Our 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series pushes on with a look at Jalen Williams, a wing prospect out of Santa Clara.
Jalen Williams enters the 2022 NBA draft class as one of the players most ready to play at the next level. His ability to function as a creator, in either a primary or secondary role, in combination with his exceptional length (7’2 wing span) puts him into a template usually desired across the board by NBA teams seeking to add young, capable wings.
Departing Santa Clara after three seasons in which he demonstrated wildly impressive improvement, Williams is convincing as a young player that can consistently process information in real time on both ends of the court.
On offense, his ability to read the entire floor when operating in the pick-and-roll, including each distinct action on the weak side as the opposing defense executes a given coverage, is unique. He can make every read and capitalizes by being able to make any pass demanded of him. Pocket passes, skip passes, you name it. His ability to string out the play and wait for the defense to commit to what they are going to do is rare.
Likewise, his ability to get to the rim or to his floater as needed to capitalize as a scorer is a important part of his ability to generate consistent offense.
Potentially one of the most important aspects of his play in the pick and roll is that he has the length needed to naturally deal with aggressive pick and roll coverage. Having length as a passer to work the ball wherever needed to as to generate leverage versus strong hedges, traps, and doubles is valuable especially in a scenario where he may be playing next to a smaller point guard.
Williams functions well in catch-and-shoot opportunities with an impressively repeatable and efficient shooting form. Last season he showed progress shooting from the perimeter on pull ups, an important part of his play considering he will need to be able to punish defenders that go under ball screens as to round out the tool set he uses in the pick and roll.
Perhaps the most important growth Williams demonstrated last season was his understanding of and use of taking space away from his defender and executing an array of play types with his defender right on top of him. This could be seen in both half court actions and in transition.
The primary area of concern for him is whether or not he can produce consistently when working versus NBA defenders in one-on-one situations. Opposing teams at the next level may often chase him off of the three-point line and put him into the midrange with a rangy wing defender harassing him.
The 21-year-old will be challenged to score by way of his own creation and there is further growth and development needed as to set himself up to be consistently successful.
In terms of finishing at the rim, Williams, as a late bloomer as an athlete, has gotten better when operating off two feet but less so when initiating off one foot. At the NBA combine, he performed well in vertical testing. As such, it’s likely that in this area it’s a matter of him becoming a more functional athlete.
In drills that measure lateral athleticism, he performed solidly. It’s tough to project whether there will be advancement in this area once Williams has an opportunity to work regularly with professional training staff in the context of an NBA development program.
These skills matter significantly on defense, of course, where he uses his length to perform exceptionally well as the defender one man away from the ball. His technique with digs and others that disrupt ball handlers as they look to work toward the rim is exceptional.
Jumping passing lanes and tagging rollers and cutters, Williams demonstrates an important understanding of how to maximize the use of his length. There is every reason to believe he will be an above average help defender at the next level.
He navigates screens well when defending on ball even if the footwork in this area needs to be cleaned up a bit and applied more consistently. Similarly to his growth on offense, he is learning, as a defender, that he has enough length to give his man more space as to make his lateral athleticism manageable.
With all of the recent physical growth and the emerging athletic strength and advancement that comes with, it’s tough to project how much progress he might make toward overcoming some of the current athletic deficiency, whether real or perceived.
From a skill standpoint, he’s toward the very upper tier in this draft class. Thus, it’s critical for NBA teams to have some confidence in how they project his improving athleticism as to determine the appropriate amount and type of draft capital to use as to acquire him.