NBA

2022 NBA Draft: Jalen Williams could fill Cleveland Cavaliers’ greatest need

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — For the first time since 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers did not make the top five in the NBA Draft. When a team holds pick #14 – the last selection in the lottery – they don’t control the outcome. There’s no Evan Mobley or Darius Garland coming. It’s not a small group of prospects to choose from this year. Sources tell cleveland.com the front office has about 10 players on its first-round radar, trying to identify the best combination of talent and fit.

The countdown begins. June 23 is fast approaching.

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In the days leading up to the draft, cleveland.com will examine a handful of prospects who could realistically be in play for the Cavs in their expected range.

Next: Santa Clara swingman Jalen Williams.

Organic :

Statistics 2021-22: 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 51.3% FG, 39.6% 3P, 80.9% FT

Age: 21

Height: 6-5 ¾

Lester: 209

Wingspan: 7-2 ¼

Position: shooting guard/small forward

Things to know:

Growth spurt — Considered the ninth best prep player in Arizona, Williams had a late growth spurt, adding a total of eight inches between his sophomore year of high school and his freshman year of college. A playmaker early in his career, with natural playmaking instincts and strong ball-handling skills, Williams’ upsurge will lead to a change in position. Still, he has the IQ and skills to play all around the perimeter.

Mamba Mentality – Wearing No. 24, Williams idolizes the late Kobe Bryant. Williams even has a tattoo of Kobe on his right leg. Not only did Bryant serve as a role model, but his early emergence with the Los Angeles Lakers gave Williams an introduction to basketball.

“I like to have fun on the field, but I also like to compete. Obviously Kobe is the opposite,” Williams said. “He doesn’t really smile when he plays. But I think how competitive I am is something I try to take with me when it comes to the Mamba mentality.

Former MVP — On Thursday night, Williams will become the first Santa Clara player drafted since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 1996. Brooklyn, where Nash is now the head coach, was one of several teams to interview Williams during this pre-draft process. Nash was part of that encounter.

Moved — The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on Williams’ second campaign with the Broncos. Due to strict local protocols, Santa Clara moved its basketball operations to Santa Cruz for an abbreviated 20-game season. Williams played in 18 of those contests. Amid the tumult, Williams’ numbers suffered, averaging just 11.5 points while shooting a career-worst 39.9% from the field and 27.4% from 3-point range.

Busy schedule — Considered one of the lifters in the draft, Williams has met the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers. He will complete one last practice with the Cavs on Monday. Among this long list of pursuers, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Cleveland are entered in the lottery.

“Chaotic but really fun,” Williams said of the process. “I don’t know if everyone has seen the movie ‘Hustle’, but that’s a pretty good indicator of how it went. Late flights. First workouts. Go through this process and compete with other great talents. I’m happy to be where I am right now.

About fit:

Filming? Check. Cut? Check. Positional adjustment? Yeah. Versatility? Absolutely. Playing games? In effect. Williams brings the Cleveland package needs on the wing.

While many No. 14 options were competing for rookie minutes limited to 2 – a crowded position with Collin Sexton, Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro – the combination of height, length, physical maturity, experience and athleticism of Williams (second-best standing vertical jump of 33.5 inches at the combine) should allow him to play 3, which is Cleveland’s thinnest position.

Pushed into a starring role last season at Santa Clara, Williams made a big leap forward as an outside shooter, efficient scorer, trick shooter and pick-and-roll creator. He led the team in points and assists, showing an ability to score from anywhere on the pitch and putting pressure on opposition defences. He was one of the best players in the West Coast Conference, being named First Team All-WCC.

That success in ball-screening situations — combined with his experience as a point guard — makes it reasonable to believe Williams could help fill the Cavaliers’ secondary point guard role, leading the offense if necessary. Despite impressive test numbers, Williams isn’t overwhelmed by quickness, explosiveness or rebounding athleticism. He’s cerebral and methodical, playing at the right pace and creating separation with wavering moves or shifting attacks. He’s also got the size and length to fire at defenders – on the perimeter and inside. He scored 1.25 points per shot around the rim in the half court, which ranked in the 73rd percentile. He also had 1.02 points per float (86th percentile) and 0.79 points per pull-up jumper (53rd percentile).

But Williams’ well-rounded attacking game, with the ability to be an asset off the ball, is appealing. Ranking in the 97th percentile of catch-and-shoot jumpers in the half court, it’s exciting to think of Williams receiving those open looks created by Darius-Garland, instead of erratic Cedi Osman or non-shooting Okoro.

Many of head coach JB Bickerstaff’s current decisions come down to offense Where defense. It’s a maddening enigma. Although Williams has a tough stretch in defense and needs to improve for that purpose, he has the tools and the mindset to improve with the right training. The change in position, not having to defend full-time point guards, can also help.

Williams could be Cleveland’s long-term solution. Finally a bi-directional wing of the first caliber.

What they say :

Williams– “Teams didn’t see me a lot just because we were a west coast team playing late at night. I’m a lot bigger than what it looks like on TV and I’m more athletic. Honestly just play my game and go out there and compete with other guys who are doing the same thing as me. Just show a good positive attitude throughout the workout. Everyone here can hoop, so try to do the little things to stand out.

Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report, NBA Draft Analyst — “He could participate in the lottery. Not many holes in his game. The only one is athletics. I think we overestimate the importance of athletics. I think skill, IQ, and versatility are more important – unless that athleticism really gets in the way of you shooting or finishing. Another easy adjustment. Does it have an upside down star? No. But in the late lottery, you probably have to keep in mind that you probably won’t get a star anyway. You just want a good quality player who can give you a head start and fit into any lineup. You can play it at 1, 2 or 3. You can play it with or without the ball. Easy fit and child friendly.

NBA executive — “He is the biggest lifter in this process – and rightly so. The more I watch it, the more I like it. A plug-and-play guy. Can break a spin immediately. I think he’s one of the top 20 players in this year’s draft.

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