Derrick Williams isn't exactly a household name for NBA fans, but he will be, and maybe as soon as this week when March Madness tips off. Pac-10 basketball fans know Williams as the ultra-productive forward who led the Arizona Wildcats to a No. 5 seed in the West regional of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. A sophomore, Williams came out of high school in Southern California relatively unknown, especially compared to other Class of 2009 big man prospects like DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and John Henson. The first two of those prospects ended up as one-and-done products landing in the top five in the 2010 NBA Draft. Henson figures to be in the top 10 in the 2011 boogaloo.
Williams should be right there in that elite range; the excellent DraftExpress currently places Williams as the No. 5 prospect in the 2011 NBA Draft, behind just Kyrie Irving, Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones. Like Sullinger, Ohio State's incredible power forward, Williams is a devasting scorer and solid rebounder. But Williams is much more of a perimeter-oriented player, which -- given each players' height, around 6'8 -- might translate better to the NBA game.
To wit: Williams averages at least one three-pointer per game, whereas Sullinger has taken just 12 all season. And Williams hits his threes, too, better than any other player in the nation (60 percent), despite the relatively few (compared to a guard) attempts. Williams has an incredible first-step, and it was on display during Arizona's run to the Pac-10 Tournament championship game, where the 'Cats lost to Washington on an Isaiah Thomas buzzer beater. Williams ranked No. 9 in the nation in free throw rate according to Kenpom.com, drawing 289 free throws on the season. Sullinger ranked No. 75, drawing 250 FT attempts.
The NBA is all about isolation at the small forward position, which is where Williams could land. He plays power forward at Arizona, and DraftExpress projects him at that position in the NBA. But he's not likely to be an NBA-level rebounder at power forward, and his perimeter game -- especially off the dribble -- seems to be solid enough to allow Williams to at least flirt with the small forward spot. Defense might make that determination; DX's Jonathan Givony rates Williams as an active defender. NBA power forwards are typically larger than Williams, while small forwards are right in that 6'8 zone, generally. But exceptions exist (Shawn Marion's Phoenix Suns days come to mind), and Williams could certainly bend the rules with the right team.
Arizona meets Memphis in the first round, and could have a date with Texas, who boasts a forward prospect of its own in Tristan Thompson. The Wildcats may not have enough supplemental talent to make a deep March Madness run, but while Arizona's on the court, NBA fans would do well to pay close attention to Derrick Williams.
WHO: Derrick Williams, forward, Arizona. 6'8, 240 pounds. Scorer.
WHEN: Friday, March 18 at 2:45 PM Eastern on CBS (Arizona vs. Memphis).
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION: Fans of the Kings, Cavaliers, Wizards and Nets.
NBA COMPARISON: Danny Granger on rollerblades.
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