In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s installment focuses on Texas A&M big man Robert Williams.
One year ago, Robert Williams was a potential lottery pick in the 2017 NBA draft after his freshman season at Texas A&M in which he won SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. To the surprise of many, he pulled himself from the draft and opted to return to college for his sophomore season, during which he further solidified himself as a strong NBA prospect but did not move his offensive game forward enough to get him off the lottery bubble.
His sophomore season began with a suspension for violation of university rules, which certainly did not help his status as an NBA prospect. Ultimately, he put together a season that mirrored his freshman season rather than showing the growth and development NBA talent evaluators would want to see from a young player in his second year of college basketball.
For many NBA prospects, a college season in which his game does not move forward is, in fact, a step backwards. But, Williams possesses a very rare combination of size, athleticism and defensive instincts that make him a potential lottery pick again this season. He is 6’9 with a wingspan of 7’4. Across multiple metrics, he proved himself as one of the best defensive players in the college game during both of his seasons at Texas A&M.
On the offensive end of the floor, his game is limited but not as limited as the stigma that gets attached to many rim runner/shot blocker prospects. Though Williams is not much of a jump shooter, he is not uncomfortable with the ball in his hands. His post game is reasonably strong. He converts field goals at a very high rate though most of his shots come at or near the rim. But, Williams is able to put the ball on the floor while working in the post and he does have the ability to make quality passes and find his teammates for open looks.
One observation that is often made of Williams is that he is not particularly assertive on the offensive end. He tends to take what the defense gives him and much of his success in the post comes against single coverage, most of whom are not NBA caliber defenders.
Still, Williams did demonstrate that he is not a black hole on the offensive end. When the ball goes to him in the post, he plays with his eyes up. He has a good feel for space and the instincts to quickly made reads of the action going on around him. On the flip side of aggression and assertiveness, patience and good judgment are sometimes found.
In evaluating Williams’ offensive game, many NBA teams may have hoped to see a more dominant offensive player at the college level. What they may see instead is freakish athletic tools in a player who knows how to play within the team concept.
There is no doubt Williams can help an NBA team on the offensive end. He should immediately be a terrific catch and finish player around the basket. He looks reasonably comfortable in the pick and roll game. He will be a real threat in the dunker role and he should be a force on the offensive boards.
The major question mark in Williams’ offensive game is his shooting. NBA scouts and coaches are surely dissecting his shooting mechanics to assess whether they could teach him to shoot. If an NBA teams believes they could teach him to shoot, Williams could lurk himself towards to the top ten picks in the draft. But, free throw shooting that moved backwards from 59.0 percent as a freshman to 47.1 percent as a sophomore is a red flag that will give every coach and scout hesitation.
Without a doubt, Williams value as a prospect is centered on his defensive play. His size and wing span make him a legitimate NBA big who should be able to handle the size and physicality of NBA bigs. But Williams is a terrific athlete for his size. At the college level, he showed that he can get out on the perimeter and defend there as well.
There are NBA bigs who have size and can defend on the perimeter. There are NBA bigs who have size and and can protect the rim. But, even in the NBA game, it is rare to find a big who can both defend on the perimeter and provide rim protection. Williams can do both.
In today’s NBA game, when every team strives to put a versatile, switchable defensive unit on the floor, Williams is a perfect fit. This is the very reason a player with a questionable offensive game may go in the lottery.
There are some questions about Williams’ motor. His energy and focus could wane at times while playing for Texas A&M. During workouts and interviews, Williams will need to convince NBA teams that he is a hungry, disciplined player if he is to be selected in the top 14 in the draft.
It is difficult to see a scenario that links the Hawks to Williams. Though Williams is not a lottery lock, it would be a surprise to see him drop to the No. 19 spot where the Hawks have their second of three first round selections. Williams’ rare combination of size and athleticism would just be too much for teams picking in the middle of the first round to pass on.
But, should Williams be available to the Hawks at No. 19, should they consider him? Some might argue that Williams is redundant with John Collins. But, it is likely more accurate that Williams is redundant with the role Collins played for the majority of his rookie season when he was primarily a screener and rim runner in the offense.
This would be the very role Williams would play in an NBA offense. But as Collins’ rookie season progressed, he expanded his offensive game in a way that would be less redundant with Williams’ game.
If Williams is somehow available at No. 19 and the Hawks take him, or even in an unlikely scenario of the Hawks trading up a few spots to take Williams, this would be a strong indication that the Hawks see an even further expanded offensive role for Collins in his second year and moving forward.
Regardless of the hypotheticals, it is unlikely Williams will find himself in a Hawks uniform his rookie season. Instead, he should be a very exciting prospect with clear risks but also with a reasonably high ceiling for whatever team does select him.