Why the Spurs May Pick Jalen Williams in the Lottery

One of the biggest risers heading into the 2022 NBA Draft has been Jalen Williams out of Santa Clara. Originally expected to be as a second round pick, Williams now appears to be firmly in the first round. In fact, in the latest Spurs Big Board, he’s in the ninth spot. Based on what the Spurs historically look for in a draft prospect, it wouldn’t be too stunning if the Spurs use their lottery pick to select him.

The Case For Drafting Jalen Williams

Williams averaged 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks in 34.8 minutes per game. He shot 51.3% from the floor, 39.6% from three-point range and 80.9% at the line. That impressive statistical production led directly to success on the court, as the 21-year-old junior led Santa Clara to their best season in years — arguably since the days of Steve Nash in the mid-90s.

In college, Williams operated as a jumbo playmaker. He was one of the most effective players in the nation in pick-and-roll sets. If teams went under the screens, he’d reliably knock down three-pointers. If teams went over screens, he successfully attacked the rim. His reading of defenses, court vision and passing decisions were all very advanced.

Williams was also really good in isolations against mismatches. He played at a deliberate pace at Santa Clara but seemed to be able to get separation when it was needed. Even against a star defensive prospect like Chet Holmgren, Williams exhibited the ability to create space with ease.

All in all, Williams has all the markings of a smart player. He efficiently led his team on offense, despite not having a lot of talent around him. Defensively, he was reliably in the right spot to offer help.

At the combine, Williams was the star at the event. He measured 6-foot-4.5 without shoes, which was a little bit disappointing. However, he made up for his lack of height with a mammoth 7-foot-2.25 wingspan, a 39-inch vertical leap and one of the fastest times in the three quarter sprint.

In the scrimmages, the Santa Clara product was always under control and was his usual productive self. While his contemporaries decided to bow out of the scrimmages, Williams played until the final whistle. It would have been easy for him to shut it down after his first scrimmage appearance to protect his draft stock but, to his credit, Williams kept competing.

Character-wise, there are nothing but positive reports. All of his coaches and teammates love him. 

The Case Against Jalen Williams

At 21, Williams is considered old for a lottery pick. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, he wasn’t thought of as a legitimate NBA prospect. His explosion this past season was a shock to the scouting universe.

At Santa Clara, Williams didn’t pop athletically. There were instances here and there where he looked like a NBA-level athlete but for the most part he stayed near the ground and relied on craft instead of athleticism. His movements were typically slow, which worked more against him on the defensive end than the offensive end. His rebounding numbers were also pedestrian for someone with a 7-foot-2-plus wingspan.

Williams’ testing at the combine paints the picture of a great athlete. On film, he looks like a mediocre athlete. Can he flip the switch and use his athletic tools at the NBA level or is he just someone who tests well?

Jalen Williams: Spurs Outlook

On paper, Williams is everything the Spurs look for in a prospect. He’s a great kid who was a leader on his college team. Like Joshua Primo (and Luka Samanic, for that matter, and numerous other eventual Spurs draft picks), he competed at the combine despite others in his same situation sitting out. 

While he’s older, Williams is clearly a late bloomer due to a delayed growth spurt. He wasn’t scouted much out of high school because he was an undersized point guard. His growing continued at Santa Clara and now he has one of the best physical profiles in the draft. The Spurs also tend to value wingspan more than height in the draft, which is another point in Williams’ favor. 

Though he was the lead playmaker in college, Williams has the size and the shooting ability to theoretically begin his NBA career as a small forward. Down the line, if he proves to be a capable playmaker as a pro, he could eventually be a go-to initiator of halfcourt sets.

The Spurs picking Williams with the ninth overall selection is possible but unlikely. It’s probably too big of a jump to go from the middle of the second round all the way into the top ten. Then again, Primo took a similar jump just last year.

With their 20th overall selection, if Williams is still available, I’d be surprised if the Spurs didn’t pick him. Unfortunately, his stock is likely rising too quickly for him to make it to 20. That means, if the Spurs really want him, San Antonio will probably have to pick him at No. 9 — and that could be exactly what the good guys end up doing.