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2019-20 Player Preview: Kenrich Williams set to prove himself viable rotation piece for New Orleans Pelicans

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Kenny Hustle has the potential to be a key contributor.

NBA: OCT 11 Preseason - Jazz at Pelicans Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is easy to forget about Kenrich Williams. Undrafted out of TCU in 2018, Williams is older than Giannis Antetokounmpo and puts together an underwhelming rookie season statistically. Following a transformative offseason, the forward finds himself buried amongst a bevy of talented wing players. However, we shouldn’t forget about Kenrich Williams. He brings traits that make him worthy of rotation minutes, namely his elite basketball IQ. Let’s dive into why Williams could crack the rotation this season for a New Orleans Pelicans team with playoff aspirations.

We’ll start with defense, where Kenrich Williams adds value despite his lack of exceptional athletic tools. As a rookie, he graded out as a slight positive defensively per Player Impact Plus-Minus (+0.3); however, his lack of lateral burst and short arms leads him to struggle defending the point of attack quite a bit. Against the dynamic Donovan Mitchell, Williams doesn’t deter his drive at all, giving up middle far too easily:

In the preseason, he had good moments defending the ball, moving his feet and sticking with twitchier and stronger ball-handlers. Against more talented attackers, Williams’ deadliest tools are his hands, swiping balls away from drivers and disrupting their rhythm on the way to the basket:

While point of attack defense is not Williams’ forte, his struggles there are mostly mitigated by his outlier team defensive ability, with elite IQ and instincts defending off of the ball. From Lonzo Ball to Derrick Favors to Zion Williamson, the Pelicans are loaded with high-level team defenders and Williams only adds to this collection. His reaction time off of the ball is top notch; he slides over to contain the Harden drive the instant the backdoor cut frees him up downhill:

Williams is incredible as a weak side pick and roll defender, tagging the roller and helping when the primary defenders leave gaps. When Joakim Noah slips through the cracks, Kenrich Williams slides over in a flash, blocking the ball out of his hands, preventing an easy bucket:

He routinely swoops in from the weak side to break up lazy lob passes like this:

Defending two players at once here, Williams sinks down to cover Sabonis, sticking his arms out in the passing lanes when he sniffs out the ball flying over his airspace:

Even when ball screens from burly big men leave Williams trailing the play, his smarts help him recover and turn his situation around. A wily veteran’s trick, Williams anticipates the pass to the now open roller, breaking it up:

On the back end, Williams is constantly making timely rotations that go unnoticed by most but are vital to team defensive success; he executes perfectly here, reading the skip pass and sprinting to close out the corner:

Offensively, Williams struggled as a rookie. Per PIPM, he graded out as a sizable minus on offense (-1.4), backed up by his true shooting of 48.5%. One of Williams’ biggest questions coming out of TCU was his athletic tools and whether they would allow him to contribute meaningful minutes at the NBA level.

On the ball, Williams lacks any reliable method of scoring creation. He lacks the burst or handle to reliably create space for off-dribble jumpers. Those same issues prevent him from getting to the rim often; he placed in the 14th percentile at the basket last season with a .068 free-throw rate. When Williams is asked to create for himself, the result is often poor:

For his projected role as an off-ball wing, on-ball creation isn’t a necessary skill. His handle is functional enough to attack closeouts and run the occasional pick and roll. The true swing skill for Williams’ offense and his ultimate outcome is his three-point shooting.

Last season, Williams shot 33.3% from three on 6.7 attempts per 100. That figure itself is fairly innocuous. His free-throw percentage is the real concern; he shot 68.4 percent from the stripe last season and was a career 62.5% free-throw shooter in three years at TCU. Given free-throw shooting is such an important indicator for shooting development, seeing Williams’ improve there is key for his projection. A reliable catch-and-shoot jumper would open up his game massively, especially considering his excellent basketball IQ, feel for the game and playmaking at his size.

Williams can create with the ball in his hands with the handling ability he does have and his hawk-like vision. He can pocket pass like a point guard:

He fires cross-court skip passes to open shooters when he catches defenders sleeping:

The more practical application of Williams’ passing comes off of the ball, where he can play off of the gravity of other players and make great decisions with open space. Fortunately, he will spend time playing off of one of the NBA’s leaders in rim gravity in Zion Williamson. When Williamson inevitably draws multiple pairs of eyes on his trips to the hoop, Williams will have closeouts to attack and space to cut into aplenty. From there, his passing talent and decision making will generate countless easy shots:

He’s a connoisseur of the extra pass (even if sometimes he should really be shooting the ball on the catch), keeping the ball moving, hunting for the best shot available:

Williams’ path to being a positive NBA player and a regular contributor on a deep Pelicans team is simple. If the outside shot falls, his savant-level basketball IQ will make him impossible for Alvin Gentry to take off of the floor. A second year player, Williams is almost 25 and hasn’t shown much progression in his free-throw shooting or overall shooting consistency in his career.

Strong decision making is hugely important for ancillary offensive pieces, as is strong team defense to supplement. Players with one or both of these traits are rare and Kenrich Williams has both. If his scoring does progress this season, expect to see Williams on the floor often, making a positive impact on both ends of the floor.

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