The Thunder roster is still under heavy construction. There’s no doubting that fact.
But in the search for the next superstar, it can be easy to overlook the supporting cast, the so-called “glue guys” that can hold a team together.
Last year, Oklahoma City may have stumbled upon one of those pieces in former TCU Horned Frog Kenrich Williams.
“Kenny Hustle” as he’s aptly called, Williams brought the same level of energy to the floor regardless of if he was coming off the bench or thrust into a spot-duty starting role, and the team benefitted from his inclusion.
“The minute he steps over the line, the switch goes on competitively for him” Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said after a game where Williams was forced into the starting lineup last February. “It can be practice, it can be 3-on-3, it can be the end of a blow out or the first minute of the game, it can be home or on the road, rain or shine, he's just going to bring it."
Williams was more than just a try-hard guy, however, as he 8.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last year while shooting career highs from both the field (53.3 percent) and from beyond the arc (44.4 percent).
Finally healthy for an entire season, Williams said he felt comfortable in his first year with the Thunder, and as a result he was able to improve many facets of his game. Most importantly, Williams said, he settled in and really started to choose better shots, and his shooting splits skyrocketed because of it.
“To be honest it was a two-year process,” Williams said during his exit interview at the conclusion of last season. “I was kind of just trying to figure it out, where I have my strengths on the court as far as shooting. But this year I think I kind of figured it out.
“In Year 3 I was able to just attack the paint more, not settle for 3’s. And I think that definitely helped a lot as far as my 3-point shooting percentage.”
The step forward on the court will only aide his massive persona off the court for the Thunder.
Last season, Daigneault identified Williams as one of the most well respected members of the locker room and one of the key leaders on the team.
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“That’s definitely the truth,” teammate Ty Jerome said last season. “I think in a short time he’s become one of our leaders, one of the guys we look to. Everyone’s well respected and he’s definitely kind’ve the head of it.”
Williams said he was flattered by the compliment paid by Daigneault, but there’s no grand mystery as to what makes him such a respected leader behind the scenes, he just focuses on being genuine and the rest follows.
“It meant a lot coming from the head coach of the team,” Williams said. “I think kind of building that reputation is just kind of being yourself. If you try to be someone you’re not, then I don’t think guys will respect that as much. But if you just come in and be yourself, I think that guys and a lot of people in the organization will respect you.”
Acknowledging that there’s plenty of youth on the OKC roster, Williams also said he relishes being able to set an example for the younger guys on the team.
“Me being older and kind of having some years in the league, I definitely try to just let the young guys know right from wrong,” Williams said. “What I can do is kind of give good advice and hopefully they can run with that.”
Two years remain on Williams’ deal, and with another strong performance this year, it’s easy to see Kenny Hustle carving out a role for himself on the Thunder bench for years to come.
For now, though, Williams is just relishing his time in Oklahoma City playing for an organization that has been good to him from Day 1.
“I think the relationships I’ve built here will last a lifetime,” Williams said. “Just meeting genuine people, genuine teammates, just everybody really in the organization, that helped me out a lot this year.
“I think with a great organization like the Thunder, it’ll just continue to help guys coming in as well.”
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