Kenrich Williams came to the Thunder in a somewhat inauspicious manner. He was a toss-in in the Steven Adams trade; he was dealt by New Orleans simply to make the salaries match. It was widely expected that Williams would be dealt or waived by the Thunder.
Kenrich is an intense individual who leads by example; he is the first to sacrifice his own game for the benefit of the team. It is one of the reasons why he was so useful and successful last season. Williams brought leadership and communication every single time that he stepped onto the court.
He has developed into being a top-level glue guy; a player in the mould of Shane Battier or Robert Horry. Williams’ mind-set is what sets him apart from the majority of wings across the league. He plays every minute as if it is his last and that hunger translates to highly productive on court performances.
His on-off rating last season was a scarcely believable +7.8 points per 100 possessions. He has continued this season in much the same vein. His own numbers have slipped somewhat but his impact is still evident.
Out of 3-man lineups that have played 20 minutes this season, Kenrich features in four of the best five lineups. He has played well with Dort, Shai and Giddey in various different combinations.
From his raw numbers, it is hard to understand why Kenny is so valuable to the Thunder but his advanced numbers tell a different story. Williams’ shooting stats are probably the best place to start.
Williams’ shot diet is balanced nicely between looks inside and perimeter shooting. Williams took 32% of his shot attempts within 3ft of the basket last season and he was tremendously efficient, shooting 72.9%. This season, his volume at the rim is slightly lower and his finishing has been significantly worse.
Kenrich excelled at using his frame and strength to create the necessary space down low last season. He is making the same plays this year but so far his shot is not dropping. It is a small sample size and I am confident that he can get back to similar levels of efficiency.
His 3-point shooting was scorching hot last season, 44.4%, but I am fairly convinced that this was an outlier. Kenny Hustle is currently shooting 35% on 3-point attempts which is a respectable mark and more in line with my expectations. 35% is still really solid work from Kenrich unlike the majority of his teammates this season who cannot seem to throw the ball in the ocean.
His mid-range shooting is arguably the most interesting datapoint. We often describe Williams as being a multi-faceted player who is good across the board without having any elite skills. I would argue that his mid-range shooting is his greatest skill.
Kenrich Williams uses the one dribble pull-up expertly to create space and evade the defense. He will catch the ball on the perimeter, get past his man and rise up for a mid-ranger. That is typically a bad shot in the NBA but for Kenny, it is a good look. He shot 53.4% on all 2-point one dribble pull-up FGA.
Kenrich Williams is an odd player in the sense that he does not seem to have any notable strengths in the scoring department. His strengths are hidden whereas his weaknesses are quite prominent. Those hidden strengths are incredibly valuable to the Thunder when a player understands their role completely.
Kenny Hustle knows that he will receive a limited number of shots on a nightly basis and so he seeks to maximise his opportunities. It is one of the reasons why he attacks the mid-range and engineers his way into the non-painted area.
The other point worth noting is what the long two does to a defense. The literature and understanding around ‘bad shots’ has fundamentally changed how teams guard the mid-range. You will see teams aggressively defend the perimeter and interior while allowing plenty of space in the mid-range.
It is a mathematical decision; mid-rangers do not provide the same scoring efficiency as looks inside or the low risk-high reward value of 3-pointers. When a player is consistently able to make mid-range jumpers, the defense has to change how they guard the space. The defenders in the corner may drift inside more and occupy previously untouched space.
In many ways, defense is a zero sum game; there is no way to re-direct resources to deal with a problem without losing effectiveness on another part of the court. Guarding the mid-range more vigilantly will nullify Kenrich Williams’ scoring but it could open up the corner three, one of the most efficient shots in basketball.
When Kenrich is consistently draining pull-up long twos, he brings a sense of variety to the Thunder’s offense. The defense cannot simply funnel to the mid-range and hope for the best; they must adjust their scheme.
His hidden strength allows Williams to tap into another layer of his game, passing. Again, Kenrich’s raw numbers last season were not all that impressive. Williams had 2.3 assists per game and 1.2 turnovers per game. His A:TO was solid if unspectacular.
The advanced numbers tell a different story. He made 23.0 passes per game last season but notched 4.7 potential assists per game. With very little in the way of long, continued touches, he was able to keep the offense ticking over and get his teammates involved into the game.
Kenrich’s style was not flashy at all but he made effective passes at the right time to teammates who had good shots. It is simple basketball but it was brutally efficient for Kenrich.
He has continued in the same manner this season; Kenrich is moving the ball with purpose and is not wasting valuable seconds off the clock. Williams is not the most creative passer but his speed of decision-making allows him to slip passes into teammates and find holes in the defense.
The last aspect of Kenrich’s game is arguably his calling card, defense. Williams’ activity is impressive; it is very easy to chase people aimlessly but Kenrich plays with a sense of control. He is trying to slow the opposing team’s rhythm and make the game difficult instead of getting suckered into personal battles.
It is no surprise that Kenrich was towards the top of the league in deflections for all forwards who came off the bench. Williams is also adept at drawing charges and stopping possessions completely.
The ideal result of a possession on defense is to stop the opposing team’s attack and limit any chance of a continuation of the game. A charge call achieves that aim perfectly. Williams is good at getting his body in front of the attacking player at just right the moment and selling contact. He has already accumulated two charges this season off the bench.
His defense is also somewhat immeasurable; there is no statistic to measure communication between the five players on defense. Players talking to each other and relaying information is the most effective tool for a defense.
Williams talks all the time and is unafraid of bollocking his teammates whenever they miss a rotation. He marshals the team around the court and his communication gets guys into spots where they need to be.
Kenrich Williams has a diverse, versatile skill-set. He can pass, knock down shots and disrupts the opposing team’s offense with his intensity on the less glamorous end of the floor. The report on him has always focused on Williams being merely good at a wide range of skills rather than having an elite skill.
I would argue that Kenrich’s elite skills are tucked away and can only really be seen in how he improves his teammates. When he plays, the Thunder are controlled and organised on both ends of the hardwood. He is a top level glue guy who will only get better as the team around him improves. Williams is one to keep for the Thunder, that is for sure.