PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns kicked off pre-draft workouts on Thursday, changing up their past format and scheduling two groups of six for a total of 12 prospects to see on the day.
The most notable prospect and highest rated of the bunch is Tennessee forward Grant Williams. ESPN currently slots Williams at No. 31 on its big board, putting him in play with the Suns’ second-round pick at 32nd overall.
Williams qualifies for two types of draft prospects we always see.
The first is the one that will interest the Suns the most. Williams is your typical potential late first-round pick that fits in nicely with a playoff team given his experience and skill set.
A three-year player for the Volunteers, Williams won SEC Player of the Year back-to-back years, averaging 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game in his junior year.
He’s a smart, heady player who shines the most when you watch him over the course of a full game. And the more you see him, the more you like him.
Because of a 240-pound stocky frame and some quickness, Williams at over 6-foot-7 is a prototypical switchy power forward. He can hold on under the punishment of bully-ball in the post, dish it out himself on mismatches and battle on the glass with anyone while surviving as a switcher on wings.
As the NBA playoffs have shown, players who do a little bit of everything on both ends while thriving the most as a defender — like Toronto’s Pascal Siakam or Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon — are becoming more valuable and making more traditional player types extinct. Those two players, as you would have it, were tenured college players selected in the second round, which could be Williams’ label as well in June.
Brogdon, for example, can defend guards well. But he can also use his strength and length as a guard and overall defensive skills and reactions to do better than most would on the Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard. That’s the type of scaling up and down on switching that a collection of 2-3 players being able to do can maximize a team’s upside defensively.
“It’s gonna be about using your length,” Williams said of how NBA defenses forcing him to switch. “Understanding that it’s a quicker pace in the league. Really, if you can guard for six or seven seconds (on the ball), you’ll be good.”
Williams takes further advantage of those attributes by playing his tail off and embracing all the physicality any opponent brings.
That directly plays to his biggest strength in functioning as a team defender, most notably as a help-side guy.
Because of the high IQ and his interior scoring requiring a double team often enough, Williams has progressed as a passer and has elevated his ability reading defenses.
You might pause at Williams needing a double, but he will triple threat you to death with his comfortable handle, quick first step, ability to draw fouls and strong touch within 12 feet.
As you can see, Williams’ ability to attack off the dribble is a big plus for him to have in his game. To once again bring up Siakam, that’s what has really revolutionized his game offensively in Toronto, not being able to shoot.
The second cliche we arrive at for Williams is him having to overcome “tweener” concerns as a combo forward.
There’s not much about his individual post game scoring-wise you can be optimistic about against NBA power forwards, and on the other end, the typical NBA four-man is bigger, stronger and sometimes even faster than him. Can he switch and slide with small forwards, as well?
On top of that, his three-point shot is a mystery. He took 103 over three years at Tennessee and shot 29.1% on ’em. To be fair, Williams certainly has the touch inside on his jumper as you can see above and that brings potential on him extending his range.
But Williams’ overall balance, physical profile and intangibles match up exactly with what the Suns, and, well, every team wants.
“We’re stressing basketball intelligence — as they call it, basketball IQ,” Suns general manager James Jones said of what the team is looking for in prospects. “It’s fundamentally playing the game of basketball and not trying to limit it to whether or not guys shoot 3s, get layups or free throws.”