About halfway between Texarkana, Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana is a little town of less than 4,000 people called Vivian.
Just north of Caddo Lake and west of Interstate 49, it’s not a big town. But a kid from that small town may be the next big to make it in the NBA.
Robert Williams was a four star recruit in the 2015 class, and the 6-foot-9-inch forward joined a Texas A&M squad that was fresh off a loss in the Sweet 16 to Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners.
When Williams first joined the team, he had to look up on the depth chart behind sophomore center Tyler Davis and junior power forward Tonny Trocha-Morelos, two 6-foot-10-inch bigs that were more than capable of soaking up big minutes in the frontcourt.
"I felt like I belonged the first day I got here,'' Williams said in an interview with the Shreveport Times. "I had people telling me, 'Don't worry. You belong.' And I felt that.''
Williams came to the Aggies as a player that relied on his athleticism on both ends of the court, flying high to finish around the rim on offense while springing into the air to block shots with the help of a 7-foot-4-inch wingspan to swat away opponents shot attempts.
“I didn’t know how smart he was, his basketball IQ and how great it was,” Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said in an interview. “As talented as he is he’s probably the most coachable kid I’ve had in a long time.”
In 27 games with the Aggies, Williams is averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and has been playing out of position at small forward with Davis and Trocha-Morelos in the frontcourt with him. Williams is playing 25 minutes per game on the season, well short of other power forwards that may be in the 2017 draft such as TJ Leaf, Ivan Rabb, and Lauri Markannen, to name a few. Williams started the season coming off the bench, but has been starting since January 7. The stats that are the most significant for the Nuggets aren’t his points per game - it’s his 4.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per 40 minutes that is the most impressive.
Watch some of these defensive highlights, as compiled by Sam Vecenie of Sporting News.
I mean, come on. Williams is just an animal on the defensive end of the court. He’s able to protect the rim from the weak side, defend one-on-one, and grab rebounds to end possessions. There are times when he looks a little lost on possessions - I’m willing to consider the possibility that this may be due to his unfamiliarity with his role.
He’s been on a tear recently, a stretch of play that shows what kind of potential he possesses. Over his last five games, he’s averaging 15.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.6 blocks and 1.4 steals in 32.6 minutes per game. He’s been averaging a double-double since being inserted into the starting lineup, but his defensive stats are picking up.
On offense, he’s pretty much limited to lobs, dunks, tip-ins, and layups. He’s got a huge catch radius, and he’s difficult to keep off the offensive glass. He has good hands, and is able to secure the ball in the paint when the defense collapses. His athleticism helps him as a cutter, and he’s able to blow past defenders and stretch the floor vertically.
Outside of cuts and dunks, he’s quite raw. The physical tools are there, but the mental aspect of the game is still in development. He’s attempted 14 3-pointers for some reason, and he probably shouldn’t be shooting them at all. He’s shooting 62 percent on free throw attempts, which is passable for a big but not great. He’s shooting nearly 60 percent on two-point attempts, but with better spacing and playing his natural position as a power forward, that percentage should get higher.
In terms of his fit with the Nuggets, it’s important for the team to find players that fit alongside Nikola Jokic. Williams is an opposite of Jokic - plays above the rim, fast, and a rim protector. He offers more defensive upside than the Nuggets current starting power forward, Kenneth Faried, with similar vertical game and rebounding.
Williams, with his physical gifts, is likely a lottery pick, but I don’t see him being selected with a top 10 pick. He’s probably not going to be there if the Nuggets make the playoffs, but no one expected the Nuggets to have a shot at Jamal Murray with the No. 7 pick either.
Williams is the top prospect on my board in terms of expected spot in the draft for the Nuggets and fit. He would be able to develop behind Faried for a season or two, developing chemistry with his teammates in practice and in a reserve role. With his ability to protect the rim as a help defender, he should be able to help the Nuggets defense tremendously. There are few players I would be more excited to see don a Nuggets hat on draft night.