Next up on the list of Buzzworthy Picks for the 2021 NBA Draft is Ziaire Williams, freshman wing out of Stanford.
Weight: 188.4 pounds
For the first three years of his high school career, Williams went to Notre Dame High School while making a name for himself on the AAU circuit with BTI Select. He chose to attend Stanford over the likes of Arizona, Duke, Oregon, North Carolina, UCLA and USC after starring at Sierra Canyon High School alongside Brandon Boston Jr., Bronny James and Zaire Wade his senior year. Williams was a consensus top-10 recruit, ranking as high as fifth by 247Sports.
Any basketball team that played a season during the years 2020 or 2021 faced difficulties, but few had it tougher than the Stanford Cardinal men’s basketball team. Due to COVID-19 regulations set in place by Santa Clara County, Calif. where Stanford University is located, the Cardinal were forced to play most of their games almost an hour away in Santa Cruz. The team lived out of hotels for a portion of the season in order to play “home” games within the state of California, and to boot, Williams suffered a knee injury in a bicycling accident that forced him into a brace and dealt with personal losses amidst the season.
“Underwhelming” is a word thrown around often regarding Williams’ lone season at Stanford, and though it isn’t wrong to say he didn’t live up to the standard he’d set for himself, glossing over the challenges the Cardinal endured this season would be leaving out context.
Strengths: shot-making versatility, deep range, mobility/size
As a scoring wing that stands just a shade under 6-foot-10, the most intriguing aspect of Williams’ upside is his shot profile and versatility as a scorer. When looking at the numbers, it does not appear that Williams is a shooter with splits of 37.4/29.1/79.6 on a 47.3 true shooting percentage, but there’s plenty of evidence on film that he has the potential to be a dynamic shot-maker at his size:
An adept shooter off the catch, Williams also creates ample space using a variety of step-backs and side-steps when taking threes off the bounce. As seen in the clip above, he can let it rip from well beyond NBA range and his form is incredibly sound, which leads me to believe that his efficiency will improve during a non-pandemic season when he has time to properly adjust to a new setting.
There’s a theme developing here; Williams shot just 36 percent (27-75 FG) on 2-point jumpers, but it was on a heavy diet of self-created looks (18.5 percent of 2PA were assisted) and he flashed some impressive knock-down shooting off the dribble:
The fluidity in motion of his up-fake, rip through and dribble into the rise up for the jumper is really impressive for someone of his height; NBA defenders will probably close out with more control than LJ Figueroa did here, but Williams’ mobility and size will allow him to shoot over smaller/quicker defenders that get thrown on him as a rookie.
Areas to develop: frame, defense, ball-handling, passing IQ/accuracy
Williams is not the first prospect that needs to add strength to compete in the NBA and he won’t be the last, but 188 pounds is tough to work with at nearly 6-foot-10. Apart from Aleksej Pokuševski, he’ll likely be the skinniest player above 6-foot-8 in the league next season. There’s not much to be said about it other than “get him into an NBA strength and conditioning program” and let him bulk up, because he’s already got some explosiveness (especially in transition), fluid hips, impressive lateral quickness and general NBA-caliber athleticism.
The issues Williams has defensively play heavily into his lack of strength at this stage; he’s not a “bad” defender, but it’s easy for him to get moved off of his spot and that’s only going to get easier with NBA ball-handlers attacking him. He has feel on both ends of the floor which helps him as an off-ball defender and he has a motor on that end even if he’s not a high-level playmaker (he recorded two steals in six of his 20 games played) or decision-maker right now.
It’s incredibly important for starting-caliber wings in the NBA to be able to pass and handle the ball on top of spacing the floor and defending their position, and while Williams had four games with six or more turnovers last season, he’s a willing passer and has shown some ability to make the reads that are presented to him while hunting for his shot:
On this possession, Williams tries to get a look from near the right elbow, but he doesn’t force anything, keeps moving within the offense, gets the ball back and then has another opportunity to create where he feeds Oscar da Silva for a nice bucket in the mid-post. He shot a poor percentage and turned the ball over a lot, but it wasn’t because of poor shot selection or a limited ability to make plays, he just needs more reps to iron out the deficiencies in his ball-handling and passing off the dribble.
Another clip from the Colorado-Stanford game on Feb 11; this one is a nice example of what Williams could stand to improve while showing the flashes that provide optimism for said improvement. Maddox Daniels (#3) is a career-37.4 percent shooter from deep with 171 of his 244 total attempts coming from beyond the arc, so going under the screen and not fighting it much was probably not on the scouting report Williams received pre-game. But, he still gives a decent contest because he’s quick and long, hustles down the floor and flares to the corner before flowing into a side pick-and-roll with da Silva, to whom he dumps a nice pocket pass for the finish.
Tightening up his handle by keeping the ball a bit closer to his body and cleaning up his dribble-to-pass transition will help, as will developing lower body and core strength to keep him from getting off-balance when he drives into a defender.
Williams has a wide draft range, though he seems to land somewhere between 10 and 20 on most mock drafts and big boards. He’s an upside pick, not a player who will contribute to winning immediately but there’s nothing wrong with that; he can shuffle between the NBA and G League while he develops his body as a rookie, and despite the lack of statistical evidence to this point he does have NBA-level shooting ability and lateral movement that’s sufficient enough to indicate he can survive on defense, especially if he can be stashed on smaller players.
Charlotte has two positions of need; center and wing. We’ve all been through the philosophical debate of drafting for need or best player available, but Williams checks both of those boxes. If he reaches his ceiling, he’s a picturesque modern wing shooter with some passing ability and off-ball playmaking on both ends that would fit well next to LaMelo Ball. His floor may be low due to the lack of size and that his numbers didn’t match his ability at Stanford, but Ziaire Williams is the exact player archetype that’s worth betting on in the lottery in my opinion.