It’s been well-chronicled how Jalen Williams, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s rookie, is one of the top three best draft picks this season. Sam Presti has clearly worked his magic again, finding Williams with the No. 12 pick of the 2022 NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-5 Williams is averaging 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds , and 3.2 assists as the team’s starting power forward. Williams has star power and seems to be the athletic, stretchy wing the Oklahoma City Thunder needed to complement their bevy of skilled facilitators.
But just how good is Williams, and what are his comps? We’ve completed a deep dive into how promising the rookie can be.
Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick, is recovering from a Lisfranc injury that has kept him out all season. He was expected to compete with No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic for the Rookie of the Year award. Instead, Williams has become the second-best rookie in the league, a close challenger to Banchero for the award.
Banchero looks like a star now and a superstar in a few seasons. The same can’t be said for Williams yet. Williams’ impact has the Thunder competing with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and Minnesota Timberwolves for one of the final spots in the play-in tournament. The Oklahoma City Thunder sit 10th in the Western Conference at 36-38. A massive overachieve from the Vegas pre-season line at 23.5 wins.
Jalen Williams’ advanced stats show his effectiveness
The advanced metrics love Williams, which is rare for a rookie at any position. His Effective Field Goal Percentage of 56.4 percent is in the 82 percentile in the NBA. His True Shooting Percentage of 59.7 percent is also in the 81 percentile of the NBA (not to mention good for the best true shooting percentage across a 14-game span by a rookie since Shaquille O’Neal’s 66.6 percent).
Those are elite numbers for a first-year player playing somewhat out of position at power forward. And who is starting, no less. He also has a Value over Replacement Player of 1.1, a Win Share over 48 minutes of .117, and a Win Share of 4.7 (2.4 offensive win share and 2.3 defensive win share). In March, he’s averaging 20 Rolling Player Rating, the best of all rookies, including Banchero, proving the future will only get brighter.
Williams has the third-best PER of his teammates at 15.3, third in total assists, fourth-best in true shooting at 59.7 percent, second in win shares, second in offensive win shares, third in defensive win shares, and fourth in defensive rating at 113.3. His defensive rating is also the best of all rookies. Against other rookies, he is fourth in rebounds (4.5 per game), fourth in assists (3.2 per game), first in steals (1.4 per game), fourth in blocks (0.5 per game), second in 3fg percent (34.5 percent), third in free throw percentage (78.7 percent) and second in +/- with minus-23.
Jalen Williams should be a lock to make the First Team All-Rookie squad and a closer-than-predicted runner-up to Banchero for Rookie of the Year. But most importantly, he could prove to be the final piece of an emerging Oklahoma City Thunder core. As they’ve built Thunder University 2.0, they have lacked athleticism and multi-positional defense, both of which Williams provides at an elite level, astonishingly as a rookie.
Williams is paired with the superstar guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, defensive ace Lu Dort, jackknife of all trades Josh Giddey, and a bevy of high-floor guys (excluding Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl).
Things will get even more interesting when Holmgren returns next season, adding a new alien dimension to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They also have 15 first-round draft picks over the next seven drafts, an insane stat on its own. If and when they cash in, they will have accelerated the rebuild even faster than previously designed by building a team that covers all the bases while providing the best archetype of positionless basketball. We may look back at Sam Presti drafting Williams with the 12th pick this past summer as the last move needed to round out their excellent young core.
Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo