Updated: Jun 15
Duke big man Mark Williams was among the NCAA’s top shot blockers this season, but how he accrued those stats raises both intrigue and questions about his NBA future. This is the fourth of five mini articles that will focus on the top big men in the 2022 NBA Draft and their ability to defend, notably with unique tracking data geared toward exactly how they accrued their blocked shots during this past season and what we can learn from them.
In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight contributor Bjorn Zetterberg continues ‘Data Tracking,’ a new series that explores some of the nitty-gritty nuances surrounding different groups of 2022 NBA Draft prospects. Next up: Duke’s Mark Williams.
The modern NBA center isn’t perceived to be as valuable as the position used to be, but still holds a pertinent role within a team on both ends of the floor. Nowhere in college basketball was this more apparent than with Duke where Williams was surrounded by NBA talent and glimpsed into his pro role. On offense, he’s a low-usage rim-running big who will be counted on to dive off screens, get putbacks and finish dump-offs. Defensively, he needs to be the anchor in the paint and prove himself somewhat switchable to see the floor in significant minutes. Looking at how he recorded blocked shots offered a preview of how he will figure into the defensive end with where he can excel but may also fall short.
What immediately jumps out about Williams: the sheer size and crazy measurements from the 2022 NBA Draft combine: 7’0” (no shoes) with a 7’6.5” wingspan and a 9’9” standing reach. That’s a Goliath-esque package of size, length and even with just decent leaping, presents an impressive shot-blocking radius. It’s then by no surprise that he had the highest share in this study of blocks in the paint among bigs at 95-percent, and a majority of those rejections (~9/10) were frontward facing to the shooter. Mark had a very high share of blocks coming on-ball at two-thirds, but was still involved rotating over on help. Perhaps the most fascinating part about his play was that he ended up as the most ambidextrous shot blocker of the bunch with 53-percent coming right-handed and 40-percent with his left.
Williams is built to take a hit mid-air and counter with length to get a hand on the ball after contact. However, he had the lowest share of vertical contests in this study at only 13-percent, and the lowest share of mid-air contact on only of his 18-percent blocks in the paint. When facing aerial collisions, Mark held solid on two-thirds of plays where he absorbed contact, being unmoved in the air by the physical drive from the initiating shooter. Thus, natural room for growth with vertical contest technique at the next level where he’s going to face more physical resistance at the rim, but worth noting he only had 4+ fouls in six of his 39 sophomore season games.
The paint protection ingredients are great, but the major questions about Williams at the next level are how does his game translate outside the paint on defense? Can he switch and serviceably handle quicker guards one-on-one? He didn’t get pulled away from the paint all that often in college. Williams looks OK laterally, albeit slower shifting his weight and momentum side-to-side with a higher center of gravity, but has fairly solid footwork and moves well for his size. He's not real straight-line quick to close out to the perimeter, and while that’s where the size and length should factor in, his perimeter contests are lacking. He tends to leave a lot of space for shooters, and when he gets beat off the dribble, he doesn't make many plays from behind the attacking offensive player. Williams seems like a ‘drop’ big man in pick-and-roll defensive coverage with his tendency to want to hang in the paint and give cushion. He also took a wider, loopy path to recover back to his man as the screener defense earlier in season, but noticeably improved it as the year went on.
It is worth mentioning that Williams averaged less than 24 minutes per game this past season, which was sixth on his own team. To be fair, he played 30+ minutes in four of five NCAA Tournament games, although in their Final Four loss to UNC he was only in for 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
The former Duke center likely projects as a short inning rim protector who can start a game, but it’s less certain he will close it. He should please a team lacking quality big man depth with his role and what he can provide them with closing off the paint. Expect some exposure off switches and pick-and-roll defense, but there’s a chance he develops and performs better than anticipated. While maybe not as coveted by an NBA team as he would have been a decade ago or more, Mark Williams will be standing tall on draft night.
Bjorn has worked in the NBA for about a decade as an associate analyst with the Orlando Magic, Video Analyst Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers and Advance Scout for the Idaho Stampede. You can follow him on twitter @bjornzetterberg and reach him by email at email@example.com.