On the heels of a two-year contract with New York, Williams has to capture lightning in a bottle to control his energetic athleticism and find comfort with the Knicks.

“He plays like a chicken with [its] head cut off.” That was my introduction to Troy Williams, via a tweet in reply to The Knicks Wall asking the NBA world for initial thoughts when the New York Knicks signed him to his first 10-day contract. And it’s a good first-look assessment—Williams oozes energy and athleticism but can’t seem to contain it all, running wildly around the court both dunking on helpless rims and carelessly throwing the ball away.

In his short stint with the Knicks so far, Williams has shown signs that he can play with a little bit more control to his high motor. And the Knicks have thus rewarded him with a two-year deal with partial guarantees for the 2018–19.

What can Williams do for the team to guarantee himself a spot on next year’s roster?


Defense

Williams plays energetically but not always efficient defense. Sometimes, he will inexplicably take the long route around a screen and allow an open shot, like such:

Williams tries hard to get around the screen and catch up to the popping shooter—but he just makes the wrong initial read and chooses the least efficient way to do it.

And there are other times where he will precisely time his route to jump a passing lane and already have some acceleration going towards the other end. Following a made three-pointer on one end, Williams times his run perfectly here, reading the hesitant offense and speeding into the fast break:

He can be a menace on defense when he’s locked in, picking and choosing his spots to sprint in short controlled bursts. In these bursts of defensive acuity, he doesn’t give up when he’s behind a play and he makes the right reads on when to switch onto someone else’s man. He also plays the angles well, finding the middle ground between two weak side defenders. This is the good version of Troy Williams:

Williams demonstrated he’s capable of playing good wing defense in these short spurts, but he just needs to package it together in a more consistent way. It’s easy to play with defensive energy for five minutes at a time, but when you’re tasked with doing it for 25 minutes a night, it can be more challenging.

Getting to the rim

Williams has excelled this season when playing around the rim. He is aggressive in getting to the rack, as 60 percent of his shots as a Knick have come at the rim, in the 96 percentile among wings. He has converted those attempts at a 72 percent clip (albeit on only 25 attempts)—that’s good for the 94 percentile in the league. For context, New York’s center, and known glass-eater, Enes Kanter takes 66 percent of his shots at the rim and has hit them at a 68 percent clip, per Cleaning the Glass.

Williams isn’t much of a shot creator himself, so he gets to the hoop mostly on well-timed cuts or in transition. If Troy starts to shoot the ball better from distance (29 percent on just 14 shot attempts), it’ll open up more opportunities for him to find seams in the defense to cut to the rim as defenders have to work harder to get around those off-ball screens:

He has shown his ability to get out in transition and finish well at the cup, too. Troy has good open-court speed and an explosive bounce to go with it. With his not-so-filled-out 6’7″ frame, Williams still isn’t inclined to put his shoulder down for a bump off a big guy on his way to the rim. He is more likely to use his wiry frame to shiftily bob the ball around on the way to the tin à la Will Barton.

Although that last clip isn’t in transition, it shows the way he approaches getting to the rack when there are defenders in the way—slicing through and around them. In the open floor, he can use his speed and shiftiness to straight up beat defenders to the basket so he doesn’t have to side-step them:

And when there’s nobody in the way… well, let’s just say you might not want to rotate over too late.

Next Steps

A 23-year-old who bounced back and forth between the NBA and the D-League since going undrafted in 2016, Williams has yet to find solid footing in the league.

With his second 10-day contract expiring yesterday, the Knicks inked Williams to a new, two-year deal. The Knicks are a great team for him to grow with, as they are fully in player development mode—and Williams has a lot of talent to develop.

Especially low on wing depth, Williams could become a consistent contributor beyond this season and the two-year gamble makes sense. With powerful dunks and fast breaks leading to highlights, Williams ignites the crowds with his athleticism, and he’s starting to learn how to play less like a chicken with its head cut off.