Can the former Aggie be the frontcourt complement to KP the Knicks need?
To the casual basketball fan, the name Robert Williams may not ring a bell. The 6’10” sophomore from Texas A&M was not really a household name in the college basketball world—and was discussed far less than his potential lottery-pick counterparts. Big no. 44 from Shreveport, Louisiana, was the 50th-ranked recruit in the ESPN 100 coming out of high school back in 2016, deciding to take his talents to College Station, Texas, where he anchored the frontcourt for Aggies basketball for two seasons before declaring for this year’s NBA Draft.
Williams had the opportunity to declare for the draft after a freshman campaign in which he won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year but opted to stay in school to further develop his game. In his sophomore season, Robert played well and nearly averaged a double-double, to the tune of 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game on a staggering 63 percent shooting (via ESPN Stats).
Despite his impressive stat line and physical dominance, Williams was viewed by many as the third-best player on his own team behind guard/forward D.J. Hogg and forward Tyler Davis, the latter of the two who declared for the draft. During his time as an Aggie, Robert Williams proved to be an absolute force down low and constructed the backbone of a very good team that finished with a 22–13 record, losing to Michigan in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Williams is undoubtedly a very raw talent who is not a finished product quite yet. Under the tutelage of Billy Kennedy, Williams improved but still has many more aspects of his game he needs developed and refined before he can become a productive NBA player. The upside and high ceiling are there, however, making him a very intriguing prospect.
Williams is clearly one of the most physically imposing players in this draft. With elite length (a 7’6″ wingspan!) and leaping ability, the former Aggie has the NBA-ready body teams are looking for to plug into their lineup immediately. His athleticism allows him to be a powerful and creative finisher at the rim and his “punch you in the mouth”–type attitude down low can wear down an opponent quickly. It’s hard not to love the tenacity and raw nastiness Williams brings to the table.
The 20-year-old excels on the defensive end of the floor, especially at blocking shots (2.6 per game last season). He also attacks the glass with ferocity and is an elite rebounder on both ends of the floor, despite being considered a bit undersized for his position. Another exciting part of Williams’ game is his willingness to go to war down low; he never shies away from contact but is also a savvy player who did a relatively good job of not racking up a ton of fouls in college. Williams also played within his means and frequently took high-percentage and intelligent shots.
Most of Williams’ glaring weaknesses come in the form of offense. He is a virtual non-factor from the perimeter, and showed minimal ability to knock down a three or a mid-range jumper—two things that don’t bode well for his draft status, considering the NBA has become a jump-shot-oriented league. Williams is also an awful free-throw shooter, which can be exposed at a much higher rate in the pros. He also showed a tendency to take plays off, and didn’t seem to be engaged when he wasn’t getting the ball. Often overshadowed by Tyler Davis, Williams wasn’t able to perfect any post moves, and he found a large part of his success scoring off of dunks and lobs. Overall, Williams is a project offensively, and certainly has a ton of room for improvement in order to be a viable option on that end of the floor. Some would even say Williams underachieved in his college career and didn’t produce to the level of his talent.
However, these are flaws Robert can work on and are extremely fixable with some diligence, good coaching and leadership, and especially hard work. Don’t expect Williams to come out of the gates next year as a transformed offensive talent—this kid needs experience and time.
It’s very difficult to pinpoint a current pro that resembles Williams, but two players that come to mind are Marquese Chriss of the Phoenix Suns, and Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets.
Chriss, the former lottery pick out of the University of Washington, is similar to Robert Williams in that they both have tremendous athleticism and upside, but are viewed as projects offensively. Chriss plays above the rim in Phoenix and uses his bounciness to secure rebounds and throw down a lot of put back jams, much like Williams. Marquese also is also still working on his shooting stroke, something Robert will also be doing as well once he’s in the league. Although Williams is a little thicker and more physical than Chriss, both have similar roles on their respective teams, and are the definition of raw talent.
In addition to the Chriss comparison, Clint Capela also comes to mind when analyzing Robert Williams. Capela, a seamless fit in the Rockets heavy pick-and-roll offense, has certainly found a home in Houston, and has a chance to win this year’s Most Improved Player award. Capela thrives off of put backs and alley oops from James Harden, Chris Paul, and company on offense, while simultaneously becoming one of the most important team defenders with his his length and shot-blocking ability.
Williams has that sort of potential as well. Putting him in the right situation where he is a lower-tier option can help him carve out a nice niche on a solid team, similar to what Capela has done in H-Town. Williams’ upside, however, could be higher, as he is arguably more athletic than Clint Capela, and has the chance to be an even better shot blocker.
Fit With the Knicks and Draft Availability
More than likely, Robert Williams should be available at nine for the New York Knicks. I believe there are, at least, eight players better than Williams who are simply better fits for the teams picking ahead of New York. That’s clearly not a knock on Williams, it’s just a testament to the depth of talent in this years draft pool.
However, I do think there are better options for the Knicks at nine, like a Trae Young, Mikal Bridges, or Collin Sexton, simply because the league is so guard heavy.
Would I be devastated if the Knicks decided to pick Williams? Absolutely not. Lord knows the Knicks could use some toughness and defense.
Nonetheless, I don’t believe Williams would be the answer that Knicks fans are looking for as the next star in the Big Apple. I do like the toughness in his game, his potential fit next to KP, and his prospects as a roll-man in Fizdale’s system, but, to me, there are much more exciting, need-based guys who are probably going to be available at no. 9. Williams is also a project, so if the Knicks are planning to compete, sooner, rather than later, they might be better off with one of the aforementioned names, over a guy who may need a few years to develop his game.