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Steph Curry just won Finals MVP for the now once-again champion Golden State Warriors. Steph did just about everything imaginable on the hardwood, but he did not finish with the highest net rating during the Finals nor the highest plus-minus. No, this is not me trying to take away his Finals MVP more so than hyping up someone who did all the little things like setting tough screens, versatility defensively, and being able to keep the Golden State offensive machine humming. No, it wasn’t Andrew Wiggins either. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson did all those things too, but they didn’t finish first in those regards either. Of course, I’m talking about Kevon Looney.

Kevon Looney was +48 in 130 minutes during the NBA Finals. The Warriors boasted a +23.7 Net Rating when he was on the floor. Looney never did anything spectacular. He’s not a leaper, and you could see many players where lobs or layup attempts at the rim went begging due to his lack of athleticism. But Looney is solid in every area. He’s a good enough passer to capitalize on the advantages Steph and Golden State’s shooting provides him. If you try him 1v1 you’re probably not beating him. He held serve on the glass against Robert Williams III and Al Horford after wiping out Memphis and Dallas’ frontcourts devouring them with offensive rebounds. He knows where to be defensively protecting the rim.

Kevon Looney is just solid in so many areas. Luckily for other NBA teams who missed out on Looney in 2015 (though he is about to be a free agent), there’s a big man in the 2022 Draft who is built from a similar blueprint. That would be Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams.

Charging the Defense

Like Looney, Williams is not a vertical or explosive athlete. But he makes up for it by reading the game at a very high level. Defensively, that comes by positioning himself a step ahead of the offense. That’s how he was able to take 54 charges (as well as the block/charge rule being broken in college basketball).

You could argue some of those should be considered a block. Sometimes Williams would get blocks on plays he beats drivers to the rim but tried to get a charge instead of just contesting the shot. But there are plenty of clips of him shutting off drives or pick-and-rolls positioning himself just like that. That positioning helps him defend on the perimeter too. He finds the balance of not giving enough space to let shooters shoot while also not pressing them into blowing by him. His mobility allows him to cover a lot of ground.

Inverted Playmaking

Jaylin Williams is stout defensively, but he’s very polished offensively as well. Williams’ best skill is his passing. He averaged 2.9 career assists per 40-minutes compared to 2.3 turnovers, a fine number for a guard but a great mark for a center. His 13.3-percent assist percentage is well above the NBA average of roughly 11-percent. For added context, both of Williams’ playmaking numbers best the career playmaking numbers of Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis. Davis averaged 2.2 career assists per 40-minutes and an assist percentage of 12.5-percent. Getting guard-like passing out of your center allows for teams to open their offense and deploy that center in numerous ways to get easy looks.

That’s exactly what Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman did with Jaylin Williams. Sometimes, Williams would operate as the halfcourt fulcrum for Arkansas at the elbow while the rest of the players on the floor would look to spring a teammate free as a cutter. Williams had no problem finding those cutters. Sometimes, that meant finding someone like Justin Smith converging to the rim from the wing…

… Sometimes, Williams would find a cutter sliding from the baseline from the other side of the court, as he does here. Stanley Umude sets a flare screen off the ball on JD Notae’s man. Umude’s man doesn’t communicate with Notae’s man. By the time Notae’s man gets around Umude’s screen, Notae’s gone and Williams finds him to get Arkansas a layup.

That’s not the only way Jaylin Williams’ passing excels. In a pick and roll league, screeners need to be able to scan the floor for open shooters once the ballhandler is forced to get rid of the ball. Luckily, Williams shines there too. And here’s a good example of him doing exactly that. Third-team All-American JD Notae gets trapped so dumps it off to Williams. Williams, under control (he was great all year at staying under control on rolls and not barrelling into defenders for charges), waits until Au’Diese Toney slips to the rim as his man rotates over to Williams. Williams sees it and then slips it to Toney to get him a dunk.

Grounded Rolling

That composure on rolls feeds into Williams’ lack of explosion and overall skill in his game. He’s not going to beat defenses over the top as a lob threat like Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo but he does have a soft touch on short rolls. If the defense rotates over and doesn’t leave shooters, Williams has no problem lofting a floater over the defender. The threat of scoring unlocks kick-outs for threes or dump-offs for dunks so this is an important shot to have as a center. Williams has it.

Jaylin Williams isn’t a lob threat but he can still punch it if he’s got a head of steam on short rolls too. Paolo Banchero needs no reminders. Devo Davis got Mark Williams to bite on a shot here. Davis bails out of the shot and dumps it to Williams as he embarks on the rim. Duke’s defense behind Mark Williams so Jaylin Williams went for the dunk and threw it down on Banchero’s head.

You can see Williams’ lack of explosion in traffic, however. Williams’ touch around the rim is good and knows how to use the rim and angles to find intricate finishes near the rim on rolls or camping at the dunker spot. But, can be discombobulated by longer and more athletic bigs. This is a good example. On the move, he can’t get by Auburn’s Walker Kessler. Instead, he gets enveloped by Kessler and blocked.

Shooting in Progress

Playmaking isn’t the only area Jaylin Williams can contribute offensively. Williams is not a great shooter but he’s capable. His 25.5-percent mark from deep may not reflect it but he has good touch around the rim (as shown above), looks comfortable shooting midrange jumpers, and boasts a career 73.1-percent percentage from the free-throw line. His confidence as a shooter has yet to follow him past the three-point line. He will turn down shots in search of something better even. Sometimes, something better never comes. Other times, Arkansas got a layup or a better look. You admire Williams’ selflessness but becoming a more confident shooter would serve him very well in the NBA. When he lets it fly the shot looks pretty solid leaving his hands. He needs to improve as a shooter but there’s at least something to work with there.

Conclusion

Jaylin Williams may not be a top-flight athlete. He’s not the best stretch five out there. But, a lot like Golden State’s Kevon Looney, he’s just solid. He’s a very smart, well-rounded player who excels at amplifying the players around and making winning plays. It’s hard to find bigs who can stay on the floor in a playoff setting but I have none of those concerns with Jaylin Williams. The NBA is going away from bigs but having one who can contribute in those settings is and will continue to be invaluable. I recently asked Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman where Jaylin Williams could go in the 2022 NBA Draft and he speculated Williams is more likely to last until the second round. 

I think that is likely with how the center position is valued in comparison to guards and wings. But, every team in the 20s could use additional center depth and this year’s center class is not overly deep. I could see one of the teams starting with the Spurs at 20 draft Jaylin Williams and looking to fill other positions with later picks or via free agency. If that does indeed happen, Williams is more than worthy. We do all of this to be the ones holding up the trophy when all is said and done. Why not draft someone who can give a team what one of the most reliable players on a great team gave to help win a championship?

Mister misunderstanding is marryin’ miscommunication today at three. Don’t lose your invitation, they say it’s the place you ought to be.’ This is how Johnny Venus of Hip Hop group EarthGang kicked off his first verse of the duo’s song titled ‘Stuck’ off of their Dreamville debut album ‘Mirrorland.’ When you watch the Golden State Warriors this season, you can’t help but think about how true those words ring about the direction of that franchise.

When Governor Joe Lacob boasted that his team was ‘Light Years Away’ from his competition, he had reason to do so. The Warriors were crushing everything in their sights a year after winning the NBA Championship and were on their way towards setting an NBA record for most wins in a regular season, signed Kevin Durant the following summer after dropping a 3-1 lead at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, then made three more consecutive Finals appearances, winning two of them. Sure, when you have the chance to be that successful for five straight NBA seasons, you take it ten times out of ten. 

However, things have diminished precipitously since then. Klay Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals and hasn’t returned to the hardwood since after an Achilles injury suffered this winter. Steph Curry suffered a hand injury a year ago and missed basically the entire season and has been on and off the court this season due to injury. Draymond Green doesn’t remotely concern defenses anymore at this stage of his career. This all led to the Warriors drafting second overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, selecting James Wiseman. Therein lies the rub with the Warriors.

Steph Curry is still one of the five best players in the NBA. If not five, then surely top 10. Even with a mish-mosh of a roster and at 33 years of age, Curry is putting up numbers paralleling his unanimous MVP season in 2015-16. However, the Warriors are stuck (there’s that word again) at 10th in the West, and that has required a Herculian effort by Steph to even backpack this team to that point. If you need proof just look at what was required of him in his 41 point masterpiece last night against the Milwaukee Bucks (who were sitting Giannis Antetokounmpo) on 67% shooting from the field. How much has Steph backpacked this team? Well, according to Statmuse, when Steph is on the court, the Warriors have the 13th best offense in the league. When he’s off the court the Warriors not only have the worst offense in the NBA, but the worst offense of anyone in the NBA OVER THE LAST FIVE SEASONS. Like Loki said in the new ‘Loki’ series trailer, this is absurd!

Yet despite this, the Warriors are only half a game up on the New Orleans Pelicans for the mini play-in tournament that Draymond himself says ‘doesn’t motivate him.’ After competing for championships over the years, I could see how Draymond could come to that conclusion. However, with youth and new faces filling the majority of the Warriors’ roster, the Warriors have had to juggle competing for today with developing players for their future, and that endeavor has been largely futile. 

Coach Steve Kerr has largely opted to jam his system and read-and-react style of play down this team’s throat and it’s been largely unsuccessful. Get this: of players to have run at least 275 pick and rolls this season, Steph Curry generates 1.13 points per possession, the best mark in the league, whenever he shoots or makes a pass running pick and roll. Despite this absurd efficiency, amongst the same group of players, the frequency with which Curry uses the pick and roll is the second-fewest, trailing only Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns. Not only is it highly effective, but it’d also make matters way easier for the rest of Curry’s teammates to produce. Fortunately last night, the Warriors let Curry cook in pick and roll 36 times, the second-most time Curry has done so in a game this season. The Warriors have almost five big men in the upper half percentile of pick and roll roll men, yet none of those players have more than 63 logged possessions rumbling to the rim.

The big man with the most possessions rolling to the rim is rookie James Wiseman, who has struggled in his rookie campaign. That’s to be expected of a rookie but hurts when you have a superstar creeping up in age and more ready-made prospects are already blooming in LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton. Either would have been seamless fits in San Francisco, but Wiseman has been more of a work in progress. The numbers bear it out too. 

When Steph Curry shares the floor with Wiseman, the Warriors have a Net Rating of -7 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. When James Wiseman isn’t on the floor with Steph? That Net Rating boosts all the way up to +8.7. That isn’t entirely Wiseman’s fault; he only played three college games before declaring for the NBA Draft and has had his minutes and starting spot shift all year, including a bizarre game where Steve Kerr benched Wiseman for missing a COVID test, yet decided to play Wiseman in the fourth quarter when it was apparent that game was a blowout and the Warriors had no chance of winning. James Wiseman has only had two games this entire playing more than 30 minutes and just 15 games all season playing at least 25 minutes. Of those 15 games, 11 have come at the hands of double-digit ass-kickings teams across the association have bestowed upon Golden State. Is that really helping Wiseman learn the game and grow in your system?

Adjusting to the Warriors’ system is not just an isolated issue for Wiseman, however. Only four players on the Warriors boast a Win Share per 48 minutes above 0.1: Curry, Kevon Looney, Damion Lee, and the sparsely (but good) used Juan Toscano-Anderson. Yes, young players like Wiseman, Jordan Poole (who has been heating up recently), Nico Mannion, Eric Paschall, and Mychal Mulder along with new faces in Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. need time to develop and learn the system, but again, it is an indictment on the coaching staff to not better play to their strengths and the status of the Warriors at the moment. If you play more experienced players to help Curry win games this year, then experience goes by the wayside for young players who need it. If you play them, you make Curry’s job harder to win games. Yikes.

Golden State is going to remain competitive. Barring a Curry injury like last season, they’re never going to bottom out. Steph is too good for them to do so, as he showed last night in his 41 point masterpiece against the Milwaukee Bucks while shooting 67% from the field. Unless Klay Thompson comes back like the Klay we’ve been accustomed to seeing, it’s unlikely the Warriors will return to the elite of the league. Yet, this problem won’t go away; it’ll only get louder. Golden State will likely keep their pick and select inside the top 20 of this year’s draft. They could have two lottery picks of Minnesota’s ping pong balls cooperate after the D’Angelo Russell trade of a year ago. Do you let Steph cook in the tail-end of his prime or bring along the young guys? Who knows. Like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca in the garbage disposal of the Death Star, the Golden State Warriors are stuck and need a lot of help to get out.