Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment focuses on Tennessee forward Grant Williams.
Grant Williams is, in many ways, a combination of past and present power forwards. Back when power forwards were players with center skills but lacked in size to be a true center, Williams would have fit in perfectly with his back-to-the-basket game and ability to play in the post. In the modern NBA, power forwards are asked to be more versatile offensively, with outside shooting and playmaking more important skills than in previous eras. Williams has a developing outside jumper and is already a very good playmaker, with the vision and passing skills to put him among the better power forwards in the NBA in that regard.
Williams’ offensive profile is very intriguing. He’s a well-rounded scorer inside of 15 feet, where can hit face-up jumpers and work in the post. He clears space immensely well with his physicality and lower body strength, which helps make up for a relative lack of length and vertical athleticism. Defenders will give him issues around the basket, but with his ability to knock them off balance, he’ll create openings for himself. He has great touch with both hands around the basket and flashed some advanced footwork in the paint to make him a difficult cover for all but the very best low-post defenders. His combination of strength and touch at the basket is going to make him extremely dangerous on cross and flex screen actions, where he can get a head start toward sealing his man under the basket.
If he can’t find his shot inside, Williams is a very strong passer from just about anywhere on the court. He’s got great vision and reads the game well; with some experience at the NBA level, he should be someone through whom teams can run their offense at the elbow and top of the key. He’s also a good passer on the move, which will be immensely important if he’s playing with a lead ball handler who draws two defenders in pick-and-roll.
Making the right decisions on the short roll is an important part of any big man’s game in the modern NBA, as defenses are willing to blitz ball handlers and live with the 4-on-3 that ensues. Playmaking in these spots is a large part of Draymond Green’s value and teams with the players who get defended like Stephen Curry does need a playmaker in Green’s mold to act not only as a pressure release for their primary ball handler, but a true difference maker to create points in those circumstances. Williams should develop into that sort of playmaker with great vision, passing instincts, and the sort of basketball IQ that lends themselves perfectly to that role. In this sense, he would be a fantastic pick-and-roll partner for Trae Young in Atlanta.
His outside shot is coming along slowly – he shot very few three-pointers throughout his time at Tennessee – but there are positive signs that his jumper should come along in time. He shot 82 percent from the free throw line during his junior season and shows good touch on his jumpers out to midrange, which are usually good indicators that he’ll be able to piece an NBA three-point shot together. He also shot a ton of free throws last season, which both gives more stability to his free throw shooting percentage and shows just how strong of a scorer he can by with the added dimension of his ability to draw fouls. There shouldn’t be any issues with power on his jumper with his lower body strength, so it’s all about getting his mechanics right and instilling the confidence in him that he can take and make those shots.
Defensively, his positioning and rotations are very good, though his athleticism may hold him back from being a true difference maker on that end. He’s not overly quick but will be able to switch a bit across the forward line. He’s not a true rim protector but his positioning and physical strength will give him some advantages. He’s a very smart player on both ends, which will help him make up for his lack of athleticism defensively.
Williams is a strong prospect, with a lot of skills that mirror what is needed in the modern NBA. Over the last few years, we’ve seen how smart players can make up for any athletic disadvantages they have and that teams with high-IQ players have a good chance in the playoffs. Smaller big men like Green and P.J. Tucker are able to make a massive difference on both ends for their team due to their strength and intelligence. Williams has those traits in spades, particularly the intelligence, both on and off the court. Obviously, the on-court intelligence is going to prove to be what matters most for him, but there’s no argument that he’s an incredibly bright young man who will be able to internalize and execute scouting reports down to the finest detail.
Even a cursory look through his history shows his unusual level of intelligence, whether compared to other NBA prospects or just other humans in general – his mother is an engineer for NASA and he turned down Harvard and Yale to go to Tennessee and play basketball. That decision is going to pay off now that he’s slated to be a first-round draft pick, though there are people in the know who think less of him than others.
Whichever team drafts Williams will be getting a high-IQ player who can be relied upon to play lots of different roles offensively, from passing hub at the elbow to short roll playmaker to low post scorer to floor spacer (eventually). The defensive concerns revolve around his lacking athleticism, but his ability to read the game and be in the right positions will mitigate a lot of those issues down the line.