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Kenrich Williams still hustlin' real hard but showing important development in NBA summer league action

Obvious strides in the ball-handling and playmaking departments!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Kenrich Williams became an overnight favorite last season, but not only does he appear to have added a couple of new elements to his game since then, he seems an ideal fit in David Griffin’s vision of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Following a 122-117 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on February 8th, the locker room was packed tight full of media waiting for an opportunity to field a Q & A with Anthony Davis. New Orleans once favorite basketball superstar had returned to action following a turbulent twelve days where he previously sat on the sidelines during games but squarely in the midst of the biggest trade deadline drama. Thus, it was no surprise to see only about four people make their way over to Williams’ locker after a PR person acknowledged he was ready for questions — everyone else remained in a circle around in front of Davis’ area, eager to keep their spot.

When a player goes off for 19 points, knocks down four of five threes and leads their team to a fun victory in the second half, that night’s hero is typically the indisputable story. This is made true even more so when the performance comes out of nowhere, especially in the case of an undrafted rookie who didn’t crack the regular rotation until about half way through the 2018-19 season.

The play of Kenrich Williams was one of the rare happy sports topics in New Orleans after Davis’ trade request became public. Contributions in a number of different areas and a display of solid versatility thrust him into conversations, but it was his style of play that endeared him to fans.

For those of you who also followed him during his three years at Texas Christian University, this basketball prowess isn’t a new thing as “Kenny Hustle” was first unearthed during his freshman year by online publisher Billy Wessels. The nickname fit then and still remains rather in vogue.

Few embody the effort and determination on every single possession like Williams. Doing all of the dirty work — showing a willingness to rebound, dive for loose balls, and play hounding defense — are seemingly iconic trademarks of yesteryear. Kenrich is a throwback to that generation, but he doesn’t hide it.

“I kind of like the name,” TCU junior Kenrich Williams said. “Because I do find in my game, I hustle.”

Williams has appeared in 1079 minutes with the New Orleans Pelicans, but we already have a great idea of what he’s all about and are hoping for a lot more.

Flashing back to his play last season, look at how Kenrich comes from the three-point line on the other side of the floor and outworks Justin Holiday to grab an offensive rebound, which was one of six on the night against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Watch how Williams ideally positioned himself right in the middle of the lane in a game against the Chicago Bulls on February 6th. He was in a great spot to help Ian Clark, who was in trouble against the much bigger and stronger Lauri Markkanen. After helping force the pass get thrown to the weak side, Kenrich next closed like a bounding tiger towards Shaquille Harrison and wound up getting a hand on the three-point shot attempt.

It’s no secret that the Pelicans had trouble guarding bigger perimeter players over the last few seasons. For instance, when the Minnesota duo were still together, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler used to give New Orleans all sorts of grief. Have a look at how Kenrich suffocated and then stymied Wiggin’s shot off a drive in the opening minutes of a game.

Dozens more clips could be posted to boast about Kenrich’s hustle, but a few seconds of video here and there do not honestly begin to describe his full impact. He literally never stops trying to keep a possession alive, being an irritant defensively or finding some other way to contribute a winning play.

Rather, lets spend some time discussing what appear to be pedestrian numbers: 6.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 threes on 33.3% shooting. In my opinion, he often showed hesitation in letting that jumper fly and I always felt he was capable of more from a playmaking standpoint. There wasn’t enough emphasis put on just how turnover-resistant he was, displaying both great intelligence and skill with the ball — an area we’ve witnessed real growth here through his first two games of the 2019 Summer League; however, I want to first delve deeper into those numbers from last season.

Over the last ten years, nine forwards have averaged more than 12 points, 9.0 rebounds, two threes and three assists per 100 possessions in their age-24 season: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Otto Porter Jr., Kevin Durant, Nikola Mirotic, Dario Saric, Austin Daye, Luke Babbitt and Kenrich Williams. That’s an interesting list and it’s important to point out that Kenrich was the only rookie in the group.

For the sake of comparison though, let’s remove Mirotic and Saric from the discussion as Williams possesses the agility and versatility to play the small forward position on both ends of the floor. Also, lets get rid of the legit superstars (George, Leonard and Durant) because 1) duh and 2) Williams usage percentage says it’s not a good idea. So, here’s what we’re left with plus two players who I feel represent an ultra-high ceiling (think odds of winning the Mega Millions) and my favorite comparison.

Points FG% 3PT% Threes Rebounds Assists Turnovers Steals Blocks Usage%
Draymond Green 18.1 44.3% 33.7% 2.2 12.7 5.7 2.6 2.4 1.9 17.2%
Otto Porter 23.2 50.3% 44.1% 2.8 10.0 3.2 1.5 2.4 0.8 18.4%
Kenrich Williams 12.0 38.4% 33.3% 2.2 9.4 3.6 1.6 1.9 0.8 12.3%
Austin Daye 19.6 43.3% 41.8% 3.2 9.7 3.3 2.3 1.1 1.7 17.1%
Luke Babbitt 18.7 39.0% 37.9% 4.0 9.7 3.2 1.7 0.8 1.2 17.0%
Mystery 24-year-old A 18.0 39.7% 28.3% 1.4 6.8 3.6 2.1 2.6 0.7 16.8%
Mystery 24-year-old B 11.8 41.4% 22.7% 0.4 9.6 4.1 3.2 2.2 0.5 13.8%

Although the numbers between Porter and Williams are strikingly similar outside of the shooting efficiency and volume, I don’t care for making too close of a comparison. Yes, they both do a little of everything and are known for high-revving motors, though Otto entered the league as a 20-year-old, who is bouncier, quicker, and possesses a different body type.

A Draymond Green comparison seems to make a little more sense, but again, Green is really special. There is no forward in the league who can defend and make plays for others in a similar mold, and his fire and competitive spirit truly deserve to sit alone.

So, does anyone have any ideas on the two mystery lines listed yet? How about Player A?

It’s Jimmy Butler.

Before you stop reading, hear me out — and don’t forget that when Jrue Holiday was asked about Kenrich’s potential after a game, he replied to Joel Meyers, “A star, really.”

Butler and Williams are nearly identical in height (6’7.75 vs 6’7.25), had similar builds at the same age and do not possess above average athleticism. But my favorite comparisons lie in the fact that they overcome short wingspans (6’7.5 vs. 6’7.25) through fantastic IQs and motors that run off some perpetual energy source.

The beauty about Williams is that he always seems to make the right play. Observe the timing of all the passing sandwiched around finding an open driving lane in the clip below.

Did you notice Williams was in prime position to grab the offensive rebound had Julius Randle missed the three-point shot?

Jimmy Butler is one of the league’s top 25 players, so yes, this seems like a crazy comparison to make, but who doesn’t fancy a good long shot scenario? Butler was the 30th pick of the 2011 Draft and many were worried about his offensive potential after watching his rookie season at age 22. In time he passed that test though, but can Williams, who has never been a volume scorer is his own right?

One key to remember: he rarely gets to the line (unlike Butler) and when he does, he’s never knocked them down consistently, from his freshman season at TCU until now. Thus, lets make a much smarter comparison.

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers

Matt Barnes was an NBA journeyman who entered the league as the 46th pick of the 2002 Draft. Like Williams and Butler, he also possesses a wingspan on the smaller side but more than made up for it with scrappy play. Read the following part of his scouting report from DraftExpress.

Gives his team toughness and some perimeter shooting ability, even if he’’s prone to long bouts of inconsistency from beyond the arc. Plays with energy and can make some plays on the defensive end. A terrific rebounder, possibly Golden State’s best when he was there, despite his size. Still a bit too inconsistent, but he’’s still improving. Played four solid years at UCLA, but wasn’t an elite collegiate player.

Quite a few similarities to Kenrich, huh?

Either way, as I alluded to earlier, there’s been a happy new development. Though Williams is averaging 6.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals and has had trouble locating the range on his shot, his ball-handling and playmaking show obvious improvement in summer league.

Kenrich was responsible for getting the first overall pick from the 2019 Draft going offensively in Zion Williamson’s debut, dropping a couple of good dimes that resulted in easy dunks. What’s important to note is that five of Kenrich’s six assists led to Pelican dunks in a 80-74 win over the New York Knicks, and this came in just 25 minutes of action as an earthquake suspended the game with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

In Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, Kenrich posted eight points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and two steals, but he clearly took a secondary role in the offense as Nickeil Alexander-Walker dictated the majority of the scoring passes.

With how Jaxson Hayes, Didi Silva and NAW burst onto the scene in their first game as Pelicans and Zion's debut last week, Williams continued growth has probably flown under some radars, but nevertheless, his play should be viewed as a positive development, too. And with Christian Wood’s future in doubt on the roster, there's a real good chance Kenny is going to keep hustlin' real hard for the Pelicans.