With their third lottery pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Jalen Williams at No. 12 overall. While he was one of the older players caught in the top half of the first round, the extra years of wisdom and experience proved invaluable early in his NBA career.
Williams has now played 16 games (6 starts) in the league, averaging 9.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 24.6 minutes per game. He screams from 50% off the ground and showed the upside of a legitimate three-tier scorer.
Moreover, the 21-year-old has also been an effective defender. Standing at 6ft 6in with a wingspan of 7ft 2in, he has the frame, strength and footwork to defend four positions at a high level.
While Williams’ defensive edge may come as a surprise to Thunder fans, this trail ending is actually what first got him onto the field in college as a rookie.
“He got on the field first for us, based on what he was doing on the defensive side of the field,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek told me.
That versatility was a huge reason why he played a ton of minutes despite being a rookie, as Thunder coach Mark Daigneault can play him at any guard position, as well only on the wing or in the fourth line.
The numbers Williams has released so far are certainly worth considering by NBA All-Rookie. When comparing his production with the players selected in his draft class, he is near the top of the list in most major categories.
- Points: 8th
- Rebounds: 13th
- Assists: 3rd
- FG%: T-3e
- FT%: T-5e
- Flights: T-6e
- Blocks: T-10e
- Minutes: 8th
Williams’ maturity and IQ led him to become an influential NBA player from day one. He really understands what it takes to be a professional on and off the pitch and always looks ready. Compared to other freshmen in the league, he rarely makes rookie mistakes and the moment never seems to overwhelm him.
“I think the biggest thing that impressed me about him is that he’s kind of unshakable in all the storms at the start of the season,” Daigneault said last week. “Things happen fast for young players on the pitch. But there is also the emotional volatility of success or failure. All of these experiences are truly emotional. The stakes are high for these guys. And the earlier you are in your career, the more you catastrophize the bad experiences and the more you embrace the good experiences. He really hasn’t flinched in success or failure yet. He seems to have a competitive maturity that struck me.“
This maturity and balance has led to Williams often finding himself in the line-up with the game on the line. It shows the staff’s confidence in his ability to make the right decisions.
Not only has his transition to the league been smooth, but he is also improving already. Williams continues to show new things with each passing game and does a great job building on previous performances.
“Every year he added dimensions to his game,” Sendek said of Williams’ ability to improve over time. “Every year, going back to when he was a young player in high school, he comes back the next year much better. It is not a static drive.
It’s like he adds a new building block every day and gradually improves and expands his game.
To date, Williams is proving to be a legitimate part of this young Oklahoma City core. He has made an impact since the day he entered the facility and has only improved in the first 20 games of the 2022-23 season.
“He did a very good job,” Daigneault said of his rookie. “The main reason we are so optimistic is that he studies fast and plays very hard and is competitive. That alone gives you a very good chance to improve and improve quickly.
Going forward, Williams will be looking to earn a permanent spot in the starting lineup as he carves out a bigger role in the rotation.