The Thunder added yet another comeback victory to the tally after being down by 20 points to the Spurs early in the third quarter, but they stormed back to win by eight points. After losing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a hip injury against the Pelicans, I would not blame you if you expected a dull and uninspiring outing against the Spurs, because I certainly did.
This game was the furthest thing from dull and it was an exciting contest.
Jalen Williams, taken at #12 in the 2022 NBA Draft, had a breakout game after putting together a stretch of really solid basketball over the last couple of weeks. He recorded a career-high 27 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists on hyper-efficient 11-for-15 from the field.
The Thunder needed a scoring guard to step up in place of Shai and he was certainly up to the challenge. In a way, SGA and Williams have very similar games. They are both methodical and crafty getting to the rack. They play at a slower pace, at their own tempo but they possess the rare ability to change speed and direction in an instant.
Watch how he slowly makes his way over the screen and hesitates slightly at the top of the key before rising up for the floater. This slow approach has Zach Collins second-guessing whether to play up on Williams or drop down further to take away the rolling Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The indecision opens up room for Williams to get the floater off.
I just love how he attacks the slower-footed Collins here in semi-transition. J-Dub dribble jabs to the right and then attacks Collins’ top foot, making the big man turn his hips while back-pedalling as Williams gets downhill. Collins is left with no chance to recover as J-Dub gets the easy lay up off the glass.
Despite his solid performances in recent weeks, Williams has not been able to get the three-ball to fall consistently, shooting just 26.8% coming into this game. However against the Spurs, we saw flashes of the truly elite catch-and-shoot ability we saw when he was at Santa Clara.
He shot 48% on such attempts in his junior year of college. If he can become a consistent threat from deep, his game will be elevated to a whole new level.
His off the ball work is very good on this play as J-Dub fills the gap behind the arc when Lu Dort drives. When Dort kicks out, Williams has ample time to knock down the three with his silky smooth form.
Perhaps Williams’ premier ability as of now is his cutting. He knows when to get into the lane and plays off the movement of his teammates. J-Dub says he “waits for someone to turn their head and then [cuts].”
Being able to make these reads early on in his career leads to easy buckets and sometimes even absurd highlight dunks like this one off the baseline cut. Isaiah Roby indeed had his head turned on this possession.
Williams said he was “going to lay it up,” but I suppose he realised he has a 7’2” wingspan and can throw down freakish dunks with ease
The confidence of J-Dub is off the charts. “I don’t view myself as a rookie,” he said. “I just go out there and play my game.” His confidence really shows out on the court, he is never afraid to take a shot and all his moves ooze with that swagger that just scream “future star.”
This performance was the latest in the growing line of highly impactful games from the 21-year-old, averaging 13.7 points on 51.7% from the field and 35.7% from three in the last nine games. Rarely do we see a rookie that impacts winning in a positive manner like J-Dub does.
His highly efficient style of cutting and playing off his teammates whilst being able to create for himself out of the pick-and-roll allows for Mark Daigneault to trust him in late game situations where historically he would opt for a more experienced player.
Just as Coach Daigneault mentioned, Williams is far from a one-way player. His freakishly long arms mean that Jalen acts as an irritating disruptor for ball handlers. He also possesses a lot of functional strength for a first-year player and J-Dub loves to use his body to take contact on drives. So far, he has held his ground very well against veteran NBA players.
We have already established the fact that Williams a very high IQ player on the offensive end, but he is equally as smart on defense. He knows when to jump passing lanes, when to help off of his man and he makes the right rotation consistently.
Williams is an extremely promising young stud that has got Thunder fans jumping for joy after a career night against the Spurs, but nights like this will become more and more common for him as time goes on.
It is never good when your star player misses games to injury, but Shai’s absence provided Williams with an opportunity to shine and he took it and ran. This is not a player that should exclusively excite Thunder fans, but the rest of the league should be taking notice.