2011 NBA Draft Combine Coverage: Is Derrick Williams a Power Forward or Small Forward? - June 22
Other than Marquette and Wisconsin, I have watched more Arizona Wildcat games in the past two seasons than any other team. (And remember, I have watched more than 900 college basketball games in the past three years.) Seeing Derrick Williams' meteoric rise on NBA Draft boards during that time has been rather remarkable. And now, barring a crazy trade or some dumb David Kahn decision, Williams will be one of the top two picks in Thursday's 2011 NBA Draft.
Williams was not a five-star recruit when he first arrived at Arizona. In fact, he barely cracked the top 100 by some of the major recruiting Web sites out there. He only ended up at Arizona after getting out of his national letter of intent at USC when Tim Floyd resigned in the wake of the O.J. Mayo scandal.
But Williams made his impact on the college game right away, leading Arizona in scoring and rebounding as a freshman. He took his game to a whole new level this past season though, earning First Team All-American honors and nearly carrying the Wildcats to the Final Four. As his success built and Arizona continued to rack up wins, Williams' NBA Draft stock began to soar.
"It's pretty crazy, kind of like a movie coming out of nowhere," Williams said at the NBA Draft Combine. "A lot of people knew my potential, I just didn't get to show it because we weren't winning all that much. Going from 16-15 to 30-7 at Arizona brought the best out of me as a individual."
The 6-9, 248-pounder saw his exposure peak in the Sweet 16 when he was absolutely beastly in the Wildcats' 16-point upset victory against No. 1 seed, Duke. Williams posted 32 points and 13 rebounds while making 11 of his 17 field goal attempts, including 5-of-6 from downtown.
"I think before that game people had me at 10-15," Williams said of his draft range prior to the Sweet 16. "Winning the Duke game, the whole tradition, how good they are, put me over the hump to a top five, top three."
The biggest development in Williams' game this past season was his improved outside shooting. He connected on a shocking 56.8 percent of his triple tries in his sophomore season and showed growing confidence from beyond the arc as the year progressed, especially since he only attempted 16 three-pointers as a freshman. He also played a good portion of the season with a taped right pinky on his shooting hand which had no negative effect on his improvement. Add that improved outside shot with this strength, length, and quickness on the block, and athleticism in the open floor, and Williams has an incredibly well-rounded offensive game.
Through the entire draft process though, Williams has been adamant about the fact that he is naturally a small forward and NOT a power forward. Considering he primarily played either the four or five during his two years at Arizona, that thought raised some eyebrows and caught some criticism during the past month.
"I'm not a power forward, I want to clear that up," Williams stated. "I'm a small forward who can play the four. There's a big difference between power forward and small forward and tweener. If I have a mismatch, I'm going to do things like I did this year. If I have a slower guy I'm going to take him outside, or drive past him. If I have a smaller guy, I'm going to post him up."
If there is any question about Williams being a small forward at the next level, it would be his ability to break down defenders off the bounce and his quickness as a perimeter defender against true NBA threes. But when he is playing power forward, Williams has the quickness to blow by bigger defenders with a power dribble and finish with his explosiveness at the rim. He also possesses the length to be a defensive presence as demonstrated by his amazing game-saving blocked shots against Washington in the regular season and versus Memphis in the NCAA Tournament.
People have been throwing out all sorts of NBA player comparisons when it comes to Williams. Some say he is a David West-type player, Michael Beasley, a more physical Danny Granger, or Tyrus Thomas. Legendary Arizona head coach Lute Olsen compared Williams to former Wildcat Andre Iguodala with a jump shot.
"I like that comparison," Williams said. "Lute Olson is a really smart man and he's seen a lot of great players. To have my name up there with his is a great honor."
The greatest honor of Williams' basketball career will come Thursday evening when David Stern calls his name. The former Arizona Wildcat is considering one of the very few "sure things" in the 2011 NBA Draft. If his game can continue to grow leaps and bounds like it has the past two seasons, and he finds his true position in the NBA, there is no question that Williams will have a very long, successful career in the league.