Should the Wolves draft Derrick Williams with the second pick in the draft (if he is even available)? If they do, there are some legitimate questions about his fit on the team and his play in relation to a certain 6'8" athletic combo forward who is already on the roster. Oh, don't forget that the squad already has an upper-level power forward that has forced said athletic 6'8" guy to the wing. I know this is probably something of a perception bias from a fan who follows a single team a tad closer than he follows the rest of the league, but are the Wolves the only team that consistently finds itself in situations where things that should be unmitigated successes/positives (drafting #2, for instance) come with numerous negative strings attached?
Anywho, much more below the fold.
The number one thing to remember when comparing Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley is that Beasley was able to put up his gigantic numbers as a freshman in a tougher conference and with a tougher schedule while Williams put up his monster season as a sophomore in a weaker conference with a weaker schedule.
When we look at the stat sheet from Beasley’s freshman season and compare it to Williams’ first campaign, what we see is clear: Beasley was the superior performer by a country mile. Let’s break down how much better freshman Beasley was than freshman Williams in a number of key categories:
- Ortg: +5.6%
- SoSch: +4.14%
- %poss: -+27.86%
- %shots: +46.91%
- %min: +13.64
- TS: -1.61%
- or%: +37.11
- TO%: even
- blk%: +125%
- ftrate: -41.19%
- 2%: -5.39%
- 3%: +51.6%
- pts/pos: +1.65%
- fga/pos: +17.14%
- fta/pos: -31.03%
- ast/pos: even
- to/pos: -13.33%
- fga/g: +92.31%
- ppr: -29.31%
- %tm reb: +45.63%
- ws/40: +72.57
In 21 categories, Beasley was on top in 14 and even in 2. He carried a much, much, much heavier load (78% of team minutes compared to 68.9% for Williams;%poss: 33.5/26.2; %shots: 35.7/24.8) while turning it over the same amount (15.1%) and being the far, far superior off-the-ball producer (blocks: 5.4/2.4; or%: 13.3/9.7; %tmreb: 30/20.6).
All of this is clearly reflected in Beasley’s huge advantage in WS/40 (19.5/11.3), PER (39.3/25.4), and eff/40 (37.7/23.4).
I know he’s had his ups and downs in the NBA and he’s something of a goofball, but it is kind of hard to overstate just how well Beasley performed as a freshman at Kansas State and just how far short of these numbers Williams fell during his freshman campaign.
As a sophomore, Williams fares a bit better. Out of the 21 measurements against a freshman Beasley, Williams comes out on top 9 times, while lowering the % difference between the freshman numbers in 8 of Beasley’s 12 winning categories. What is especially interesting about Williams' two seasons are his workload numbers.
- %poss: 26.2/28.7
- %shots: 24.3/24.8
- %min: 68.9/74.1
None of those numbers come close to Beasley’s 33.5/35.7/78.3 line. Not only did Beasley produce superior numbers as a freshman in a better conference, but he did so while shouldering a much larger load than either of Williams’ campaigns. The question with Williams’ game is two fold: how well will two specific numbers transfer to the NBA and can he handle a larger workload? Beasley handled a 28.3 usage rate last year. Can Williams equal that in the pros?
What does Williams have going for him (i.e. what are his two areas of superiority over Beasley)?
The most obvious and important thing is 3 point shooting. Williams was 42-74 from beyond the arc in his sophomore season. This production came out of nowhere, as he was 4-16 (.250) as a freshman. Is a .568 mark from beyond the arc something to get excited about at 1.9 3pa/game? In his freshman season, B-Easy shot .379 from beyond the arc with 2.9 attempts/game. Both players made 1.1 3s/game. Beasley was 36-95 and Williams was 42-74. These six 3 pointers on 21 fewer shots account for a nice chunk of what makes a sophomore Williams look a little bit like a freshman Beasley, and are the primary cause for concern (or hope) with taking him at #2 (which is not necessarily a bad thing; rather, it is something that is out of our ability to discern with open-source stats on the interwebs). These 3 pointers (taken at a clip of 1.9 shots/game--which is not very much) account for the large difference in TS% (69-61) and they help in pts/poss (1.29-1.23). Williams was able to gather 126 points on 74 possessions with those 3 pointers (1.70 ppp). Beasley’s 3s netted K-State 108 points on 95 possessions (1.13 ppp).
The team that drafts Williams will have to hope that Williams can shoot the NBA 3 at something on the north side of %40. They will also have to bank on the idea that he will do this at the 4, because the primary threat of his entire offensive repertoire is built off of a) him being quicker than opposing 4s and b) him being a threat from outside. Can he hit the .400 mark? Here is a list of 6'8"+ forwards who have made the .400 grade. Are 74 attempts from beyond the arc enough of a thing to get excited about? What about a guy who shot .488 (48/90) over 2 years? How much of that will carry over to the NBA?
The real key to how his game transfers will be his performance from mid-range. This is an area where Beasley excels. B-Easy carries a .429 efg on all jump shots and is especially effective (relative to the rest of the league) from 16-23, shooting 41% last season, 39% the year before that, and 46% in his rookie year. Beasley is a decent scorer for many of the same reasons as Williams. He is a tough match up at the 4 (although the Wolves are trying him at the 3) and he is a good enough shooter to keep larger defenders honest. While we have a fairly good idea that Williams’ bread is buttered from being a threat beyond the arc, we do not know if he has the type of mid range game to work a single dribble shot, curl, or pull up on the pick and roll to really make him a viable and efficient NBA scorer.
Williams’ 2nd big step up on Beasley is in his ability to get to the line. The guy is a foul magnet and it shows in his large advantages in ftrate (87.1/48.4) and fta/poss (.58/.4). In his sophomore season, Williams took 8.7 trips to the line per contest. Beasley took 8.5/game but he did so with a much heavier workload. One of the questions that should be asked when looking into Williams' mid-range and perimeter games on film (or with data collection services unavailable on the intertronz) is how many FTA/FGA are from plays started beyond the arc, 16-23, 10-15, etc. How and where does Williams draw contact? This should be an easy thing for a pro team to figure out and the answers to these questions will go a long way in determining how effective Williams has the possibility of being at the next level.
The big guess/gamble with Williams is this: How much of his 3 point shooting and free throw rate will he be able to transfer to the NBA and will this transfer be enough to allow him to perform at or above the levels of Mr. Beasley? If they don't transfer well, does Williams have a good enough mid-range game to allow him to still be a threat against larger defenders off of the dribble? Also, how much of Williams’ success in playing this specific type of ball is tied to him being able to play as a power forward? His 3% is going to take a big hit in the NBA. His ability to bang on the post and gather a ton of free throws is going to take a big hit in the NBA. Will those two things take an even bigger hit with him at the 3? I think the answer to this question is yes. We see the same things with Beasley. The guy is built to take advantage of his handle, athleticism, quickness, and outside shooting at the 4. While he might be able to take advantage of a 3 on the post, the most tantalizing part of his game is built from the inside-out, not the other way around. One part of Williams’ in and out advantage will be seriously downgraded in the NBA: Either his outside game will give him a huge advantage at the 4 or his inside game will give him a big advantage at (against) the 3(s). Parts of each talent will bleed into one another, but I think the basic point is clear: He’s most advantageous either as a post-centric 3 or a perimeter-based 4. How many post-centric 3s do you know of? He’s not a 3. This is especially the case with the Wolves--a team that is already saddled with the issues of playing a talented and athletic combo forward who is better suited at the 4, at the 3.
What is standing in the way of making a clear call on Williams?
Let’s take Williams’ TS% and plug in 35% for 3 and 6 FTA/36 instead of 10.4. This puts him at a .626 TS without any sort of conversion factor for the NBA. Again, it will be very important for any team that drafts Williams to understand what his mid-range game looks like. It’s not that big of a deal for a guy of Williams’ size and athleticism to shoot between 60-70% from inside 8 feet in college. What would be a big deal is if he shoots 40% from 16 feet to the 3 point line, or if he is between 40-50% from 10-15 feet. We know B-Easy can hack it from mid-range. We do not know that about Williams and it could end up being a major impediment from him becoming even a Beasley-lite in the NBA. As mentioned above, this is something that should be very easy for the Wolves to figure out.
The other obstacle is figuring out where his free throws come from. Are they mostly from post up attempts or are there a sizable amount from perimeter-based drives to the hoop? Guys as strong and athletic and as big as Williams at the 4 in college have a lot of built-in advantages in terms of operating in the paint and getting free throws. When Williams attacks the rim, does he do so after putting the ball on the deck from the perimeter, or is he primarily jumping towards the rim from in close?
The closest thing we have to answering these questions comes from this Luke Winn article in Sports Illustrated:
• The Wildcats loved to force opposing big men to guard Williams one-on-one outside the paint, and 12.3 percent of his offensive possessions were in isolation situations. Of players who had 50 isolation possessions on the season, Williams ranked third in the nation in efficiency, at 1.1299 points per possession. The only players ahead of him were Butler's Shelvin Mack, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, and Ohio State's David Lighty, a 6-5 wing. Williams is a 6-8 hybrid forward who could not be contained off the dribble. His ISOs resulted in free throws an amazing 29.9 percent of the time, which is by far the highest rate of any player who appeared in the top 50 in ISO efficiency.
• Williams was a better spot-up shooter than any other major-conference forward, at 1.3731 PPP. He stretched defenses, and opened up his ISO game because his shot needed to be respected from anywhere on the floor.
• He thrived as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations, too. They accounted for 11 percent of his offense, and he was more efficient than any other major-conference forward, at 1.3768 PPP.
• Williams is just as comfortable in the low post, ranking fourth among major-conference forwards in post efficiency, at 1.0645 PPP. The only players ahead of him last season were Kansas' Marcus Morris (whom Williams destroyed in a head-to-head matchup), Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli and Cal's Harper Kamp. In post situations, Williams managed to draw fouls 37.1 percent of the time. In comparison, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, the other first-team All-America forward, drew fouls on 21.0 percent of his post possessions. To recap: Williams was the nation's most efficient forward in ISOs, spot-ups and pick-and-rolls, and was fourth-most efficient in the post. He really can do everything -- and the fact that he didn't truly break out as a star until this past season as a sophomore suggests he may be far from hitting his ceiling. I wouldn't want to be the GM who passed on him.
If this is the case, and if a team is serious about playing him at the 4, and if he has anything approaching a proficient mid-range game he seems like a can’t-miss style player. Him being able to get to the line off the dribble from the perimeter is a big part of this equation.
The elephant in the room.
Despite all of the virtual ink spilled here with Williams and Beasley, the big issue facing the Wolves should they draft the guy really has nothing to do with Senor Skittles. Instead, the "problem" is Kevin Love. Williams, while a better 3 point shooter who can really get to the line (the two things that give him the potential to be a much, much more efficient scorer than B-Easy), faces the same basic issues as Beasley: His entire game is built around the premise that he is too quick and with too good of a handle for PFs to handle on the perimeter and that he is too big and strong for SFs to handle in the paint. Mike Beasley isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire at the 3. If the Wolves draft Williams, they would a) have to gamble that he could play better than Beasley at the SF (and quickly, as Love isn’t going to wait around much longer) and b) that enough of his 3 point shooting and ability to get to the line will transfer to the NBA so that his overall performance eclipses that of B-Easy. The only other option is to move Love, either to the 5 or off the team. This team is in desperate need of additional talent and I always preach BPA, BPA, BPA, but if they determine that Williams' game holds up in mid-range, and that a nice chunk of him getting to the line comes from operating off the dribble (i.e. he is the BPA), his selection will probably say more about Love's future with the team than it will Beasley's.
Mike Beasley in a Wolves uniform is essentially what Derrick Williams would look like in the NBA without stellar 3 point shooting and a solid ability to get to the line. The main reason why Beasley is able to be somewhat presentable at the 3 is because of his mid-range shooting. Does Williams have this ability in the event that his 3s don't fall and he can't get to the stripe? While we don’t have access to these numbers on the intertronz, they are exactly the types of data that should be readily and easily available to a professional basketball team like the Wolves. How well does Williams shoot from 16-23 feet? How many ppp does he score on the pick and roll? How many ppp does he score on a single dribble pull up? There are some fairly obvious questions that can be easily answered by any team looking to figure out just how good of a prospect Williams really is. It would be really easy to take this data, project some basic per-36 or per/possession averages and then project them into a game where he carried a higher usage rate, or where he played against a player that is more like a NBA SF, and so on and so forth. This type of analysis would take all of 10 minutes with the right data collection service. David Kahn always likes to talk about how hard the team works. It would be really interesting to see how smart they work. My guess is not very.