Before we get into talking about the Thunder, I would like to congratulate LeBron James on passing Kareem as the league’s all-time leading scorer. James has played at a top level for twenty years and his ability to sustain his performance year in year out is hugely impressive.
For the Thunder, the game against the Lakers was massive. The possibility of LeBron making history meant that the game was flexed onto national television and 200 journalists descended on Los Angeles. It is easy to get lost and be awed by an occasion of this grandeur.
In terms of the seeding, this game was important. A win for the Thunder would mean some breathing room from the teams below them, a win for Los Angeles would allow them to slowly make their way back up the standings.
We have seen young teams lose their way in high-profile games in front of raucous arenas. We saw the Thunder lose against the Miami Heat in their first nationally televised game as a result of excessive fouling. In that game, Oklahoma City got away from Coach Daigneault has emphasised, disciplined defense win games.
This was a worry coming into the Lakers’ game. Oklahoma City have not played well on the road all year long and suffered an awful loss at the start of the week in which the Warriors torched the nets.
Jaylin Williams, the Thunder’s second round pick out of Arkansas, set the tone from the first minute of the game. His physicality and strength meant that Anthony Davis found it difficult to find a rhythm. Davis shot the ball efficiently but his shot volume was low.
It has been quite a rise for Williams, he started the season in the G League and only found minutes when the Thunder’s front-court was depleted. His first few games on the main roster were tough.
His energy and selflessness were unclear but Williams could not get comfortable with the floor-spacing in the NBA. He would attack gaps and then suddenly find the lane closed off by a well-timed help rotation. It is fair to say that Jaylin was thoroughly outplayed by Mark Williams and Joel Embiid in his first two contests as a starter.
His growth as a player has not come quickly, it has been a steady process but we are now starting to see the best out of Jaylin Williams. He has been nothing short of excellent over the last three weeks and his temperament has been a big part of his strong performances.
Williams is happy to take a hit and be knocked down if it benefits his team. J-Will’s desire to take charges is well-documented but his charge call on LeBron James the other night was just plain impressive.
James, even in the twilight of his career, moves like a freight train and punches holes through the opposing defense. Defenders who stand in James’ way are usually embarrassed and put on a highlight reel for the rest of their careers. With all of this mind, Williams planted his feet, took the contact and ended the possession.
Rook doing work on both ends! pic.twitter.com/y5Y9HKi7D8— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 8, 2023
Despite the risk of embarrassment and pain, Williams did what was best for the whole team. It is rare to get these sort of players in the NBA, the only other example I can think would be Steven Adams.
The physicality can also be seen in how J-Will sets screens. Williams sets meaty, bone-crunching screens when he is on the court. You can see the defender’s head snap back as if they have been caught with an overhand right when they run into J-Will’s thick, strong midsection.
The strong screens create a lot of separation for the ball-handler and they are free to attack the space without the defense breathing down their neck. Williams is also very good at re-screening whenever the ball-handler rejects the first screen.
Pick and roll play is a dance between two individuals and already, J-Will is good at spotting his partner’s cues. He understands when the playmaker wants to drive or when they want to fake, he then understands that his job to land some sort of blow on the opposition.
In the last few weeks, we have seen the Thunder experiment with Williams as a passer more often with good results. Jaylin’s handle and court vision is good enough for him to exploit short rolls situations. A quick pass by J-Dub into J-Will usually opens up a world of possibilities for the former Razorback.
Williams can dribble and manoeuvre himself into positions where he can finish with a floater over the larger defender. He also has the presence of mind to find cutters or open shooters in the corner once the defense collapses on his move to the basket. His processing speed as a passer allows Williams to deliver the ball to his teammate when they have ample space to knock down a shot.
It is a similar sort of story in the high-post for Williams, this clip is indicative of his varied, polished offensive game. J-Will can do a bit of everything and this is why he is such a useful connector piece for Coach Daigneault.
jaylin williams does so much good organizing stuff, having a big who can space, dho flow, attack closeouts and pass like this, phew pic.twitter.com/8ui6zUKGSr— ben pfeifer (@bjpf_) February 8, 2023
I have my doubts on whether Williams’ shooting is real, he is shooting 50% on 3-pointers but the sample size is only 30 attempts. I need to see more evidence of his stroke before we can make a reasonable judgement on whether J-Will can be a useful floor-spacer in the NBA.
Even without the shooting, J-Will is shaping up to be a fine young player for the Thunder and has made a serious case to start going forward. JRE has been a reliable option over the last two years but J-Will has been impressive and boasts a level of offensive versatility that Jeremiah struggles to match. It is an issue for Coach Daigneault to think over but this is certainly a good problem to have for the coaching staff.