NBA history was made last night as the Tulsa 66ers selected power forward Latavious Williams with the 16th overall pick in the NBA’s Developmental League Draft, as Williams will become the first player to ever go straight from high school to the D-League (Dan Shanoff was kind enough to write a post for TrueHoop about just how historical the Latavious Williams jump from high school to D-League is.)
History-making aside, what are the chances that Williams can develop into a legitimate NBA player who can challenge for a roster spot when he’s taken in the NBA Draft in June 2010? Wait, what? Oh, that’s right, there is a little issue with the rules of this history-making event because a player can’t be taken in the NBA draft unless he is 19 years old and, unless he is an international player, he must be one year past his high school class graduation (remember Brandon Jennings?), thus, the 66ers (and thereby the Thunder) could get to watch Williams develop and stun the D-League with his talent, only to watch him get drafted by another team.
But is Latavious Williams a legitimate NBA prospect? Well he was one of the most highly touted recruits from two recruiting classes (you’ll understand that after the jump), let’s have a look…
Latavious Williams, the 6’8 205 lb SF/PF originally from Starksville, Mississippi, was an ESPN Top 150 prospect for the 2008 class, however because of insufficient grades, enrolled at Progressive Christian in the spring of 2008 to try and improve his scores enough to qualify academically (thus rolling him back into the 2009 class). With his grades still in question and his family in a precarious financial situation, per his consultant Trey Godfrey, Latavious decided not to attend Memphis (where he gave his verbal commitment to despite being recruited by Georgetown and Kansas State as well) and briefly considered playing professionally in China and Europe before deciding to enter his name into the NBA’s D-League draft.
But the question remains, can he play? Well the simple answer is, of course, otherwise he wouldn’t even get a sniff of the D-League. But Williams can really, really play, he’s just really, really raw. It has never been a question of Williams’ athleticism when it comes to making the jump from prep to pro’s, it has always been the question of whether he would develop into a multi-faceted player and if his skill and basketball IQ would ever reach the same level as his stunning physical gifts.
Williams has the length and leaping ability to control the offensive and defensive boards despite being 6’8 and only 205 lbs (soaking wet), even against bigger, stronger and taller players. He’s very, very quick off of his feet and has excellent agility. Williams is very aggressive on the offensive side of the court and is very Tyrus Thomas-like in his penchant for put-backs and tip-dunks off of offensive rebounds. His vertical jump and wingspan should grant him the ability to rackup quite a few defensive rebounds both in the post and around the perimeter but Williams still has not figured out how to do this quite yet.
Along those lines, Williams is clearly much more focused and concerned with the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side, and this little habit of his will need to be quickly rectified if he has any hopes of seeing playing time in the D-League, let alone on the stage (they call the jump from Minor Leagues to Major League “going to the show” in baseball so I’m just throwing out “the Stage” now for the jump from D-League to the NBA, any suggestions are welcome).
Offensively and defensively, Williams is the quintessential tweener. Whether he develops into a small forward or power forward at the next level, Williams will have to add strength and muscle mass to his frame–and fast. Williams is not the best ball handler and he has difficulty hitting open jumpshots past 15 feet, but on the flip side, he is not very skilled in the post and is primarily a face-to-the-basket power forward. Were Williams able to add some back-to-the-basket post moves to his offensive repertoire as well as improve his dribbling and shooting ability, Williams would remind many 66ers and Thunder fans of the multi-faceted DJ White, with even more athletic ability at his disposal, especially quickness and vertical leap.
As of right now, I’d lean towards Williams developing into a, you guessed it, PF more than a SF right now (after all, we are talking about a potential Thunder roster spot so wouldn’t he have to be a PF tweener?), but with his eye-opening athleticism, Williams really could play either forward position and develop into a very, very nice player IF he wants to put the time and effort into developing the skill side (fundamentals and basketball IQ) of playing basketball to maximize the athletic gifts he already has.
Of course if he does develop and gets drafted by another NBA team after playing with the 66ers all year then I reserve the right to complain about this history making event as much as I want. But with Mullens (surely) going to the 66ers once their games start and Weaver (likely) seeing some action there, too, perhaps even running the point, those D-League games in Tulsa might just be a little more interesting and significant for Thunder fans than we ever thought possible.