The hot name on the streets for Charlotte Hornets fans throughout this draft cycle has been Duke center Mark Williams. The 2021-22 ACC Defensive Player of the Year has been the big rim protector this team has needed for years, and there’s a chance he’ll be available when it’s the Hornets’ turn. choice next Thursday.
Lester: 242 pounds
Range standing: 9’9″
Maximum vertical: N/A, did not participate in sports testing at NBA Combine
Date of Birth : December 16, 2001 (20 years old)
The Norfolk, Va. native spent the first three seasons of his high school career at Norfolk Academy, becoming a 1,000-point scorer in school and leading them to a state tournament. Williams transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. for his senior season after averaging 23.5 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in two games in the 2019 Nike Peach Jam with Boo Williams. 247Sports identified him as a five-star recruit and ranked him 18th in class at the time he committed to Duke over Michigan and UCLA, where he appeared in 23 games (15 starts) and has averaged 7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. In first year.
Mark’s older sister, Elizabeth, played for Duke’s women’s basketball program and was selected fourth in the 2015 WNBA Draft. She won the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2016, was an All- Star in 2017 and earned a first-team all-defense nod in 2020.
Strengths: positional size, shot blocking and rim protection, interior finish
Williams was quite easily the tallest player in the Combine this year. An inch longer than Walker Kessler with a four-inch advantage in standing reach and an inch and a quarter longer wingspan than Christian Koloko, he measured even better than expected. Like most lottery hopefuls, he hasn’t participated in athletic testing, scrimmages or shooting practice, which is understandable given his body measurements have increased his stock. Williams really has prototypical size, strength and length for a rim protector and should be able to hold its own when switched to larger fenders and forward.
For the most part, this year’s class greats excel as shot blockers, but Williams’ instinctive timing and clever positioning give him the freedom that lurks in fall coverage or on the weak side in anticipation of blocks. overwhelming. Not only is he one size fits all, but he has an innate sense of where to be in order to deter opponents from attacking the rim and soak up the mistakes of his teammates. Williams should immediately translate into a reliable inside defender who can withstand most types of confrontations down the middle.
Despite being a step below Jalen Duren in terms of explosive athleticism, Williams is still a solid jumper and he certainly takes off quickly. He runs on the ground and moves fluidly through the half court, using his long strides and ability to jump a foot or two after receiving a pass or catch a lob without a ton of loading. Going forward, it’s not hard to imagine a Kai Jones-Williams frontcourt lighting up NBA social media feeds with LaMelo Ball lobs.
Williams’ ability on the second jump impressed me more every time I came back to watch Duke games. He completely overpowered my Syracuse Orange in this game, which was missing starting center Jesse Edwards but still had absolutely nothing going for him at either end of the court. His size and athleticism overwhelmed Orange and the zone had no chance of stopping him.
Other than half a season from Montrezl Harrell, Williams would be the best pick-and-roll partner Ball has had so far in his career. He’s an engaging screener who seeks contact and has the core strength to wall off little guards and make screens hard to get through. If he were to land in Buzz City, he, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington would form a deadly trio on the front line.
Statistically speaking, Williams is an elite finisher in the paint; per BartTorvik, he was third in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 71.8 and he led the nation with 96 total dunks. Along with steals, blocks, and free throw attempt rate, dunks tend to be a solid measure of a prospect’s success in the NBA — players who physically top the NCAA level don’t succeed in the league. To be seven feet tall and finish that effectively requires a requisite combination of strength, skill and touch that very few non-NBA greats have, especially given Williams’ defensive mettle.
Areas to improve: defense in space/coverage in pick-and-roll, ball skills in attack
There’s little to worry about when it comes to Williams’ defensive translation, as he’s a solid all-around athlete and the aforementioned size and strength allow him to measure up to the big physical players in the NBA as a rookie. However, a significant heist could be what ultimately caps his cap in the league.
The ability to reliably defend and stay ahead of ball carriers in space is not a requirement for an effective center in the NBA, but it is a necessary skill for a center to maintain a level of effectiveness in the playoffs. Few centers can really hang on with guards on the perimeter, but look at the center rotations for teams in this year’s Conference Finals — not a single big handicap in space played many minutes or impactful.
While he’s certainly not a “plodder,” Williams isn’t the most mobile big mover on the perimeter either. Questionable pick-and-roll coverage decisions, coupled with an inability to pass to guards, prevent him from being an all-around elite defensive anchor. The ACC championship game against a Virginia Tech team that featured no NBA-caliber guards was examples of this. Lack of mobility isn’t really an issue in other facets of Williams’ game, so maybe it’s something that gets better as he develops under a team of NBA coaches, but it’s a moderate concern nonetheless.
Considering the role he is likely to play early in his career, Williams has enough skill, finesse with the ball in his hands. He’s an advantageous roller on ball screens who has good hands, a soft touch and can make the necessary reads when the defense crumbles on him in the paint, and he’s even shown shooting potential. The fadeaway sweaters he’s occasionally hit throughout the season are encouraging; he doesn’t need to make three, but effective mid-range play would turn him into a dynamic pick-and-roll threat.
At this point, Williams might be expected to read passes correctly when a brace comes in or a shot isn’t there for him, but he’s not a creator and doesn’t improve. his teammates’ scoring abilities with his game right now, which is just fine for a player of his ilk. A low-use big who finishes 78.1% of his shots at the rim doesn’t really need to shoot or pass.
While Williams may not have the same offensive upside as Duren, he is a top prospect with room to grow as a passer and spacer for that purpose. More importantly, he projects himself as the type of center who can fit in a variety of playoff settings and is less likely to be unplayable than most of his counterparts in that position. In the Hornets’ case, they’ve already covered small-ball matchups — a rim protector like Williams is the only piece missing in the frontcourt.
With new head coach Kenny Atkinson known for his penchant for playing his big players, Williams could be an even better fit for the Hornets than previously thought. Unless there is a bigger plan for a trade or a deal for a veteran, the Hornets should do everything they can to make sure at least one of Duren or Williams is available when they are on the counter.