Patrick Williams is only just now getting traction as a first-round NBA Draft prospect, but he’s been playing like one for a while.
It has been well established by now that the 2020 NBA Draft appears to be nearly completely devoid of major difference makers. Unlike 2018, which had a bevy of obvious future NBA players behind a top-10 loaded with stars, or 2019, which had a decent number of high-impact role players, 2020 appears to be all about risk. There is talent in the class, and there will be a few high-level players that separate themselves. But especially in the middle of the draft, there aren’t any Brandon Clarkes or Kevin Huerters that are easy to project being impactful role players regardless of where they land.
One that has presented himself in that way is Devin Vassell of Florida State, who as played himself into the conversation as an end of lottery pick thanks to a very projectable 3-and-D plus wing skillset. A strong off-movement shooter who also performs well in basically every college defensive metric, Vassell’s path to being a decent role player is pretty easy, and his path to being more doesn’t require major leaps of the imagination. But the focus on Vassell has overshadowed that there might be another player with this type of profile on the same team: Freshman forward Patrick Williams.
Williams, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward from Charlotte, NC, was a relatively unsung recruit, ranking 28th in the 2019 class at ESPN. And to start the season, he didn’t consistently look like a one-and-done player, sprinkling good performances in between struggles for playing time in Florida State’s crowded frontcourt. But as the season has worn on, Williams has not only proven himself a vital piece for a top-10 team, but also has asserted himself as a very real NBA Draft prospect.
Williams may not start for the Seminoles, but the appeal of him is that he is a hole-plugging role player, in a similar mold to one of Draft Twitter’s 2019 darlings, Grant Williams of Tennessee. Pat routinely plays anywhere from the 3 through 5 off the bench and looks like he will be able to do that at the next level, as well. Thanks to his vertical athleticism, raw strength, and lateral quickness, it’s easy to see Williams being a very impactful player in a switch-heavy scheme, as he has shown the ability to battle with NBA big man prospects like Vernon Carey Jr., or stay with NBA-level guard prospects like David Johnson consistently on the perimeter.
Most of the value Williams should expect to bring in the NBA will be on the defensive end because of that role flexibility. His comfort level defending on-ball across multiple positions is impressive, and he shows some good potential as an NBA shot blocker. Not every player of Williams’s size and athletic profile projects to play the five, but Williams should do so comfortably, as he shows the ability to make weakside rotations quickly, and should become a very good help defender over the top:
Williams’s block rate of 5.6 percent isn’t otherworldly, but it is impressive for someone who does spend as much time on the perimeter as he does. It also points to the fact that Williams eschews the post-up and interior blocks that are typical of a college rim protector, and instead mostly provides more NBA-style rotational blocks. That bodes well for his impact translation to the next level, as does his steal rate (2.3 percent) which suggests he hits the athletic threshold for further defensive development.
The defensive side of the ball is where Williams is likely to have the most impact. He’s very likely the second or third-best perimeter defender prospect in the draft behind Isaac Okoro and Vassell. But unlike Okoro, whose ultimate outcome depends on if he can find a lane to be viable on offense, Williams has not only demonstrated a path to viability — he’s shown potential for massive future potential growth. This is largely based on his ball-handling and passing ability, which has taken center stage in recent games, as Florida State has given him more opportunities to catch and face up on the perimeter.
Williams’s passing ability is excellent for his position and likely role, especially when focusing on his technique. His ability to hit targets with one hand off the bounce is on the level of several of the point guards in this class, and he consistently makes effective simple reads to keep the offense flowing. He’s far from a black hole, which can be a major issue with this type of skill set at the college level.
Williams also has what’s likely the most projectable jumper at the NBA level, showing comfort hitting from outside off the catch, and also displaying good mechanics in limited attempts off the bounce. While he’s hitting just 33.3 percent from outside on the year, his touch (85.9 percent from the line) and off-movement mechanics certainly look like they’re going to mean continued development with NBA shooting coaching.
These are the building blocks of what could be a very impressive face-up game that hints at a high-end outcome for his offensive abilities. They’re the natural progression from his ability to beat opponents off the dribble from the perimeter, using his agility and ball-handling shake to help get bigger defenders off balance.
Williams is also able to play the hits as a role-playing big man, an effective slasher and offensive rebounder who does a good job of picking his spots playing in the dunker spot or as a weakside floor spacer. He does need to improve as a finisher in these situations, but his fit as a complimentary play finisher should help hold him over while he continues to flesh out his face-up game.
Williams is still rather raw as a prospect, but the areas where he’s shown potential are ones that could allow for impressive leaps in his effectiveness at the next level. The backbone of his value at the next level is likely to come on defense, where he should be a useful big in bench units by filling multiple roles. But the reasons to bet on his long-term development come on offense, where he’s one of the few non-guards in the class who looks capable of eventually being able to dribble, pass, and shoot.
Of course, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he might not get there. His advanced metrics are good, but not overwhelming, and there are some major holes to patch in his defensive game – namely his propensity to try to jump passing lanes and get blown by for cuts, and his struggles with denying the baseline to quicker dribblers on the wing. Offensively, the burden of long-term proof has not been met on his shooting, and his rebounding numbers are rather suppressed for how good he looks on film. But, for a player who has been getting minimal press from mainstream outlets as a prospect, it takes much less rationalization that he might hit his development goals than it does for someone like Jaden McDaniels, or Precious Achiuwa. Williams is pretty firmly a third-tier player in this class, and if he keeps playing the way he has been recently, it’ll be hard to drop him much beyond the lottery when it comes time for the NBA Draft Combine.