In the recent Disney bubble NBA finals, the Miami Heat faced a dilemma called Anthony Davis, and their response was clear and obvious: Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler and Andre Iguodala saw the floor and Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard did not. It would seem that NFL free safety, only much taller, is the new positional standard at both forward spots in the NBA.
This brings us to Patrick Williams, the youngest American player in the upcoming NBA draft. He is a forward who is universally listed at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, and he played for an excellent Florida State team during the abbreviated college season of 2019-20. He was the sixth man as a freshman in his only college season. FSU basically started two short centers (Raiquan Gray might be a version of The Right DeJuan only with a full complement of ACLs) in addition to having two seven footers off the bench each playing about 10 minutes per game, likely 2020 top-10 pick Devin Vassell, fringe prospect and 210-pound point guard Trent Forrest, and former high school football star MJ Walker. It was just kind of a ridiculous wave of bodies, and they won the ACC. Questions abound regarding Pat’s future position and role in the NBA, but due to team construction he basically never played as a “big” at FSU. This, in concert with how young he is, makes me less concerned about his pedestrian counting stats, including a relative paucity of rebounds.
Every prospect represents a range of possible career outcomes. The necessarily arbitrary process of assigning both perceived value and perceived likelihood to those different outcomes is part of any draft philosophy, cogent or otherwise. What would it mean for evaluation if the perceived ceiling outcome was obviously very valuable AND there was a backup plan?
To 3, or not to 3, that is the question
Absolute ceiling upside for Pat would be realized only if he can become one of the au courant high-usage giant wings, somewhere in the neighborhood of Paul George. In a profile at Babcock Hoops, there is an unsolicited “poor man’s Kawhi” suggestion from an FSU assistant coach, but let’s not get too carried away.
By all accounts, this ceiling outcome would require improved lateral agility. Regular Draft Twitter observers are probably aware of the biomechanics theorizing surrounding this topic, why some of us here at DBB call him Too Yoked, and how to get from here to there. I recommend both the long-form writing and guest appearances on the Prep2Pro podcast by @abovethebreak3 for more thorough analysis of this topic.
To summarize, I have read that he “recruits muscle too efficiently” (it was our own Lazarus Jackson who responded to that quote by stating “HE’S TOO YOKED FOR HIS OWN GOOD”) and is thus currently limited in terms of lateral agility by muscular-system imbalance regarding his giant quads. The argument is that targeted exercise in the interest of muscular re-balancing will improve his hip flexibility, resulting in enhanced lateral movement skills. This seems like exactly the type of thing that NBA physio staffs are good at resolving, but as with any projection of future development, we have to consider alternative outcomes and resulting career paths should it not be achievable.
Fortunately, if he ends up as a power forward instead of a giant wing, that “plan B” is really good too, and was what I was alluding to at the top when I referred to the gameplan for the Heat in the finals. As I have described previously, a scoring 4 who can shoot and pass, defend monster 3s, and play up at the 5 is about as futuristic as it gets.
Jerami Grant is about to get P-A-I-D, right?
Two-way player in elite company as freshman in college
Whether Pat ends up being a 3 or a 4, and if it even matters in the NBA of the near future, he is one of my favorite prospects in this draft because I think he will provide value on both offense and on defense. The current Pistons roster is in desperate need of more such players.
Why? First, a stats filtering exercise: I went searching a while back because it just seems like giant freshmen rarely shoot free throws so well. It would seem that my hunch was right, at least if combined with positive defensive indicators. 83+ FT%, 5+ BLK%, 2.5+ STL%, since 2009:
- Matisse Thybulle as a senior playing in a zone;
- Robert Covington as a senior at Tennessee State;
- two other random small-school players you have never heard of (one as a junior, one as a senior);
- and Patrick Williams, as a very young freshman!
This seems like a really good starting point for development, especially when viewed within the context of all of the other positive indicators. People just love this kid, and the internet is downright full up with glowing reviews of his in-game “motor” and overall work ethic.
The flashes of advanced passing reads are not quite as wild as with the overall youngest player in the draft, Aleksej Pokusevski, but they are good and interesting for someone so young and so big. As I have argued elsewhere, there are no longer any superstars who can’t pass. It also seems like he is good at the spatial awareness and timing required for off-ball offense, in terms of seeing gaps and knowing when to cut to the basket for lobs.
He made mid-range pull-up jumpers in high school, and he made treys off the catch in his lone college season. Most of the pull-ups were of the “two or three dribbles going left” variety; it’s easier to square up when driving with your weak hand, as we’ve always seen with LeBron. Hopefully he can expand upon this existing skillset and eventually deploy greater versatility in this area.
In addition to all of these generally positive data points, what I really like is the defense. I think he’s great at seeing the play as it develops, and the weak-side blocks are awesome. Just a really good brain for basketball things. Draft smart players. I also think anyone who has played team sports at any level can remember that some guys (and I assume girls) have an innocuous hint of smirk about them, without trundling over into prima donna territory, when they know they’re good as shit. The blocks and dunks (BRING THEM TO ME) occasionally have some smirk. They are smirkful, sometimes, these blocks and dunks (again, BRING THEM TO ME).
Remember that time Jason Maxiell met Tyson Chandler at the rim and defied the understood rules of the space-time continuum by eating all future babies in Tyson Chandler’s family line? That’s the stuff we’re talking about. Get excited. If you think my Poku adoration is preposterous and moronic this early in the draft, Pat might be the prospect for you. If you share my belief in his potential for offensive growth and eventual volume creation, he might be the prospect for you. And if, in accordance with the primary genetic prerequisite of being a Pistons fan, you love watching defense as much as I do, he might really be the prospect for you.