Jalen Williams has helped his NBA draft stock with solid performances at the pre-draft combine and during team workouts.
As a result, the former Santa Clara guard could become a late first-round pick in the June 23 draft, which will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The 76ers will select 23rd and are in need of a versatile perimeter player. And that’s what Williams is. A late bloomer, he developed into just that during his career at Santa Clara.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the Sixers will keep the player they draft. They could agree on a trade before the draft and select a prospect on behalf of another team. In that scenario, the Sixers would swap the draftee, along with a veteran or two, in exchange for an established player who can help right away as a fifth starter or key reserve.
They’re prohibited from trading the pick this year until they make their selection because of a rule that prevents teams from being without a first-round pick in consecutive drafts.
But, if available, Williams could be a solid option if the Sixers opt to keep the drafted player.
“He has a good feel for the game,” a league scout said. “His strengths are scoring, passing, and his length, both on offense and defense.”
But can Williams be the solid defender the Sixers need on the perimeter? With Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, and Furkan Korkmaz playing a large portion of the guard minutes, the Sixers have needed a player capable of creating issues for opposing offenses.
“That’s really the question,” the scout said. “He’s not a great athlete. He’s an average athlete. Defensively, he can be fine because of his length and his feel for the game. But I don’t see him like being an elite defender.”
In college, his lateral movement was a concern, and he allowed smaller guards to beat him off the dribble at times.
The 21-year-old showed in Chicago at the combine last month that he has upside. The guard created off the dribble with ease during the five-on-five scrimmages. One of his highlights was a half-spin hesitation move into a reserve layup.
Williams also displayed a solid feel as a ball handler and showcased his straight-line speed and length. He posted a 39-inch vertical and measured a 7-foot-2 ¼-inch wingspan despite standing just 6-foot-4 ½ without shoes.
While his athleticism didn’t jump out at Santa Clara, Williams joined Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell as the only players in NBA combine history to reach phenomenal thresholds in leaping ability (33 ½ inches standing vertical), length (1.16:1 wingspan/height ratio), and speed (3.11 seconds in the three-quarter sprint).
Like Mitchell, who was selected as the 13th pick in 2017, Williams could be a steal in the draft.
He averaged 18.0 points, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals while shooting 39.6% on college three-pointers as a junior this past season. That performance earned a first-team All-West Coast Conference selection for Williams, who was a finalist for the Lou Henson Award, which goes to the mid-major player of the year.
By most accounts, Williams sounds like a fit. The problem is, the Sixers are in win-now mode. Like last season’s first-round pick Jaden Springer, Williams could have a tough time making an impact on a team with championship aspirations.