front of many NBA executives showing off an improved shooting stroke, Williams might slip and be available on draft night for Phoenix.
It’s an interesting debate but Williams’ defensive upside might tip the scales in their favor if they believe Doncic is the transcendent jumbo playmaker talent many believe he is.
Heading into the 2019-2020 season with their core of Booker, Doncic, Josh Jackson, Chriss/Bender, and Williams would fit #TheTimeline while they can also supplement plenty of win-now pieces around them over the next two summers via free agency.
If the Suns plan to build in the Golden State or Houston direction and continue to build off of perimeter versatility, selecting Williams after Doncic goes far towards locking in that exact vision.
Big Board: No. 19 (No. 6 Big)
Comparison: Ceiling - Clint Capela / Floor - Tyrus Thomas