In hindsight, the selection of Patrick Williams with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft proved to be a stark contrast to the other moves this newly-appointed front office made. The additions of players like Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso, and Lonzo Ball were done with immediate improvement in mind. So why and how did grabbing the youngest NCAA prospect in the class and an assumed long-term investment fit into the mold?
Well, with 71 starts under his belt in Year 1 and an NBA-ready frame that helped him guard some of the most talented players in the league, Williams looked the part last season. His confidence and offensive decision-making still showed significant room for improvement, but it was an all-around encouraging performance from a pretty unproven prospect. Now, a month out from a fresh season on a much-improved roster, executives around the league believe Williams could have an even quicker return on investment.
A HoopsHype poll asked 15 executives around the league to rank their top-3 breakout candidates, and Williams found himself as the 5th-place candidate. Each player in front of him has at least two seasons of NBA experience under their belt. Williams also received more votes than former lottery picks like RJ Barrett, James Wiseman, DeAndre Hunter, and Michael Porter Jr.
One NBA executive added more context on Williams’ allure to HoopsHype, pointing toward his potential two-way talent as the key reason he could take the next big step.
“Pat can shoot, and I think that makes him a fit anywhere. He’ll be their best defensive player. They’ll need him for a lot of different roles. He can be that glue guy defensively and guard threes and fours and switch out. They’ve got playmaking around him that’ll get him some shots on offense.”
To be fair, Williams shot at a pretty low volume, but he did impress with three-level scoring ability more than many expected. He shot 39.1 percent from downtown last season to accompany a 48.3 field goal percentage. More specifically, his midrange game was especially smooth, as he knocked 42 percent of those looks. Whether or not he can keep these efficient clips up with more opportunities is a worthwhile question, but it does not feel entirely out of the realm of possibility considering the help he now has around him.
The fact that Williams projects to be this starting lineup’s 5th offensive option makes a full-blown breakout a bit hard for me to embrace. But, again, he has far more playmaking talent around him than last season, and there is a chance he finds himself with far more scoring opportunities than expected simply because of the attention players like LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic draw from opposing defenses.
Also, while I picture DeMar DeRozan being the player staggered into the second unit to boost the bench’s scoring output, who is to say Williams does not get a chance? The organization let him run wild in Summer League on the offensive end, and they might be eager to get him even more comfortable on that side of the ball when the regular season gets underway.
With all the scoring in this starting lineup, however, defense will still be what drives any kind of Williams breakout. There is no question he is the most gifted defensive talent in the starting lineup. Lonzo Ball is a strong help defender who has proven he can cut off passing lanes and disrupt action along the perimeter, but Williams has a combination of length, size, athleticism, and instinct that appears just as special as it does beyond his years.
Williams was 3rd in blocks among rookies last season, and his FOUL% (amount of defensive fouls committed per team play) ranked in the league’s 80th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. He was able to play an aggressive brand of basketball on that end of the floor without getting himself in trouble. And while certain top players still gave him the work, he also proved to walk away from several matchups with the upper hand. For example, according to NBA dot com’s matchup data, Williams held scorers like Jerami Grant to a 5-13 performance from the field, Donovan Mitchell to a 4-14 performance, Tobias Harris to a 4-12 performance, and R.J. Barrett to a 7-16 performance. He also recorded four blocks on Zion Williamson in their 14:55 minutes of battle. In other words, the flashes of a ridiculously versatile and threatening defender were there.
Only time will tell what version of Williams we get this season. In my opinion, channeling some kind of bigger offensive role will be pivotal to any kind of true “breakout” this season, and accomplishing that feels a bit tough with a new-look roster. But I still love to see the perception around the league is that Williams is in the mix to accomplish big things. The higher rival executives view him, the more we know this front office got their first-ever draft pick right.
For more comments on Williams and a complete look at HoopsHype’s poll results, click below:
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) September 20, 2021