Orlando Magic 2021 NBA Draft Preview: Ziaire Williams could be a late round steal

Ziaire Williams entered college as one of the top prospects but he slipped as he struggled to settle in. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Ziaire Williams entered college as one of the top prospects but he slipped as he struggled to settle in. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports /

Ziaire Williams went to Stanford his freshman year as the highest-rated recruit in the program’s history. He was once a consensus lottery pick, often being mentioned in the top 10. But from his first days in Palo Alto to now, the 6-foot-9 forward has seen his draft stock take a hit.

Williams is rarely mentioned as a lottery pick nowadays — only NBAdraft.net has him at No. 10, while The Ringer, The Athletic and USA Today all project him going at 17, and ESPN and Bleacher Report both have him going at 24 to Houston.

The only seeming good news for Williams’ draft stock came Friday when Chad Ford projected Williams as a Lottery pick.

And lo and behold, the Magic had Williams for what was reportedly his second workout with the team.

At officially 6-foot-9.75 with a 6-foot-10.25 wingspan, he at least some of the measurables the Orlando Magic seem to like. He has the scoring profile and potential to be the kind of wing scorer that defenses struggle with.

Williams’ dramatic fall is, in part, due to his failure to meet expectations during his lone year at Stanford.

Coming into college, he had developed a reputation for himself as a shooter, but he struggled adapting to the college level, ending the season shooting only 37-percent from the floor and 29-percent from behind the arc.

His lack of size is also a concern for some.

At 6-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Zaire Williams is long and lanky in the same way as a rookie Jonathan Isaac, but 20 pounds lighter. While he is a great athlete with offensive and defensive versatility, his lack of strength will become a problem when he has to go up against the likes of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard.

Every rookie needs to add strength. That part is not new. But adding the struggles that Williams had with the skill that had scouts buzzing about him early in the process might make Williams’ development more of a project.

That being said, Williams still has one of the highest potentials in this draft class.

Even though he struggled shooting from the floor at Stanford, he shot just less than 80-percent from the free-throw line, showing his shot is not broken. His struggles from the floor mainly were a result of his poor decision-making, some of which is expected from a 19-year-old.

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  • On top of that, the pandemic affected Stanford about as much as any team in the country. California laws and city ordinances and Palo Alto sent the Cardinal journeying across the country to look for a place to play. They spent the first half of the season on the East Coast and did not even get to play in their home gym until pass the midpoint of the season.

    It was a never-ending road trip for Stanford.

    That would affect any young player. It clearly slowed Williams’ development. But his talent has not gone away. There is plenty still that intrigues.

    Williams has a good looking shot and with more development and added strength he could easily turn into a three-level scorer. He is able to get to the rim, but his wiry size forced him to settle for mid-range jumpers and three-pointers.

    Williams is still a capable scorer. But he did not have the big burst games that would suggest he can be an elite scorer at the next level. His season-high was 19 points.

    For every good moment or positive attribute, it seems to need to be tempered by some question about how it translates to the next level.

    At Stanford, he demonstrated the ability to quite easily get past his initial defender. But he will stop on a dime when he sees the help defenders coming and take the mid-range jumper. With maturity and a better understanding of the game, Williams could turn those types of plays into easy layups, fouls, or kick out opportunities creating open threes for his teammates.

    On the defensive side of the ball, Williams presents a lot of the same problems for other teams as Isaac.

    He is not as talented of a defender yet, but his length and quickness allow him to switch onto smaller guards and be a disrupter. Watching the tape, because of his agility and speed on the court and defending smaller players, it would be hard to guess that he’s 6-foot-9.

    Williams ended up being a more raw prospect than expected when he entered college, but his potential is still just as high. His defensive versatility is already at an NBA level that will likely see him get immediate playing time — similar to someone like Matisse Thybulle who was taken at No. 20 just two years ago and has already logged an NBA All-Defensive Second Team.

    Simply developing the ability to put his head down, drive to the basket and create contact and other opportunities would elevate Williams back into the discussion of being a lottery pick.

    Although his stock has dropped, Williams could be one of the biggest payoffs of this draft once he likely lands outside of the lottery.

    While Williams should not be an option for Orlando’s current picks at Nos. 5 and 8, the Magic could (and should) take a look at the prospect if they decide to make a move on draft day into the second half of the first round.

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    The Magic have clearly demonstrated an interest in the young forward. It would be hard to take him off the team’s draft board yet.