The Oklahoma City Thunder avoided another painful loss by providing its fans with the opposite. OKC came from behind and stole a win against the Spurs.
This performance was led by one of the NBA’s promising young studs. Jalen Williams, a forward from Santa Clara who was selected 12th in the 2022 NBA Draft, had his best game as a pro; 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists plus the game-sealing bucket in a home win against San Antonio.
The win improved OKC to 9-12, a much-needed victory given the team’s recent string of bad performances, and sent San Antonio crashing to a third straight loss.
It was even more special as Williams starred in place of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was out nursing an injured hip.
Early in the game, it was evident how SGA’s offense was direly needed. San Antonio led by 17 at the break, and later on by 20. The Thunder seemed lifeless on offense without their star man leading the team forward.
But, Williams would go a perfect 8-of-8 from the field in the final two stanzas, spearheading a spirited comeback which provided a solid reminder of how this group of developing youngsters can play with such an overwhelming energy. It was a throwback to the ‘Three Amigos’ year where the Thunder won games by playing with relentless stamina.
Williams converted on a feathery floater as 30 seconds remained in the game, giving OKC a 4-point cushion to run away with one of the team’s most fulfilling victories of the season.
“He was big-time,” OKC head coach Mark Daigneault said about Williams, adding that he “continues to get better.”
In 17 games this season Williams has averaged 9.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists a contest, playing nearly 25 minutes a game. The defensive counting stats are minimal, and the 26.8% 3-point shooting needs refinement. But J-Dub is shooting more than 50% from the field overall and 88.5% from the foul stripe. These numbers are very encouraging, especially this early in his career.
The on/off numbers show that the Thunder are -18.9 points/100 possessions with Williams on the court according to Cleaning The Glass. The raw data is rough but 17 games is a small sample size for a rookie playing in a team with a fluid nightly rotation and a coaching approach designed to get minutes for all young players.
Sometimes, Coach Daigneault’s flexibility will cause confusion. In other times, Daigneault’s willingness to change his lineups around will pay benefit. Wednesday night was one of those occasions..
The data trends also show that Williams fares better for OKC when he plays at SF (21% of his minutes) instead of SG (69% of his minutes) - -3.8 pts/100 possessions vs -17.4 pts/100 possessions.
Moreover, line-ups with SGA/Tre/J. Will/Dort/Bazley have a +25.8 difference in 16 possessions. If you replace Bazley with Mike Muscala in that list, the lineup is +53 in 12 possessions.
This early on in his career, it is not yet certain what Williams will have. At this point, it is important to ask if he can eventually evolve into a consistent performer?
Can he produce 20 a night by his second or third season? That would be ideal for the Thunder. Coach Daigneault would finally have another scoring option who can drive to the basket and open up the defense.
For now, there will be ebbs and flows, highs and lows. The lows will be tough – just ask San Antonio – but the highs will be just as fun. With Williams, the key is stay patient and let J-Dub find his own way.