Thursday, July 7

What Jalen Williams brings to the OKC Thunder: ‘He’s a very versatile player’


When Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek was recruiting Jalen Williams, the prospect used to sport a pair of trendy white framed sunglasses. One day Sendek showed up to Williams’ high school in a similar pair of his own. They had a good laugh, with Williams thinking it was pretty funny … and corny.

Sendek still has the glasses and even teased about breaking them out on NBA Draft night in “J-Drip’s” honor.

“Jalen has this bigger than life personality,” Sendek said. “He’s that guy.”

The NBA world caught up to what Sendek had known, and on Thursday, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected him 12th overall. He’s the first Santa Clara pick since Steve Nash went No. 15 in the 1996 draft.

Williams became one of the biggest risers leading up to the draft. The Athletic’s John Hollinger wrote that some scouts openly admitted he was under-scouted during the season as a “classic Bad Geography Guy in the far-flung West Coast Conference.” That changed as pro teams delved into film work of his three seasons at Santa Clara. Williams’ performance at the NBA Combine coupled with strong supporting film rocketed him up many big boards and mock drafts as draft day drew closer.

At the combine, Williams came in at 6-foot-6 and 209 pounds with a 7-2 wingspan. A first-team All-WCC selection, his stats backed up his measurements. Then Williams suited up for both five-on-five games, choosing to play the second when others opted out. He played great in the first, then scored 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting on the second day. Add in interviews where he let his personality shine, it made sense that further intense college film study only enhanced his draft positioning of him.

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“He’s versatile,” Sendek said. “He can guard multiple positions, and he can play both on and off the ball on offense. He’s a very versatile player. And he is just one of those guys, I think his game translates very well to the NBA.

During high school, Williams grew about eight inches between his sophomores to senior season.

“His decision-making combined with his team-centeredness just leads him to making the right place,” Sendek said. “So I fell in love with his feel for the game, his basketball IQ for him. I just also always believed that he would become an elite shooter because his mechanics are so good. And even as a young player, you know, he just had really good mechanics.

Williams initially helped the Broncos defensively, earning a rotation spot by guarding opponents’ best perimeter players. This season, he became more efficient at making the right reads off ball screens. Williams improved from shooting 39.9 percent from the field last season to 51.3 percent his junior year. This season, he shot just shy of 40 percent from beyond the arc and also converted 80.9 percent from the line.

“With Jalen, if you add all that up, you just have a guy that keeps finding ways to move the needle and get better,” Sendek said.

This year, he also showed up against top competition. In Santa Clara’s upset win over No. 22 Saint Mary’s, Williams finished with 18 points and 10 assists. It was the Broncos’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2004. Against Gonzaga, he sent top draft prospect Chet Holmgren to the floor with his fake-out moves.

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The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie wrote last month, “There just aren’t many holes in his game.” Williams can pass at a high level thanks to his point guard experience prior to his growth spurt. But at the pro level, the guard is likely to play the wing, which should help his defensive game even more. Hollinger noted: “He might do better sizing up rather than down, as he seemed more comfortable getting into the body of bigger players closer to the rim.”

Williams is no longer a West Coast surprise. As Sendek would say, he’s that guy.

(Photo: David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)




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