EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

EOTS’ 5 at No. 16: Robert Williams’ defensive upside is what Suns need

May 28, 2018, 7:01 AM | Updated: Jun 4, 2018, 8:48 am
Texas A&M's Robert Williams (44) dunks against Providence during the second half of a first-round g...

Texas A&M's Robert Williams (44) dunks against Providence during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Empire of the Suns is diving deep on the Phoenix Suns’ other picks besides the first overall selection, Nos. 16 and 31. We will be examining five players we feel are the best fits for the Suns in the mid-first round then will break down the five positional groups on the Suns’ roster and who they could target in the late-first to early-second round.

To kick things off, we look at Texas A&M center Rober Williams, the best big man who could potentially be selected outside the lottery.

Watching an NBA Draft prospect for the first time has a lot of variables.

From not being exposed to a prospect to having certain expectations in mind, that initial experience can set your opinion in a certain direction.

Let’s say you’re a big Phoenix Suns fan, but you haven’t kept up with the names in the draft and you randomly are flipping channels. You land on a Texas A&M game for a minute or two and see center Robert Williams do this.

WHOA! Who is that guy?! Intrigued, you make a mental note to watch more of Williams when they play in the next round of the NCAA Tournament.

Then you watch him almost hit his head on the rim blocking this shot against North Carolina.

He did it again! Don’t the Suns need a center? Some rim protection, perhaps?!

Williams is the best highlight guy in this draft. That’s notable given Deandre Ayton’s physical dominance, Luka Doncic’s exquisite vision and so on, but he did stuff like this consistently the past two years.

That’s what made him a near-lottery pick last year and this year has him in the same discussion.

The bigger picture, though, is where the red flags start to show, making him less of a top-10 pick and more of a guy you worry about busting out of the league within three years. Of the top-25 names in this class, he has the biggest floor and ceiling gap outside of Mohamed Bamba.

STRENGTHS

Williams is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He is an effortless leaper and lateral mover when you consider he’s a center.

Plays like this were easy for him. A stretch big, who is used to taking advantage of being able to handle the ball at their size, takes Williams off the bounce and is not only beaten to the spot but is swallowed up in the process.

If you’re a guard, you better create enough space or else his recovery will eat you alive.

He is such a quick jumper that he doesn’t need to have great timing with his shot-blocking. Watch the second replay of this block against USC and notice how he doesn’t even look like he’s gearing up for a shot contest. He just stands there, times his jump perfectly and gets his hand way above the rim.

Because of that incredible leaping ability — despite being on a team with lots of frontcourt players — Williams averaged 9.2 rebounds a game. He could be great in the NBA if he boxed out, but even as a long-armed athlete could still potentially be a double-digit guy.

As you may imagine, this makes him have a high upside as a rim runner. Top-level agility and jumping for a big makes him the type of explosive athlete that doesn’t need a full-speed ahead approach to finish emphatically at the rim.

Unfortunately, Williams played 25.8 minutes a game and was rarely used as a screen-setter. The Aggies wanted him to stay around the rim and it was mostly lobs for him when he was rolling.

That’s where we have to highlight him on offense because the rest around there is worrisome.

The game against Providence in the NCAA Tournament is another example of our lead-in. Williams was hitting midrange jumpers, scoring off hook shots in the post all while making his usual energy plays.

That’s his full and unlocked upside, but we didn’t see any efficiency outside of the key over two years.

WEAKNESSES

Williams clearly has been working on his jumper and wants to extend his range, as his 30 three-point attempts over two seasons can attest to, but he made only two of them.

You can see in the first clip above that Williams has a long shot load-up. He springs up and releases near the peak of his jump, sometimes releasing when he’s on the way down.

The midrange numbers are meh.

Per The Stepien’s shot chart, Williams shot 38 percent on midrange attempts and 36 percent on long midrange attempts.

The free-throw percentages, though, are a concern.

Williams dropped from 59 percent to 47 percent with the Aggies. Can you really rely on a 50-60 percent free-throw shooter to become a viable midrange shooter?

This was part of the appeal of Williams choosing to return to school in the first place. He could expand his offensive game, but instead, we didn’t see much consistency.

On defense, Williams had way too many possessions like this where he looked very disengaged.

That’s a tie game with just over a minute left and he barely moves. This was a constant issue and it was baffling to continuously see him float through games.

Williams is a gamble for any team, but a gamble that could bring a team some version of what Clint Capela is for the Houston Rockets.

If he can accept that role and be more locked in, he’s going to be great in the NBA. It’s a role he didn’t get to play at Texas A&M, which is why I can’t disagree with some optimism around Williams.

That added year of extra data on Williams, though, showed more of the issues we saw in year one.

FIT IN PHOENIX

The Suns’ center situation is sticky, but they should take the best available player at both Nos. 1 and 16 and it’s not like there’s no room for Williams.

Tyson Chandler is on an expiring $13.5 million deal and Alan Williams’ contract is for a non-guaranteed $5.5 million next season and has a team option the year after.

Unless the Suns want to keep both and sign or trade for a starting-caliber name, they’d have space for Robert Williams to learn and grow.

So, with that and Williams’ skill-set as a switchable rim protector and rebounder, he’s one of the best names for the Suns that could be available at No. 16.

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