If you haven’t heard of Mark Williams, you aren’t the only one. The sophomore big man anchored the paint for the Duke Blue Devils but was often overshadowed by the incoming freshmen class led by Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin. But his lack of name recognition is not a representation of his abilities. Williams, a 7ft big man with good athleticism, showed over his second season at Duke that he was a 1st round talent. There seems to be a lack of consensus on where he will end up with some believing he could go in the middle of the lottery while some believe he could fall to the end of the first round. This is likely due to the fact that some question his upside and scouts seem to agree that he doesn’t have superstar potential meaning where he ends up in the draft could ultimately come down to team needs and fit.
That being said, there is obviously a reason that some believe he could go early in the first round. The sophomore center finished the season fifth in the country in total blocked shots with 110 in 37 games (2.4bpg in 23.6mpg) and throughout the season, he proved that he was great at not just blocking shots but also altering shots without fouling. Despite finishing in the top five in blocks, Williams only averaged 2.1 fouls per game thanks in large part due to his 7ft 6inch wingspan (the largest wingspan at last month’s combine) and incredible defensive discipline. During his sophomore year, Williams proved to be a tough opponent as he always did a great job of challenging shots vertically and blocking shots without sending the ball out of bounds. Williams should be able to help teams out pretty early on in his rookie campaign for this reason alone.
On the offensive side, Williams gets the majority of his points off of dump-offs, put-backs, and lobs. The good thing with Williams is that while he does finish very strong at the rim, he also showed some really nice touch as the big man shot a remarkable 72% around the rim heading into the Final Four. Overall, his offense doesn’t seem incredibly impressive on paper, but combined with his already impressive rim protection, his ability to be a high motor player and a lob threat with a soft touch around the rim should translate nicely in the NBA. It is interesting to note that during his second season at Duke, Williams did show that he can knock down a face up jumper at times but at this point in his career, it doesn’t seem to be something he or teams will want to rely on heavily. That being said, his form looks solid (watch below) and if his free throw shooting (73%) is any indication, which it often is, then there’s hope that he can become a reliable midrange shooter with time.
As is the case with a lot of these middle-of-the-pack players, Williams has some weaknesses. While he is an elite defender around the rim, he does struggle to guard quicker guards out on the perimeter when isolated out on a switch. His decent footwork, motor and wingspan helps him recover when beat, but he does tend to struggle switching directions quickly. He may have been able to get away with this 20 years ago, but in today’s game of constant pick and rolls and switching, this may be something that limits his effectiveness and impact early on in his career as it can be something that teams and good players can attack with some ease. There is also the minutes question. He only averaged 23.6 mpg last season, which to be fair, makes some of his stats even more impressive, but since he has not logged big minutes consistently, there may be some concerns about durability and conditioning.
Williams’ elite rim protection, defensive instincts, high motor on both sides of the ball, and the intangibles that he brings, will make him an intriguing pick that will most likely be ready to play early on in his rookie season. And while he, like all of these rookies can always improve and surprise people, as of now, he can’t get his own shots consistently, didn’t make a single 3-pointer in college and while his turnover numbers were low, he isn’t a playmaker either. With concerns over his defense when switching out on to guards and the unfortunate (for him) reluctance by some teams to draft a center early, it will be really interesting to see where he ends up.
I could see the Knicks taking him as a high floor potential replacement to Mitchell Robinson had they not taken Jericho Sims last year. At this point, the Knicks need as much high end talent and potential as possible and the center position is not one that should be a priority for the Knicks, or most teams in the league for that matter. Overall, I don’t see New York picking him but whoever does pick him will get a really solid piece who should have a very long career in the league.