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Know The Prospect: Patrick Williams

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He may inspire the widest range of projections of any lottery hopeful.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, supermodel Elle MacPherson earned the nickname “The Body.”

There are any number of impressive physical specimens in this month’s draft lottery. But if one were to earn the moniker “The Body,” it’d be Patrick Williams.

No, not that Patrick Williams. That dude’s MMA. I’m talking P.W. by way of Florida State University.

80% of all mock drafts have Williams landing in San Antonio with the 11th pick, because of course they’ll draft and develop a top-flight talent and be awesome until the oceans rise and flood the Alamo and all creation. San Antonio’s been so good for so long they’ve become Jason Voorhees to many of us: we struggle to accept they’re really, truly dead. But as gossip season peaks, a number of draft mockers have Williams rising to be taken eighth by the Knicks. Why all the fuss over some bloke who didn’t start a single game? Who scored two baskets or fewer in nearly half FSU’s 29 games? Who made just two more 3s all last season than Klay Thompson did in a single game? Who had nearly twice as many turnovers as assists? Let’s find out.

MEASURABLES

Williams only just turned 19 in August. The youngest American in the draft (the only younger prospect is Aleksej Pokuševski) stands 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, with a wingspan nearing 7 feet. Remember all the praise for RJ Barrett’s NBA-ready body? Williams is a couple inches taller and 10 pounds bigger. By the time he finishes growing he’s pro’ly the size and mass of Charles Oakley or Anthony Mason, coupled with hops they could only dream of.

Back in 1999 I saw Chili Davis hit three home runs — none of them cheap shots — for the Yankees at the old Stadium. After the third one left the yard, a dude named Vinny turned to me and yelled over the roaring crowd, “That guy’s got muscles in his hair!” That’s Williams. Muscles in his hair.

DEFENSE

The defensive end is where Williams seems most likely to have success in the pros. His hand strength has been described as “phenomenal,” which when added to his length leads to steals and breakaways.

Here his full-court pressure on fellow lottery hopeful Cole Anthony results in a turnover.

Williams is also a force in the paint, averaging nearly a block a game at the rim. Sometimes he can get carried away chasing the highlight-reel stop, taking himself out of position for a simpler but more effective contest. This could explain why opponents recovered 41% of his blocked shots.

To be fair, when he does stick the landing those highlights are pretty sweet.

In addition to terrorizing passing lanes and devouring souls from the weakside, Williams shows some of the less glamorous but equally valuable tendencies of an all-league defender. With his size, length and strength, he’s a disruptor doubling down low.

Williams is not a finished product on the defensive end, but whoever drafts him can feel good about adding a player likely to raise their floor and ceiling on that end.

SHOOTING

Let’s start with the good news. As demonstrated in the first video in this article, Williams is a smart and timely slasher. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to do damage.

While he only made 32% of his longballs and shot those at a low volume, averaging a little over half a three-pointer made per game, Williams hit 84% of his free throws, so there is touch there. That bodes well if he gets to the line a lot, which seems likely or not depending on how you look at it. Florida State basically rolled out a football team when they played basketball; put Williams somewhere where he’s a small-ball 4 or 5 and maybe with better spacing he’s cruising those lanes and drawing more fouls.

On the other hand, his free-throw rate of .357 was lower than Jonathan Isaac’s .461 in his lone season at FSU back in 2017, and in the pros Isaac’s rate has dropped in half. If Williams is gonna get to the line that rarely, what could be a strength or at least a boon to his efficiency wouldn’t really factor in. Another positive for Williams: he took 50% more free throws than three-pointers. So this isn’t some delusional chucker who’ll need to be reined in.

Williams was much more successful from deep on attempts that came 11-20 seconds into the shot clock (42% on 86 attempts) than the first 10 seconds (13% on 82 attempts). He was more likely to succeed via this kind of set than just dribbling up to the arc and popping one in the defender’s face.

There are oddities in his offensive profile. Williams shot 65% at the rim on 165 non-transition attempts, yet only 53% on 43 transition attempts. He was twice as efficient shooting threes in halfcourt sets than on the break (36% vs. 18%). Generic prospect analysis: Williams would benefit greatly from developing some consistency with his midrange pull-ups. That could be the difference between Patrick Williams, All-Star...

and Patrick Williams, ninth man.

INTANGIBLES

Scouts are mixed regarding Williams. His ceiling is the roof, at least, but that point of view requires a whole heaping of projection and not as much proof as you’d like when investing years and millions in someone:

There’s just so much we don’t know about [him] at the moment. If he had stayed...for [his sophomore season]...he would have a bigger body of work on his résumé and (presumably) a more developed frame. Instead, he made the probably wise decision to declare before NBA scouts started poking holes in his game.

A lot of his development will depend on what we can’t know from the outside. How much does he love the game? How much work will he put in? How will he respond to the guaranteed money?...Will he be allowed to grow into a bigger role on a team full of veterans, or will he be thrown into the fire on a young team where the inmates are running the asylum?

...The talent is there. The two most important skills in the modern NBA are the ability to stretch the floor and switch screens, and no one in this draft ... has a better combination of those skills...If you close your eyes, you can envision [him] as the centerpiece of a proto–Lineup of Death in five years, when he would be the same age as some of the seniors in this year’s draft.

“He’s the best athlete in this draft,” one talent evaluator told me a few weeks ago. “And it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the best player in the draft in five years.”

Food for thought, eh? Only that quote isn’t about Williams. That’s from a piece five years ago about Marquese Chriss. Four years into his career, Chriss is on his fourth team, has never averaged 22 minutes a game, and his career highlights are pro’ly finishing 14th in the league in offensive rebound % and 11th in block % last season. He’s the same size as Charles Oakley, and neither Oak nor Mase could ever throw down a windmill. But they were both named to All-Star teams. Chriss is nowhere near that level. For all Williams’ physical gifts, are the Knicks the organization you’d trust to help develop him to his fullest potential?

Williams sometimes has the rep of being too nice, and that he’s too chill about letting the game come to him rather than forcefully dominating it in the Western cis/macho manner with which our culture fetishizes one narrow version of masculinity. Might wanna slow your roll when you conclude acceptance equals weakness. Williams was a freshman on a team led by at least three older players with bigger roles, plus fellow super freshman Devin Vassell. Sometimes acceptance is wisdom. Seven players averaged 19+ minutes for FSU. That implies intent and intelligent design in asking less from everyone so they could do more while they’re out there. Williams was fourth on the team in minutes. That implies they knew how much he meant to them.

A smart, selfless combo forward who plays defense and whose offense raises the opposite of red flags — green tiles? — is worth taking a good long look at.

CONCLUSION

If Williams turns out to be some variation of Andre Iguodala, is that worth taking a stab at? For a team whose lottery picks the past five years have been more bust than boom?

The Knicks did well to draft Kristaps Porziņģis, but have since turned him into Dennis Smith Jr. Frank Ntilikina remains a living, breathing, smoking hot Rorschach test. Kevin Knox would be a senior at Kentucky if he’d stayed in school; maybe he should have. Barrett could end up anywhere between James Harden, DeMar DeRozan and Antoine Walker. With no sure thing on the roster, can the Knicks afford to draft a project and trust themselves to unlock his greatness?

But what if Williams isn’t such a longshot? Many sites rate Isaac Okoro as the most likely sleeper stud in this draft, including my breathless take two months ago. But other than assists, field goal % and free throw rate, Williams is even or ahead of Okoro in most percentile rankings.

Williams presents enough intrigue that even with whatever his flaws may be, his strengths will outshine them. P&T’s Pistons sister site, DetroitBadBoys, ran a filtering exercise over the past 12 seasons in college basketball for players who had a block % of 5+, a steal % of 2.5+ and who shot 83% or better from the foul line. Five names came up: Matisse Thybulle (as a senior playing in a zone defense), Robert Covington (as a senior), “two other random small-school players you have never heard of (one as a junior, one as a senior,” and Patrick Williams as an 18-year-old freshman.

In contemplating Williams, I find myself coming back to the same question that always comes up now regarding any potential Knick who isn’t a guard, a question I’m growing tired of: “But how will they fit with Mitchell Robinson?” I’m tired of this question because the answer is usually “They don’t,” and then we pass on considering the player because Mitchell Robinson is apparently Bill Russell, Marcus Camby and Victor Wenbanyama all rolled into one.

It doesn’t seem like Williams and Mitch would fit together, at least not for a while. Williams is not a floor-spacer; he may never be that good a shooter, and even if he does develop that will take years. Barrett is the only other seeming sure-thing on the roster, but unless the Knicks add Steph Curry and Kevin Durant it’s hard to imagine Mitch, Williams and RJ as the foundation of a successful lineup. Add Frank Ntilikina to the mix and New York might as well play offense without a basketball; that’s how unlikely it is that they’ll score.

But on the other hand, what if the powers that be determine Williams’ ceiling exceeds Robinson’s? In a league where the 5 spot is increasingly the province of yesterday’s beefier small forwards, Williams would not be out of his element anchoring the defense and having the ability to spot-up from deep or lose his man working off cuts and lobs. What if Robinson’s upside is Clint Capela and Williams’ is, say, Paul Millsap? Isn’t Millsap the player you’d prioritize? Is Kevin Knox a better investment at this point, as far as crossing your fingers and hoping a combo forward pans out? Or is Williams already better for the Knicks, even if it’s just them failing better?

Luckily for me, and pro’ly for you, I don’t get to make that decision. I have other concerns, like tomorrow’s likely descent into civil war. If you have any time or space between your pandemic depression, seasonal depression and U.S.-specific depression, consider Patrick Williams. Consider that he could be the best player in the draft, or yet another eighth pick who busts. Consider what you think the Knicks need or don’t need the most. Then share your feelings below. I’m super curious what y’all make of this dude.