Our 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series continues with a look at Mark Williams, a 20-year-old center from Duke.
In every era of basketball, even today’s era when the best big men have the skills to shoot and lead the offense, the game will always seek out physical gifts of height, length and athletic fluidity to anchor a defense. Even as the best centers in the world have become rangier and rangier, a dominant throwback big man can still be a major factor on the court.
Williams compares favorably to Rudy Gobert in measurables with his large wingspan and standing reach, and all 29 other teams would welcome the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year into their organization even despite the recent position revolution. So even as dinosaurs evolve into unicorns at the center position, the 2022 NBA Finals remains a testament to the value of old school, ‘above the rim’ big men like Robert Williams.
Mark Williams is an uber imposing big man who alters shots defensively with just his presence in the lane. At 7’1” in height with a 7’7” wingspan, Williams has become among the most feared shot blockers in all of college basketball over the past two seasons. Williams led the ACC in blocks, blocks per game, and block percentage this past season just to name a few metrics.
Williams was the quarterback of the defense for the Duke Blue Devils last season, captaining the team on one end of the floor as a sophomore and communicating assignments and rotations. At the conclusion of the year, for his accomplishments he was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
At the next level, he profiles as a drop big man on screen coverages. This will keep him close to the rim as much as possible to protect the bucket with shot deterrence. It doesn’t matter whether Williams side of the lane he ranges from, when someone enters his paint, he will arrive with evil intentions.
It’s pretty common to see multiple blocks in the same possession. Williams has no issue using a second and third bounce to ensure the path to the rim is closed off.
He already sets great screens and uses his massive frame to open up driving lanes and roll alleys with great regularity. Just the threat of him diving to the rim warps the defense to crash the lane in an attempt to disrupt lob attempts which in turn opens up perimeter opportunities.
Below is a great encapsulation of all the ways Williams contributes. First, he sniffs out an attempt from the lane on defense, then he runs the floor and gets early post position. He’s later able to kick the ball out, and set a screen and throw down an alley oop from a baseline driver.
Mark Williams probably won’t end up as much more than a shot finisher near the rim on offense, but there are some signs of a more diverse set of skills than may initially meet the eye. While he’s primarily a lob and dunk offensive threat, Williams is able to get post position more often than not. His overall post game isn’t too refined, but he does possess a drop step hook shot to keep the defense honest.
He also has some handling ability in space, and can find teammates with zippy passes like below.
Williams was a good free throw shooter as a sophomore — 73% from the line being rather impressive for his size. There are even murmurs about his ability to step out away from the rim and shoot a bit. Still, he filled his role on offense as someone who rolls and finishes and cleans up shots near the rim almost exclusively. His 72.6% true shooting percentage led the country among players who qualified. If nothing else, the vertical spacing he provides is not insignificant, and he’ll never be someone opponents can completely ignore on the offensive end.
Weaknesses and areas for improvement:
Even in a breakout sophomore season, Williams could only manage fewer than 24 minutes played per game. Although he generally avoided fouls at too severe a rate (3.2 fouls per 36 minutes), there was a pretty clear cap on the minutes he can give his team at his current size and conditioning level.
His lateral agility isn’t up to par to be able to trust him when switched and defending smaller guys on the perimeter. Teams will have to drop him in pick-and-rolls and dribble hand offs to avoiding pulling him away from the lane for too long.
Even with all his physical tools, he still hasn’t quite mastered the art of rolling hard and on time. And his raw, unpolished offensive game means he’ll be asked to dribble almost never. For example in the next clip, he doesn’t yet have an ability to face up and take on opponents from the mid post area.
But even despite these possible drawbacks, Williams has an advanced knowledge of defensive concepts at the young age of 20 years old. There’s a shot that he becomes a special defensive game changer if he can continue to pair his abilities with NBA level coaching and development.
Possible fit on the Hawks:
Here is where things get truly dicey. The Hawks traded a first round pick to acquire Clint Capela in 2020 before extending Capela through the 2024-25 season just one offseason ago. In the same 2020 offseason, the Hawks used their 6th overall draft pick on Onyeka Okongwu. Needless to say, the corps of centers on this team is already deep and talented, and a significant amount of draft capital has been used recently on just one position group.
Drafting Williams at 16th overall when the team is looking to seriously compete in 2022-23 would almost certainly mean other dominoes need to fall during free agency. This is justifiable in a “best player available” scenario on draft day, but prepare for a flurry of corresponding moves to follow if so. Still, if the Hawks are swinging for defensive upside, there may not be a better singular defensive talent in the entire draft here.