Mark Williams began his season, and NBA career, with the 2022 NBA draft. The former Duke Blue Devil was the 15th pick of the first round. While Williams was a first-round selection, he was the Charlotte Hornets’ second draft pick of that Brooklyn night in June last year. Not only was he the team’s second pick, but he was also the second center the franchise selected that night. The first, was Jalen Duren. Duren was drafted two spots ahead of Williams, and would eventually be traded to the Detroit Pistons.
The unique circumstances of Williams’ draft night meant that he would forever be compared and contrasted to Duren. Duren immediately contributed to Detroit, racking up 14 points and 10 rebounds in his first game. Williams, on the other hand, didn’t play more than 10 minutes in a game until the day after Christmas. Duren started nine games in that time span. It was a tale of two different cultures cultivating two different players.
Did the Charlotte Hornets make the right decision?
Williams spent a large part of his season in the G-league. He was also behind starter Mason Plumlee and some combination of Kai Jones and Nick Richards. Plumlee’s trade, combined with Williams’ impressive G-League statistics (he averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds in his 11 games) made way for Williams to finally become a regular contributor and eventual starter. Even with a thumb injury that sidelined him for six games, Williams started 17 games for the Hornets.
Williams distinguished himself on the defensive side of the ball several times this season. While injuries to the other starters likely skewed what his overall impact will be with an in-tact roster, Williams had 11 games with multiple blocked shots and helped the Hornets to 10th in the league in defensive rebound percentage over the last 10 games of the season. They were 22nd overall this season.
But more important than the way he started the season, it was the way he ended that should lead to optimism. Williams recorded back-to-back double-doubles in the last two games (including a career-high 22 points in the season finale). He’s shown that he’s capable around the rim, shooting 75% at the cup. Over 63% of those made shots were assisted, many on the pick and roll. Williams was 53rd in pick-and-roll possessions per game as a roll man. That number will likely increase with Williams as a full-time starter.
Having a player like LaMelo Ball for longer than the 320 minutes they shared the court this year will be crucial for his development moving forward. There might not be a better friend to a young big than a quality point guard, and Williams will have that for the foreseeable future. Moreso than any skill that needs improvement, Williams needs time with the usual starters to truly get an accurate understanding of what his impact can be.
Despite having an overall disappointing season, the Hornets hit with their first-round draft pick. And the slow development and patience the franchise showed are positive signs for fans. It means that the Hornets are committed to player development, and haven’t sacrificed the future for short-term and meaningless success. If they can be as accurate in the upcoming draft as they were in 2022, the team should be in very good shape.