Orlando Magic 2022 NBA Draft Preview: Jaylin Williams demands your attention

Arkansas Razorbacks center Jaylin Williams seemed to have all of his best games in the biggest moments. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Arkansas Razorbacks center Jaylin Williams seemed to have all of his best games in the biggest moments. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Everyone had their eye on the big rematch of the NCAA Tournament. From the moment the brackets were released, everyone saw the destiny in the making. Chet Holmgren vs. Paolo Banchero II in the Elite Eight. The rematch of the two players everyone considered the top prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft.

It felt inevitable considering how good both teams were.

That is not how things worked out. Holmgren, and all the questions about his size and his ability to withstand physical punishment, stumbled on his last hurdle to that potential redemption against Banchero.

That hurdle was Arkansas big man Jaylin Williams.

Holmgren dealt with foul trouble and Gonzaga bowed out of the tournament. Williams was the one who seemed to figure out how to force Holmgren’s physicality into foul trouble, bowling his way into the big man and causing havoc around the basket.

That is what Williams did throughout his season at Arkansas. And in big moments too, he anchored a plucky Razorbacks team that made its way to the Elite Eight. Williams is the kind of player who may not be the most skilled, but he knows exactly what his role is.

And it is to be a wrecking ball on both ends of the floor, creating havoc and pressure in the paint.

Jaylin Williams was an interesting defender and energy player who led the nation in charges taken. But questions about his athleticism will make it hard for him to reach his peak.

Williams averaged 10.9 points per game (up from 3.7) and 8.3 rebounds per game. He played more than twice as many minutes from his freshman year, going up to 31.6 per game. He had shooting splits of 46.1/23.9/72.9. He took 1.9 3-point attempts per game, at least showing some willingness to shoot from beyond the arc.

What Williams was really good at was his defense and his energy around the basket. And that showed itself most in the big games that he played.

He scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Arkansas’ upset overtime win over Auburn — Jabari Smith had 20 points on 6-for-16 shooting overall. He had 15 points and 12 rebounds against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament, helping keep Chet Holmgren in foul trouble and limiting him to 11 points and 14 rebounds (Drew Timme had 25 points to secure the win).

Against Duke in the Elite Eight, Williams had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Banchero scored 16 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

There is a lot of good and a lot of bad there. Williams often struggled to shoot from the floor in these big games against some of those better centers he went against. He gave as much as he got it seemed.

But considering how much of a talent deficit he seemed to be working with, this is essentially a victory. That gave Arkansas a chance to compete and win.

Williams is a big part of Arkansas’ heartbeat. He was all energy and hustle. And that was enough.

This is the guy who led the nation in charges taken. He has good size, measuring at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-1 wing span. Williams can cover a decent amount of space. And that is where he gets players. He sneaks in and uses his size to repel shots in the paint and draw people into charges.

That is valuable. It may be a bit overrated, but finding players who just get under an opponent’s skin with hustle and energy is something valuable. Especially when sprinkled in the right ways.

Williams comes in already looking like a solid defender — a sort of Grant Williams type. He does not have a ton of explosiveness or leaping ability — 1.1 blocks per game is not a super impressive number for a player of his size and capabilities — but he gets to his spots and is able to contest shots and grab rebounds.

That understanding of angles and defensive energy is why he is so good at drawing charges. And because Williams is not much of a shot-blocker, he is already pretty good at staying vertical and (generally) avoiding fouls when contesting shots at the rim.

The trick with Williams is figuring out what to do with him offensively. At this point, he does not have much of an offensive game to speak of beyond dump downs to the post and putback. He relied a bit too much on runners, floaters and scoop shots when he did try to attack. And it was not pretty.

While he has shown a willingness to shoot from deep, that is not something anybody wants him doing until he develops it further — a free throw percentage pretty consistently in the 70s certainly warrants further development there.

His lack of athleticism makes it hard for him to beat guys off the dribble and limits his ability in the post and above the rim. So Williams is just not going to be relied on a ton offensively — even as a roll man on pick and rolls.

His success in the NBA might well depend on whether he can develop his jumper — even out to 18 feet would help as a spacer.

Williams though is what teams would want from a backup center. He is all about energy and will make plays that get coaches to notice, if not fans. He could quickly become a fan favorite with his penchant for drawing charges.

That will get him a look somewhere. That kind of play simply demands attention. He is a smart defender and, at least on that end, understands his limitations and capabilities.

Ultimately, the question Williams has to answer upon entering the NBA is whether he can make up for his shortcomings. And whether those shortcomings will prevent him from finding success in the NBA.

He has all the attendant size and the profile of an athletic, backup, defensive-minded big. But his inability to block shots or finish around the rim with athleticism will limit him completely. And without a consistent jumper it is hard to say what Williams will be able to do at an NBA level besides pester teams with an occasional charge.

That is the issue with Williams in the end.

On paper, he should be a player who works. He comes in defensively off the bench and gives good energy to lift the team up. He has the size to make it work.

But the intangibles are not there or will make it hard for him to reach that potential. He is not the athlete he looks like, nor the rim protector. In the NBA, defensive positioning only gets you so far.

Still, it is hard to ignore the progress he made for his sophomore year or the impact he had for his team throughout the season. His best games were Arkansas’ best games and he seemed to shine on the biggest stages for his team.

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In that way, it is hard not to notice what he can do. And it is hard not to give him a chance. Some team certainly will.