CLEVELAND, Ohio — For the first time since 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not picking in the top five of the NBA Draft. When a team holds the No. 14 pick — the last selection of the lottery — they aren’t in control of the outcome. There’s no Evan Mobley or Darius Garland coming. It’s not a small pool of prospects to choose from this year. Sources tell cleveland.com that the front office has about 10 players on its first-round radar, trying to identify the best combination of talent and fit.
The countdown is on. June 23 is fast approaching.
In the days leading up to the draft, cleveland.com will examine a handful of prospects that could realistically be in play for the Cavs in their expected range.
Next up: Santa Clara swingman Jalen Williams.
2021-22 stats: 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 51.3% FG, 39.6% 3P, 80.9% FT
Height: 6-5 ¾
Wingspan: 7-2 ¼
Position: shooting guard/small forward
Things to know:
Growth spurt — Considered the ninth-best prep player in Arizona, Williams hit a late growth spurt, adding a total of eight inches from his sophomore year of high school to freshman year in college. A point guard early in his career, with natural playmaking instincts and strong ball-handling skills, Williams’ upsurge will lead to a position switch. Still, he has the IQ and skill set to play all around the perimeter.
Mamba Mentality — Wearing the No. 24, Williams idolizes the late Kobe Bryant. Williams even has a Kobe tattoo on his right leg. Not only has Bryant served 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 court but also like to compete. Obviously, Kobe is the opposite,” Williams said. “He’s not really smiling when he plays. But I think how hard I compete is something I try to take with me as far as the Mamba Mentality does go.”
MVP alum — 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 the many teams to interview Williams during this pre-draft process. Nash was part of that sit-down.
Displaced — The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted Williams’ sophomore campaign with the Broncos. Because of the 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. Amidst 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.
Loaded schedule — Considered one of the draft’s risers, Williams has met with the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers. He will conduct a final workout with the Cavs on Monday. Among that lengthy list of pursuers, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Cleveland are slotted in the lottery.
“Chaotic but really fun,” Williams said of the process. “I don’t know if everybody has seen the movie “Hustle” yet but that’s a pretty good indicator of how it went. Late flights. Early workouts. Get to go through this process and compete with other high-major talent. I’m excited to be where I’m at right now.”
About the fit:
Shooting? Check. Size? Check. Positional fit? Yup. Versatility? Absolutely. Playmaking? Indeed. Williams brings the package Cleveland needs on the wing.
While many of the No. 14 options would be competing for limited rookie minutes at the 2 — a crowded position with Collin Sexton, Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro — Williams’ combination of size, length, physical maturity, experience and athleticism (second-best standing vertical leap of 33.5 inches at the combine) should allow him to play the 3, which is Cleveland’s thinnest position.
Thrust into a featured role this past season at Santa Clara, Williams took a major leap as an outside shooter, efficient scorer, crafty shot-maker and pick-and-roll creator. He led the team in points and assists, showing an ability to score from anywhere on the floor and putting pressure on opposing defenses. He was one of the best players in the West Coast Conference, being named First Team All-WCC.
That success in ball-screen situations — combined with his point guard background — makes it reasonable to believe Williams could help fill the Cavaliers’ secondary playmaker role, running the offense if needed. Despite impressive testing numbers, Williams doesn’t overwhelm with quickness, explosiveness or athleticism off the bounce. He’s cerebral and methodical, playing at the proper pace and creating separation with hesitation moves or change-of-speed attacks. He also has the size and length to shoot over 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 tallied 1.02 points per floater (86th percentile) and 0.79 points per pull-up jumper (53rd percentile).
But Williams’ well-rounded offensive game, with the ability to be an off-the-ball asset, is appealing. Ranking in the 97th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the half court, it’s exciting to think about Williams on the receiving end of those weakside Darius-Garland-created open looks instead of erratic Cedi Osman or non-shooter Okoro.
Many of head coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s current lineup decisions come down to offense or defense. It’s a maddening conundrum. Despite Williams having rough stretches on defense and needing to get better on that end, he has the tools and mindset to improve with the right coaching. The change in position, not having to defend point guards full-time, may help as well.
Williams could be Cleveland’s long-term solution. Finally a starting-caliber, two-way wing.
What they’re saying:
Williams — “Teams haven’t seen me a lot just due to the fact that 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 playing my game, going in there and competing with other dudes that are doing the same thing as me. Just show a good, positive attitude throughout the whole workout. Everyone here can hoop so try to do the little things to stand out.”
Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report, NBA Draft Analyst — “He could get into the lottery. Not many holes in his game. The only one is athleticism. I think we overestimate the importance of athleticism. I think skill, IQ and versatility is more important — unless that athleticism is going to really prevent you from getting shots off or finishing. Another easy fit. Does he have star upside? No. But late lottery, you probably have to keep in mind you’re probably not getting a star anyway. You just want a good, quality role player who can give you minutes early and fit in any lineup. You can play him at the 1, 2 or 3. You can play him on or off the ball. Easy fit and likable kid.”
NBA executive — “He is the biggest riser in this process – and rightfully so. The more I watch, the more I like him. Plug-and-play guy. Can crack a rotation immediately. I think he’s a top 20 guy in this year’s draft.”
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