Marcus Williams (UConn) NBA Draft Scouting Report

Marcus Williams (UConn) NBA Draft Scouting Report
Mar 21, 2006, 04:39 am
Williams has excellent size for an NBA point guard at 6-3, with a very well built body that allows him to take contact and maintain his poise and balance in tough situations. He has huge hands that help him both control the ball masterfully as well as make impossible passing angles look simple. Williams’ steering paws combined with his peripheral vision allow him to whip the ball using impossible angles to the sides or behind him with a quick swoop and great accuracy when other point guards would struggle getting the ball off their finger tips.

Many consider Williams to be the best pure point guard in the country because of the poise he shows running UConn’s offense as well as his unselfishness, outstanding court vision and passing ability. He easily tops the point guard prospect rankings in assist to turnover ratio with a 2.42 average, coming in at 8.5 assists per game compared with 3.5 turnovers despite the fact that he was not available for the usually cupcake non-conference schedule that most point guards use to pad their stats.

Williams sees things on the floor in half-court sets that most point guards don’t and reacts to them instantaneously rather than waiting for plays to develop. He’s perfected the art of the ideal pass down to a science, showing a wonderful assortment of styles and outstanding creativity in the process. The lost art of the post-entry pass is absolute cake for him, using quarterback to wide-receiver style lobs, fundamental bounce passes, full-court heaves or the more modern and ballsy two-handed alley-oop chest pass right to the rim.

Williams loves to push the tempo of the game, so naturally in transition is where his stripes as a point guard really come out, as he organizes the break wonderfully, makes spectacular passes to his incredibly athletic frontcourt look easy, and knows how to put the ball in the cup himself if the pass isn’t there. He rarely gets rattled and usually makes the best possible decision available to him here.

No point guard in the country knows his teammates’ strengths better than Williams does. He distributes the ball exactly the way Coach Jim Calhoun would want him to, rewarding his teammates after a strong rebound or nice defensive play with an easy bucket the next time down the floor to ensure they remain happy, keeping the morale of the team high in the process by making sure that everyone puts in maximum effort for every second they are on the court. That’s not easy when you have as much talent as UConn does this year, but Williams does a great job making sure everyone gets involved, particularly when it comes to his big men, who might otherwise starve for touches on most NCAA teams.

No legit point guard prospect would be complete without outstanding ball-handling skills, and this is a part of his game that he’s improved remarkably in over the past few years. The left-handed Williams dribbles the ball confidently with either hand, always under control, averaging a surprisingly low number of turnovers considering the number of high risk passes he makes, largely due to the fact that he does not make many unforced errors handling the ball.

Williams possesses a strong crossover that he uses to break down defenses, get his man off-balance and give himself space to get into the lane, a move that he executes wonderfully when his team’s half-court offense breaks down. In these instances he rarely gets fazed, being very patient making his way into the lane, taking his time, always with his head up surveying everything around him and doing a fantastic job of getting the ball to his athletic teammates approaching the rim for the easy two points. He has some shiftiness to his game here, changing gears, utilizing hesitation moves, throwing head-fakes or using screens to get by his man, which is a bit tougher for him considering his average first step.

As the season has progressed he’s done a better job at going all the way to the rim (particularly going left) and finishing himself using his excellent strength, something that was absolutely necessary since some teams will prefer to play him this way rather than rotate and let Williams find the open man on the drive and dish, which as noted he is brilliant at.

In other facets of his offensive game, Williams has shot the ball pretty well from 3-point range over the last two seasons, although this is something GMs will want to look more closely at in private workouts considering his limited amount of attempts. As a sophomore he shot a little over 40% from behind the arc on only two attempts per game, and as a junior he sits at 38% on about 2.5 attempts at the time of this report heading into the Sweet 16.

At the free throw line Williams is excellent, being exactly the type of player you want to have with the ball in his hands in late-game situation. He’s improved his free throw shooting from 72% as a sophomore to 84.5% as a junior, being especially impressive in clutch/pressure-packed circumstances.

In terms of his intangibles, we find mostly a mixed bag. On one hand Williams appears to be an extremely crafty player who understands the game, realizes his role, follows instructions and is an outstanding teammate both on and off the court. Experience-wise, he has competed and played well at the highest level of college basketball for the past three years despite the fact that he’s been ineligible for large chunks of that time. He has noticeably improved throughout his three years at UConn, actually being closer to playing only two full seasons because of academic and off the court issues.

Williams is not a spectacular athlete by any means, possibly even being a notch below a player he will be compared to repeatedly, last year’s #3 overall pick Deron Williams. He resembles Deron in his style of play and both have been criticized for their average athleticism.

His explosiveness, footspeed and overall quickness are not what you would expect from a typical point guard, particularly regarding his first step. He clearly makes the most of what he has at the college level thanks to his overall craftiness, but questions will linger until he actually steps foot on an NBA court.

In terms of creating his own shot and getting inside the lane this does not seem to effect him that negatively in the NCAA, as his strength, ball-handling skills and the quickness in which his mind works moves make him extremely dangerous on the drive and dish. How much this will translate over to the NBA will be the subject of much debate in draft war rooms and something that will be scrutinized closely in individual workouts with other top point guard prospects.

One aspect of his game where his lack of quickness clearly affects him already as a collegiate player is in his defensive ability. Williams does not move his feet well enough and is often heavily reliant on the three outstanding shot-blockers (Gay, Boone, Armstrong) he has behind him in UConn’s frontline. He has problems staying in front of his man on the perimeter, particularly when going up against smaller and quicker guards. This might not be that much of an issue if Williams showed better effort in this area, but this is not a part of his game that he puts as much pride in as he does with his playmaking ability, sometimes being a bit slow to get back defensively.

Williams’ offensive arsenal in terms of scoring is fairly average, causing some to label him as a bit of a one-dimensional passer, particularly earlier in his career. In all fairness, much of this has to do with the fact that he’s constantly surrounded by future NBA players and simply does not need to have huge offensive outbursts for his team to win. Regardless, this is another part of his game that NBA teams will study closely.

Already noted are the low number of attempts from long-range that make his accuracy from 3-point range tough to get a good read on. His release is both on the slow-side as well as flat-footed, two things he will have to work very hard to improve if he wants to have any shot at getting clean looks against long and hyper-athletic NBA guards.

Williams’ in-between game is also in need of some serious polish. Rarely will you see him pull-up from mid-range for a jump-shot, something that he will have to add to his arsenal considering his lack of explosiveness both getting to and finishing at the rim. Inside the paint he would be well served to work on his floaters and runners to help him get his shot off better against athletic big men when a clear path to the lane isn’t there. When he does get to the rim, Williams doesn’t have an explosive vertical leap he can rely on to help him finish here, meaning he will have to work that much harder on his offense to help diversify his game.

As great of a point guard as Williams is, his leadership skills still lag far behind his actual playmaking ability. Just as much as Williams doesn’t get fazed by opponents being thrown in his face or by a highlight reel assist that he makes, he also doesn’t show much emotion or passion when things aren’t going his team’s way. He has the credibility and then some to get on his teammates in the huddle and snap them out of their funk, but is still too quiet, passive or maybe apathetic to do so. We started to see some better signs here later on in the season, so it will be interesting to see how he develops this part of his game considering that he only really had one full season at UConn (his sophomore year) without disruption.

Off the court, there are some reasons for NBA teams to be concerned or, at the very least, some issues that will be studied closely. Over the summer, prior to his junior year, Williams (and fellow point guard teammate AJ Price) was arrested and later charged with four counts of third-degree felony larceny for the theft of four laptops valued at $11,000 from student dorm rooms, allegedly belonging to members of UConn’s women’s athletic teams. According to police reports, Williams and his accomplices attempted to sell the laptops to pawnshops in Connecticut. Williams entered Connecticut’s accelerated rehabilitation program, a form of probation for first time offenders that ultimately helped him get off easier than teammate A.J. Price. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation and ordered to do 400 hours of community service, as well as being punished individually by UConn, being suspended for the entire first semester and non-conference slate until January 4th.

NBA teams will likely do their own meticulous research behind the scenes to evaluate how seriously they will take these issues, which makes it difficult to project how much, if at all, this will hurt his draft stock when it’s all said and done.

As a freshman, Williams played a nice role for UConn to start off the season, so well that many fans called for him to replace senior Taliek Brown in the starting lineup. His season was cut short after only 16 games after being declared academically ineligible for the Spring semester.

With Ben Gordon and Taliek Brown out of the picture as in his sophomore season, Williams blossomed into one of the top point guards in the country. He averaged just under 10 points a game and 8 assists, shooting 40% from both the field and 3-point range. UConn made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament where they were upset by NC State, his best game of the year in terms of points (22), but also his worst in terms of assists (4) compared with turnovers (6).

Williams tried out for and made the U.S. U-21 national team that competed in the World Championships in Argentina and ended up finishing a disappointing fifth after a shocking loss in the quarterfinals to Canada. This team included college stars such as Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, Rajon Rondo, Allan Ray and countless others. Williams started in 6 of 8 games and averaged 4 points and 4 assists on 35% shooting from the field in 20.5 minutes per game.

As a junior, Williams was suspended as mentioned above for the laptop incident and returned to the court in time for the start of the Big East season on January 4th against Marquette. It took him time to regain his stamina but Williams clearly looked like a much better player than he was the year before. At the time of this report he’s increased his scoring average to just under 12 points per game, his assists to 8.5 as well as his turnovers slightly to 3.5.

In a draft so devoid of legit first round caliber point guard prospects, Williams appears to be a lock to enter the draft this year and keep his name in if he likes what he is hearing. His terrific performances in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, completely bailing his team out and taking them on his shoulders (see links: NCAA Tournament Stock Watch), have made him a strong candidate for the top-20 portion of the draft and possibly even a lottery pick depending on how his workouts play out.

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