Zhaire Smith | Robert Williams | Keita Bates-Diop | Miles Bridges | Josh Okogie | Chandler Hutchison
Robert Williams was a projected lottery pick last year, but returned to Texas A&M for another season with the Aggies. He basically repeated his performance from his freshman season, but in the process, disappeared into the pack of big men in the 2018 draft. He’s still a bouncy, shotblocking, athletic center that could develop into an impact defender in the NBA, and perhaps he’s someone the Nuggets will look into drafting with the No. 14 pick in the draft.
Oh, and he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year both years he was at Texas A&M. The kid can play defense.
Weight: 237 lbs
Standing Reach: 9’4”
Athleticism. Williams has athleticism in spades. He capped off two straight NCAA Tournament games with windmill dunks, letting everyone in the arena know what he was about. He has the explosiveness to spring back up for second and third jumps on the glass to secure rebounds. He has the agility to keep up with wings and guards on the perimeter after switches. He can get beat, recover, and launch into the air to catch up to the ball. He doesn’t just block shots - he pounds them into the hardwood.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he battled Mason Plumlee for most two-handed power dunks if the Nuggets drafted him (and gave him minutes). You thought reverse jams were cool? Check these out:
Help defense. That athleticism means that he’s going to be able to rotate over and contest shots in the NBA. Remember the Larry Nance Jr. dunk on Mason Plumlee? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Williams would have been able to not only get over to contest the dunk, but would have been able to elevate high enough to block that dunk.
He’s constantly lurking in the weeds on defense, snuffing out his man while crouching, anticipating the perfect time to commit to blocking the shot. He managed to play defense without fouling as well, averaging 3.1 personal fouls per 40 minutes, according to Basketball Reference.
Rebounding. He’s able to high point the basketball in the air, leaping above offensive rebounders to snatch the ball with two hands. That athleticism meant that he often didn’t concentrate on boxing out his defender, but with Jokic at center, the Nuggets already have a strong team rebounder. Much like Steven Adams helps his teammates secure all the defensive rebounds, Jokic’s ability to box out would create double-digit rebounding opportunities for Williams with the Nuggets.
Shot mechanics. He is not a perimeter shooter. He looks like a baby giraffe trying to get jumpers up. It’s not something that can stop him from getting minutes (cough, cough, Mason Plumlee) but he’s not going to be a floor spacer without some serious work. A 54 percent free throw shooter, he’s going to need to work with a shot doctor so that he isn’t a liability for the team at the charity stripe. If he can get that percentage up to 70 percent, he’d be a monster (in a good way).
Physicality. It’s hard for me, personally, to determine if this is a real weakness, just because of the situation he was in at Texas A&M. Playing alongside two other bigs meant that he often was having to box out against wings, and when he played against bigs, it looked like he was confused on how to adapt to the bigger opponent. He struggled to set effective screens, but defenders were also coached to go under every screen and give the Aggies shooters the greenest of green lights. You try setting a screen on a guy that knows he’s got a couple seconds to scoot underneath your pick.
Fit with the Nuggets
Let’s talk for a couple minutes about how Williams was able to average 2.6 blocks per game on a team where he often played SMALL FORWARD. The Aggies leading scorer, Tyler Davis, was the starter at center. Texas A&M played Tonny Trocha-Morelos at power forward, because he was a senior and he shot 30 percent on his 3-point attempts. That capped Williams minutes, because they wanted to play the senior more minutes and they needed Davis’ scoring, unless he played small forward.
The thing is, Williams isn’t a 3-point shooter. He went 2 for 30 during his two seasons in college on 3-point attempts, and his teammates weren’t much better. Of the 351 schools on the leaderboard for Basketball Reference, Texas A&M ranked 291st in 3-point percentage. That meant that Williams had to deal with a paint that was as thick as a block of lead, leaving him to hunt for offensive rebounds to get points.
With the Nuggets, Williams wouldn’t have to worry about a clogged paint. Jokic plays away from the basket as an initiator on offense, and the other players on the court are likely going to be skilled 3-point shooters. Nuggets fans have seen a player like Williams succeed on offense already, in the 2016-17 season with Kenneth Faried. While Williams could be comparable to Faried on the boards, Williams looks to be a positive on defense, unlike the former Nuggets starting power forward.
If Williams is the pick, it’s a sign to me that the front office is punting on the 2018-19 season in search of a contender in 2019-20. That would give them one season to get a ton of dead money off their books, and they’d potentially let Millsap walk at the end of the season as well. That would give Williams a year to develop on the Nuggets “G-League” team, working on things like setting screens and learning how to play as a power forward/center in the NBA.
With poor defenders on the team in Jokic, Murray, and waiting in the wings in Juancho Hernangomez, Tyler Lydon, and whoever remains on the team in the 2019-20 season, having a defensive stalwart to throw into different lineups would be invaluable. It wouldn’t help them much this upcoming season, but depending on how the offseason goes, it may not matter anyways.
I’d be excited for Williams to join the Nuggets, especially because it would give them a fallback so they can explore trades for the litany of bigs that don’t have games that correlate with success in the modern NBA. He can be a guy that can play alongside Jokic at times, while also giving them a strong defender to put into the game when they really need a stop late in games.
Watch what he was able to do against North Carolina in the NCAA tournament -- this is a guy that has the tools to be successful in the NBA.