Drafting Latavious Williams

Updated: May 27, 2010

While most draft debates revolve around John Wall and Evan Turner or Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins, those with a pulse on the D-League are most interested to see if/when Latavious Williams gets selected in the June 24 NBA Draft.

When the NBA instituted the new rule that U.S. players must be at least one year removed from high school and 19 years of age by the end of that calendar year before entering the draft, it seemed to limit the options for high school players looking to go pro. Most of the biggest stars now play one year of college ball and then turn pro, including the past three NBA Rookie of the Year winners, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans.

But not everyone wants to go the college route. The third place finisher for the 2010 Rookie of the Year, Brandon Jennings, chose a different path to the NBA—spending what would have been his freshman year in college playing basketball and making money in Europe. Some people speculated that Jennings’ success could open the floodgates for high school stars to skip college and spend a year overseas before entering the draft. However, the story of Jeremy Tyler, a highly touted prospect who opted to skip his senior year of high school only to return stateside after struggling in Israel, proved international basketball isn’t for everyone. And that brings us back to Latavious Williams.Williams made headlines last year by becoming the first player to go straight from high school to the NBA Development League. He played in 47 games for the Tulsa 66ers. Although he started only 9 times and averaged just over 20 minutes per game, his per minute numbers were impressive. He was 13th in the league in rebounds per 48 minutes, 33rd in blocks per 48 and shot 52.8 percent from the field.

In a recent post at Ridiculous Upside, Scott Schroeder sums up Williams’ skills thusly, “As it stands, he’s a 21-year-old raw athlete (think the type of high school athlete that colleges recruit and assign a position later) with some pretty freakish athleticism and a penchant for tip-dunks.”

In other words, no one is expecting Williams to come in and take the league by storm a la Jennings, but Williams displayed a lot of positive signs during his year in the D-League, including a 14-point, 8-rebound performance in decisive Game 2 of the D-League Finals, which his 66ers lost to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, an 18-point, 18-rebound against Iowa in January, and a 25-point, 15-rebound effort against Idaho in March.

As of now, the mock draft boards that have Williams on them have him going in the back half of the second round. One of the most interesting possible scenarios is forecast in Ridiculous Upside’s latest mock draft, which has Williams going 51st overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That would make sense since the Thunder have had a chance to track Williams’ progress better than any other team the past season as the NBA affiliate of the 66ers (and one of the few NBA teams that owns their own D-League team), and it could set a precedent for the future.

If Williams does go on to be a productive NBA player, his unconventional route—not Jennings’—will almost certainly become the preferred alternative, at least from the NBA’s perspective. A year in the D-League provides pro-level competition while playing under NBA rules, in front of NBA scouts, and working in NBA systems. As more NBA teams continue to grow their connection with their D-League team, it would make more sense for them to take on a project like Williams in the future in the hopes that he blossoms into a star two or three years down the road.

Whether Williams is selected or not remains to be seen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the D-League for most or all of next season. He still needs time to develop and refine his game, but there is no question that he has potential to make an impact at the NBA level in the future if things fall into place.

(There are so many mock drafts out there that you can find with a simple Google search that it’s hard to know where to turn. In addition to RU, my personal recommendations are DraftExpress, which currently does not have Williams on the board; HoopsWorld, which has him going 60th to the Suns; and NBADraft.net, which has Williams going 57th to the Mavericks. Of course, you could always just wait four weeks for the real draft and find out for sure if Williams gets drafted, but I think we can all agree that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as trying to predict the future ourselves.)

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