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2021 NBA Draft Profile: Ziaire Williams

Ziaire Williams is the ultimate 2021 NBA Draft gamble, a player with some undeniable talents but terrible efficiencies at the college level. Would the Sacramento Kings be patient enough with his developmental trajectory?

NBA Position: Wing

General Info: 19-year-old Freshman, played for Stanford. From Los Angeles, CA.

Measurables: 6'10, 188 lbs, 6'10€ wingspan.

2016-17 Season Statistics: 10.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 2.9 TPG (20 games played, 27.9 minutes a contest) €“ 37.4% FG, 29.1% 3P, 79.6% FT

Ziaire Williams is arguably the most polarizing prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft. While a quick glance at Williams, standing 6'10 with a 6'10 wingspan and shooting a sweet pull-up jumper over defenders may make him look like a lottery lock, one only needs to glance at his efficiency stats to see why he's much further down NBA draft big boards than he was to start the 2020-21 collegiate season. Yet even in the context of full Stanford games, watching him miss many more times than he makes€”again, he shot 37% from the field, and 29% from three!€”Williams' innate basketball talent is there, and he has a clear offensive weapon and plenty of defensive upside.

Check this play against Alabama, the first game of Stanford's season. Ziaire splashes a long pull-up three when defenders give him too much space off a pick. He then comes back on defense, stunts to dissuade the pass, gets back to cover his man, and then gets a rebound in traffic.

In his second game of the year against UNC, Ziaire sees the obvious pass to an open UNC guard, and even though he's in the paint when the pass is made, he blocks the shot, and then splashes a pull-up three. This was the early-season, two-way promise Ziaire had coming into the year at Stanford when was hailed as top 6 prospect in a deep lottery class. But it ended up being a season from hell for Ziaire that truly needs to be contextualized before discussing his basketball skillset.

Every single prospect in the draft class was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, but Ziaire was massively impacted. He lost two family members this year, and rightfully missed almost a month of the season to be with his family. Stanford's basketball squads also could not play home contests this season due to restrictions by Santa Clara County on contact sports during the pandemic. The men's basketball program played most of their home games at the Santa Cruz Warriors GLeague gym, traveled to road games, and lived in hotels for most of the season. Because of this crazy living situation, nothing about their basketball program was normal this year -  including their weight training programs, something that the 6'10, 188 lbs Williams really, really needs. He also started the season with a significant knee bruise and had to wear a brace to begin the year (side note - he injured his knee after biking into a tree. Has there ever been a more Stanford injury than that one?). Nothing in that situation was good for a young player, especially one who is as developmentally unique as Ziaire Williams.

Every skill discussion for Ziaire needs to start with an unspoken €œhe's 6'10 and 188 pounds.€ Every aspect of his game at Stanford was impacted by the fact that most collegiate players could move him around, and while plenty of tall, skinny wings have excelled in recent memory - Brandon Ingram, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jaden McDaniels - it is fair to say that taking Ziaire is a risk on a dozen different developmental factors, a big one being a team's faith in their weight training program. His potential will not be unlocked without multiple stages of weight and skill development. But his quickness, explosiveness, and long arms will all be weapons at the next level.

His signature skill is his shot off the dribble, which was a whopping 51% of his offense at Stanford last season - and thankfully, one of the few skills he was efficient at (53rd percentile! That's efficient!). His long arms, great balance, and quick elevation means he can get above and away from defenders abruptly, and can realistically get an €œalright€ shot at any time. As shown in the video above, he has a nasty step-back move that can carve him out a Grand Canyon-sized space from his defender, and his footwork is impressive for his age. He'll need to develop more driving ability and handle before he can make defenders really worry about it, but if he pops at the next level, that pull-up is going to be his signature move.

He definitely can fall in love with love with the pull-up, to the point where he can be goaded into a mediocre shot rather than a drive to the basket or a reset of the offense. And unfortunately, his catch-and-shoot numbers are truly horrendous - 23% on such shots, a whopping 16th percentile in the country. There's no context that would make that number ok for a lottery talent, let alone one whose shooting ability is his main selling point. Perhaps with better weight training, improved core strength, and patience with a reminder that €œbad shooters don't just hit 80% of their free throws€, one can hope that he's a strong catch-and-shoot guy relatively soon - but there's no guarantee.

Williams showed some touch around the basket at Stanford, but finished at 53.8% around the rim in the halfcourt, 40th percentile. He shows good balance around the rim, and he can cover a ton of ground on the drive with his big steps, but like the rest of his game he struggles through physical defenders who throw off that balance. He also does have a tendency to put his head down and try to power through defenders like he isn't 180 pounds.

Williams played as a guard before his growth spurt, and it's evident in his playstyle - he's a capable passer who sees the court decently well and wants to keep the ball moving. He may be a real threat as a pick-and-roll handler at the next level. That said, he isn't always the most fluid player when he's trying to chain dribble moves together, and quick opponents are going to feast on his handle early in his career. He averaged 3.3 assists per 40 minutes with a 16.4% assist rate, but also had a 0.75/1 assist-to-turnover ratio; much like the rest of his game, his playmaking skills exist, but were not efficient at Stanford.

On defense, Williams' size is going to be an issue when asked to guard his own position, but I think he can be a solid contributor on defense fairly quickly in the right lineups. He shows real tenacity and drive when guarding smaller opponents, especially when he knows he's just as quick as they are. His steal and block numbers are nothing special, and may be outside of Monte McNair's comfort zone, but he's got active hands and a quick burst that give him range as a on-man ballhawk or as a help-defender. His learning curve might be fairly steep, but it won't be from lack of effort.

The issues for Williams come, of course, when guarding up lineups. Collegiate forwards handled him pretty easily, and the size advantage will be even worse at the next level. He can get taken out of a play pretty easily by a hard screen, and there ain't much he can do about it. He also doesn't play with the same physicality or confidence when playing or sliding over to help on bigger opponents; it's unlikely he'll be able to quickly guard the types of opponents that Sacramento needs the most help guarding. There may be a time where his quickness and length can disrupt bigger forwards, but that's not likely any time soon.

Indeed, most of Williams' game will be a big work in progress. He'll provide two-way energy off the bench, and if his catch-and-shoot shot isn't as garbage as the numbers indicate, he could provide floor spacing while the rest of his game improves - but more than likely, extensive time in the GLeague and weight room are needed before Ziaire is a real contributor. And for a Sacramento team that seems hell-bound on trying to break this playoff streak, taking a project player at No. 9 seems unlikely, even if it's possible that Williams provides top 5 value in a few seasons.

There may be one person in the Kings organization who is advocating for Williams, though; Tyrese Haliburton, who played with Williams on the 2019 U19 squad (a legendary team that included Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, and Kira Lewis). Ziaire was asked about Hali at the NBA Draft Combine, and said that he still chats with and gets advice from Tyrese regularly - and praised Haliburton as proof that skinny players can excel in the league.

Ziaire is the ultimate eye test player of the 2021 draft class. His numbers make it incredibly clear that he was not an efficient basketball player last year, but some of the tape shows a prospect who could be very, very good with an NBA developmental and weight training program. His interviews show a bright young man with all the right answers and a genuine understanding of how he needs to improve. Williams is the biggest gamble in the Kings draft, and I do not blame any fans for having him very high on their draft board or completely out of the draft discussion. His low-floor, high ceiling potential makes him one I doubt the Kings select, but a player with his two-way potential gives him an outcome as a top 5 player in the 2021 draft class who could be available in the late lottery.

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andy_sims
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July 8, 2021 12:11 pm

I was wondering why the cited statistics are from when ZW was fourteen years old.

TheGrantNapear
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July 8, 2021 12:17 pm

I’d be fine with picking ZW at 9. The draft is a crapshoot at that point, swinging for a homerun if you believe ZW has star potential is fine by me.
I’d much rather that then drafting a low cieling player for fit. Justin Jackson comes to mind. We don’t need a repeat of that.
There’s going to be a Donovan Mitchel in the 7-15 range. A player with uber potential that’s billed as a risk, ineffecient, etc., that goes on to be a star. I’d rather take my chances on that then to be left with a career bench warmer or a solid starter. This franchise needs top end talent, not another solid player.

kings4ever
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July 10, 2021 8:15 am
Reply to  TheGrantNapear

The draft is NOT a crapshoot, which implies randomness. You are betting on probabilities through discernment rationality intuition and experience and gauging the most pertinent variabilities, you assign probabilities for success or lack thereof. That is not randomness, though not certitude either because some variables you cannot quantify.

But when you filter through variables tangible and intangible, some players emerge more appealing than others. Identifying those players is a function of process and making the most prudent bet as result of the process. That is the nature of the game. Drafting is less random than poker for example, and poker players will tell you that poker is a game of skill more than luck.

With regard to ZW, he has to dazzle in private workouts. He has to assauge the concerns over his lousy season. In particular, I would want to know how he measures out in a lot of physical agility and athletic tests. If he is superb, which he may very well be, that will give our GM a lot of confidence. Apparently he has 4.4 speed which will be great for our fast break!

Don’t expect an annoucement of ZW or any prospect coming to SAC. The team is not disclosing who they are working out nor making players available to media. McGenius strikes again, one step ahead of the rest, running a tight ship, another sign we are in good hands.

Kosta
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July 8, 2021 12:19 pm

I think he’d be a project.

RAP87
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July 8, 2021 12:22 pm

If the Kings trade down with the Thunder for their 16th and 18th pick, I’ll grab Ziaire with one of those picks. Although I won’t be shocked if the Kings outright select him at 9

aplumley
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July 8, 2021 12:34 pm

I’m sure I have him higher on my board than most. All the way up to 7. The FT shooting tells me his shooting woes are probably solvable. The head on his shoulders tells me he’ll solve them. His length, effort, and athleticism will allow him to make a defensive impact quickly. The weight room will help fill out his frame and make him even more impactful on that end. I just tend to believe his issues are much more easily solved than even guys like Kuminga and Barnes who couldn’t even shoot FTs. I just rate him higher than those guys, who many on this board are in love with. I think, while there is some work to do, his ceiling is as high as anyone’s and it seems like he understands the game along with his strengths and weaknesses and what he needs to do to solve them. I rarely value untapped potential, but in his case I tend to think the potential is much more easily tapped.

jwalker1395
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July 8, 2021 12:39 pm
Reply to  aplumley

The stat line is truly a mess, but the FT numbers and mechanics suggest his shooting woes may just be an issue of circumstance/small sample size. If he is actually a 35%+ shooter from deep, his issues simply become making better decisions with the basketball and working on his frame to finish stronger at the basket. Those things are much more easily solved than issues you pointed out with Kuminga, Johnson, and Barnes.

WizsSox
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July 8, 2021 1:03 pm
Reply to  jwalker1395

Here here on the shooting eval. Buddy shot 23% from 3 as a freshmen. Donovan Mitchell the same. Lots of others and examples that go opposite way too. These are all such small samples when drafting 19 year olds.

Look at FT and look at shot mechanics€¦if it doesn’t look broken and you think the kid is hard worker, more likely than not he will be able to shoot decently.

I’m fine with the big swing as playoffs look like long shot next 1-2 years in the West.

Last edited 4 months ago by WizsSox
RAP87
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July 8, 2021 1:24 pm
Reply to  WizsSox

I’m with you on the shot mechanics and FT percentage since it is one of the best indicators that predicts a prospects shooting if its legit or a concern. I don’t see that concern with Ziaire. The shot looks smooth and every time it goes in, its splashes the net more often than not. He just needs to add strength and bulk just like every 18- 19 year old that comes to the NBA and I think he’ll be fine.

9sac8
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July 8, 2021 5:56 pm
Reply to  WizsSox

Buddy was a freshman in 1983.

richie88
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July 8, 2021 8:56 pm
Reply to  aplumley

Given the context of what he went thru last season, I’m somewhat forgiving of his stats. However, I definitely wouldn’t put him ahead of Barnes & I doubt I’d put him ahead of Kuminga. I expect he’ll be a project & I wouldn’t expect him to make an immediate defensive impact. I’m really concerned about how well the Kings would develop him.

Last edited 4 months ago by richie88
kings4ever
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July 10, 2021 8:18 am
Reply to  richie88

Listen to the interviews with Kuminga and ZW and you may change your mind.

jwalker1395
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July 8, 2021 12:35 pm

I’ve been pretty anti-Ziaire but I have to admit he’s top 5 in this draft in sheer potential. In terms of the high-risk, high-reward guys, I have determined I like him much better than Jalen Johnson at #9, which was not the case for the last few months. I still think the safest bet of the players I anticipate being available at #9 is Franz Wagner, but if the Kings truly want a homerun swing, Fox-Hali-Ziaire is a dynamite backcourt should things pan out.

There is something to be said of how we’re going to feel exactly one year from now if/when Wagner is playing quality minutes somewhere and Ziaire is looking miles away from getting off the bench. We may look at it the same way we perceive Bagley next to a Jaren Jackson Jr. But if in 4 years Ziaire is a 20+ ppg guy and respectably switching 1-3 on defense with Fox and Hali, we’ll have our long-time void at SF finally filled and the importance of that for Kings fans truly can’t be understated.

Brenden
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July 8, 2021 12:39 pm

Damnit Bryant, you’re making me love the idea of him even more.

RAP87
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July 8, 2021 12:54 pm
Reply to  Bryant

I said it on the previous thread, at the end of the day Ziaire just might find himself into the top 10 on draft night and I won’t even be mad if the Kings select him with the 9th pick. Of course my preference would still be Sengun but if we trade down with the Thunder and can get both Sengun (16th), Ziaire ( (18th) and Kessler Edwards with the 39th pick, I’ll be very happy with our draft.

Last edited 4 months ago by RAP87
kings4ever
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July 10, 2021 8:25 am
Reply to  RAP87

That would be epic.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
July 8, 2021 1:19 pm

I think ZW is the one guy, more than anyone else, that I really want to see the Kings have in for a workout.

jwalker1395
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July 8, 2021 2:26 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

If anyone is gonna see a good shooter through bad numbers, it just may be one of the Morey disciples…

Last edited 4 months ago by Jacob Walker
andy_sims
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July 8, 2021 1:47 pm

Unless someone who couldn’t have been reasonably expected to be available at nine is there, this might be the swing-from-the-heels prospect for the Kings to make. Just a whole lot to like about Williams, not the least of which is his interviews. I remember watching interviews with Adebayo and McCollum and thinking, I would love to have these guys on my favorite team. I mean the Kings. Honestly, I do. ZW may be the guy where the dice must be rolled.

Besides, let him spend a season in Stockton eating a Stocktonian diet, and he’ll be 230 pounds by Christmas. Pear-shaped and close to death, but these are quibbles.

LLcoolRay
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July 8, 2021 2:36 pm

As you said Bryant, I think Ziaire is essentially the ultimate case of, “the numbers don’t tell the story”. It’s tough but you have to almost rely on his flashes and his high school film more than anything. His year at Stanford was a throwaway for many reasons.

While he may never reach this and could be a total bust, he has Brandon Ingram/Kevin Durant style upside. Put on some muscle, figure out his role and he will be a valuable player.

All that being said, putting him next to Fox and Haliburton and it might be show sooner than expected. I could get very excited about taking Ziaire. Now if you somehow move back AND get Ziaire – that’s a home run move.