Mark Williams, one of the breakout stars for Duke basketball, will return for his sophomore season. After a strong finish to the 2020-21 season, there was some speculation that Williams would at least test the NBA Draft process.
However, the 7-footer announced on Twitter than he plans to be back at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the 2021-22 season.
While expected, the decision from Williams comes at an important time for the Blue Devils. Over the last six weeks, Duke has seen two other freshman bigs — Jaemyn Brakefield and, more recently, Henry Coleman — enter the transfer portal.
After an All-ACC sophomore season, Matthew Hurt is headed to the NBA Draft. Hurt’s decision wasn’t much of a surprise, either. But Hurt toggled between the 4 and the 5 for Duke last season. While frontcourt reinforcements will arrive in the form of 5-star forward Paolo Banchero and Marquette transfer Theo John, Williams serves as the likely candidate to man the center position.
year 2, let’s work.😈 pic.twitter.com/4Lgfpxhwa3
— Mark Williams (@MarkWi1liams) April 22, 2021
Williams, however, is more than just a stabilizing force. There’s a lot of ability here; Williams is on the verge of turning into a real NBA prospect. Given how he finished his rookie season, playing with newfound confidence and impact, there’s much to be intrigued by with Duke’s frontcourt rotation.
Freshman Rewind: Mark Williams
During the 2020-21 season, Williams appeared in 23 games (15 starts); he averaged 7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. (Per 40 minutes: 11.8 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 1.5 steals, 4.7 FTA)
Over the final 10 games (10 starts), though, Williams saw his playing time and production rise: 24 minutes, 13.0 points (70 FG%), 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Williams played fewer than 19 minutes in only one of these games: 7 minutes vs. Virginia and Jay Huff’s pick-and-pop gravity.
With Williams on the floor over that last stretch of 10 games (241 minutes), Duke outscored opponents by 65 points, according to Pivot Analysis. In those minutes, Duke scored at an efficient clip on offense: 1.22 points per possession.
During the final 10 games, Duke posted a net rating of +17.2 points per 100 possession with Williams on the court.
On offense, Williams functions primarily as a vertical threat and paint finisher. He rolls hard to the basket out of pick-and-roll or works the baseline/dunker spot as a cutter. However, there are some ball skills, too. Williams isn’t exactly a playmaker, but there are face-up passing flashes. He even showed some quick processing skills as a passer in Duke’s continuity ball screen offense or high-low game.
Williams can handle the ball some has a DHO target as well, while also having the presence of mind to hold his screen before diving to the rim. Williams is huge and needs to leverage his size as a way to help create advantage in the half court.
Interior post-to-post passing isn’t the best indicator of overall passing acumen, but those little bits of passing should come in handy next when Williams shares the frontcourt with 5-star power forward Paolo Banchero, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Quick Thoughts: Areas of Improvement
There’s still a lot of work to be done. Williams improved as a post-up scorer (52.9 FG%), but he’s still raw down on the low block. Williams will rarely post-up when he eventually lands in the NBA; however, Duke will likely feature post action with Williams next season.
On the defensive side of the floor, Williams is obviously a monster presence around the basket. He brings tremendous size and reach to the table, which account for why he’s such a terror on this half of the court.
Williams moves pretty well, although he’s not exactly the quickest leaper. With his size, Williams has margin for error built-in as a rim protector. But can he speed up his load time when it comes to closing ground and contesting shots at the rim?
When Williams is on the floor, Duke defends ball screens in drop or ice coverage. For the most part, this more conservative approach can work really well. Of course, it’s vulnerable to certain offenses and player types. There’s a reason he played just a handful of minutes during the win over Virginia: Huff’s shooting gravity is a real threat vs. the drop in pick-and-pop actions.
Williams was left most exposed when Duke asked him to drop but stay high — around the level of the screener. Working against spread offenses, this requires Williams to cover too much ground, or work in space against ACC-level guards.
Some of this can be corrected by simply recognizing actions and taking better initial position.
On this possession vs. Miami, Jordan Goldwire works to ice the screen — forcing Isaiah Wong to stay on one side of the floor. To successfully pull this off, though, Goldwire needs Williams to be back, deeper. In theory, when Goldwire forces Wong to his right hand, he should send him into Williams. However, Williams comes up too high and is too far to the right of Nysier Brooks, the screener.
This allows Wong to get to his midrange pull-up game.
It’ll be interesting to see how Duke looks to defend ball screens next season. A young roster with a drop center could prove tricky against offenses with good ball handlers and stretch big men.
The deeper the drop, the better for Williams, though. If tasked with covering less ground and just walling off the paint for Duke’s defense, Williams could be interior offense an absolute bear for opponents.
- Williams posted monster efficiency numbers: in the paint and on the glass, on both sides of the floor
- 14.4 percent offensive rebound rate
- No. 3 in the ACC — behind Day’Ron Sharpe and Armando Bacot
- 20 percent defensive rebound rate
- 1 of 14 ACC players with 20 percent or better defensive rebound rate
- 9.6 percent block rate
- No. 3 in the ACC — behind Jay Huff and Manny Bates
- 66.2 2P%
- No. 4 in the ACC — behind Nikola Djogo, Nate Laszewski and Jay Huff
- 14.4 percent offensive rebound rate
- Williams: 1 of 6 ACC players to play in at least 30 percent of his team’s minutes and record a box plus-minus (BPM) of 8+
- Going back to the 2007-08 season, Williams is 1 of 10 ACC freshmen to play in at least 30 percent of his team’s minutes and record a BPM of 8+ (8 of the 10 played for Duke)
- The other 9 guys: Zion Williamson, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Vernon Carey Jr., Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, De’Andre Hunter, Jonathan Isaac
- Of this list: 8 of the 9 players would go on to become first round picks in the NBA Draft, including 7 lottery picks (top 14 selections. Carey is the only second-round pick on the list, and he was drafted 32nd overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 2020
- Williams: 1 of 8 Division I players this season with 30+ dunks (34), 7.5 percent block rate, 10 percent offensive rebound rate, 20 percent defensive rebound rate
- He’s joined here by Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky) and Neemias Queta (Utah State) — two of the top center prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft