When looking at players to draft, NBA teams sometimes overthink things and, consequently, overlook or just plain pass on drafting very good basketball players. Reasons why NBA teams might overlook a player include the player not having the preferred height or size for the position they’ll likely play in the league, or maybe the player doesn’t seem to fit a team’s system, or, perhaps, a team doesn’t think a player’s college strengths will translate to the NBA level.
Before this season I didn’t pay much attention to Grant Williams, a now 20-year-old junior power forward for one of the country’s best teams in Tennessee. Even as SEC co-Player of the Year* for 2017-18, Williams still wasn’t really on the NBA draft radar.
This season so far Grant Williams has quite the stat-line: 20.1 points per game at 58 percent from the field to go along with 7.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.2 steals. He’s excellent at the charity stripe (83.5 percent) and gets there eight times per game. Grant is top dog on a team that has two or three other NBA players on it.
Despite all of that:
At nbadraft.net, Williams isn’t even listed, which is probably just an oversight, because I’m pretty sure I saw him there early in the second round some weeks ago.
*some other SEC Player of the Year award winners are Tayshaun Prince, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Corliss Williamson (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal (twice).
At 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7, with the skill set of a power forward, concerns are many when it comes to Williams’ fit and ceiling in the NBA. Plus, with Blake Griffin likely in the fold in Detroit for the life of his contract, Detroit drafting Williams doesn’t seem like the most reasonable fit, especially if Williams jolts up boards and becomes a possible lottery pick. It’s not usually the wisest decision to draft a lottery player at the same position as your best player. However, the NBA is quickly becoming a position-less league, and it’s very possible Grant Williams could be one of the best players available in the draft outside of the supposed top dogs at Duke, Ja Morant and maybe another one or two that explode around March.
So, drafting the best player available might just be the safest thing to do at this point for Detroit.
This is what Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated wrote about Williams a month ago:
By playing his way onto the early shortlist for National Player of the year, Williams has demanded consideration as a legitimate NBA prospect in spite of his height. He’s built like a brick, has been a load in the post and on the glass, and has started adding spot-up jumpers to his arsenal. From an intangible perspective, he checks every box for teams. The issue is how much of Williams’s game translates to the NBA level, as he does struggle at times to score over long defenders and likely won’t command significant post-up touches or double-teams in the pros. He’s a good passer, but his impressive assist totals do tend to derive from those opportunities. With Tennessee having a strong year, it’s easy to see him getting drafted in the second round, but teams are going to be split on where his upside lies.
Williams’ three point shooting is still a work in progress. As of February 6 this season, he’s 9-of-30 (30 percent) from deep. Last season he shot 3-of-25 (12 percent). However, in his freshman campaign he was 12-of-32, good for a solid 37.5 percent. There’s some positive to take away from those numbers I think, but also it’s more important to note that Williams’ mid-range jumper is wet, as the major talk about his game this season has been his improvement shooting jumpers without hesitation and also being cognizant of wiser shot-selection.
Talking offensive skill-set, Grant Williams reminds me of Corliss Williamson. Corliss was bulky, crafty, deceivingly quick with fine-tuned post moves, could hit unbalanced shots and also had some mid-range game. Most of you remember.
Another somewhat undersized player that I see Williams being similar to is 2018-19 Most Improved Player of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell. Williams is a bit smaller (height and wingspan) but a more advanced offensive version of Harrell. Harrell’s first couple seasons in the league with the Rockets weren’t so kind to him. He’s now improved on both ends of the court and has found himself in a good situation in Clipper-land and is now a double-double threat every time out, along with being a decent shot blocker. Both players are not afraid to throw their bulky bodies around and be instigators.
Confidence on the offensive end
Grant has great extension on his shots, whether they be deep in the paint or in the mid-range. This one shows off his quickness and control while making a tough move look easy:
Here Grant uses his tree trunk body to create contact, then hesitates just a bit (and ever so slightly fakes his defender back towards the middle of the paint) before making a quick move to the baseline.
I’ll place a bet that Grant will be a professional bucket-getter in the NBA and offer enough shot blocking and interior defense to play consistent minutes for winning teams. In my estimation he’s got the smarts, just enough athleticism, and all the shot-making skills to flourish.
It’s very possible Williams comes back for his senior season, but with a deep run in March with Williams probably leading the way, there’s nothing else for him to prove. I’ll keep you abreast over the next several months on what happens with his draft status. Second round? First round? Lottery? All it takes is for one team to fall in love and the lottery it could be. 30 teams thinking that he won’t be much more than a bit player and then he’ll be second round bound. I just think he’s quite good at this whole basketball playing thing and you should watch some Tennessee basketball games from now until March/early April.