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Thunder Rookie Preview: Jaylin Williams

What does the former Arkansas Razorback bring to the table and could he be an answer to the Thunder's front-court woes during Chet Holmgren's absence?

With Chet Holmgren sidelined for the foreseeable future and Derrick Favors possibly on his way out, the Thunder’s minutes at the center position are in question. While Jeremiah Robinson-Earl did an admirable job of filling in last season, it’s not his natural role. Good thing the franchise drafted a second big in the 2022 NBA Draft. That’s Jaylin Williams from Arkansas.

A former Gatorade Player of the Year in the same state he played college ball, the 6-foot-10 center knows what it takes to win. Between stints at Northside High School and the University of Arkansas, Williams’ successes have led him to a state title, state championship tournament MVP honors, two Division 1 Player of the Year awards, and selections to First-Team All-SEC and SEC All-Defensive teams.

As a sophomore at Arkansas, the Vietnamese-American big man quickly made a name for himself, showing how well he processed the game from a defensive perspective and proving his toughness by playing through injuries. As scouts started to take notice, flashes of a future NBA roleplayer could be seen. A big defensive play here, an excellent rotation there. A smooth three-pointer or a timely assist.

Williams would go on to finish his second year at Arkansas averaging 10.9 points, 9.8 boards, and 2.6 assists over 37 games. And despite just finishing with just 1.1 blocks per game, his rim deterrence and overall defensive impact certainly cannot be captured with a number. He also cemented himself in the Razorbacks’ record books, setting the single-season record for total rebounds and recording 16 double-doubles, including seven straight.

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As shown in Oklahoma City’s Summer League play, Williams also possesses a significant amount of offensive potential for the coaching staff to unlock. According to Synergy Sports, 29.6% of his 71 possessions ended in assists. That’s an incredibly high number for a center and the eye test seems to corroborate his impact as a passer. Whether it was firing bullets to leakers in transition or slipping a dime in between two defenders in the post, the big man’s vision was on full display. And while Williams leaves much to be desired from a shooting standpoint, there is something there, however small, in regards to his touch and his shot selection.

Perhaps the Thunder are hoping the Arkansas rebounding machine can provide some value in the frontcourt in the form of rebounding, physicality, and playmaking for a team that finished dead last in field goal percentage. And maybe Williams’ physicality, intelligence, and competitiveness will be exactly what the team needs this year and can earn a few starts. But, in order for the talented former Razorback to persuade the coaching staff to allocate meaningful minutes for him, he will need to show that his winning ways can translate to the big leagues.

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