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June 17, 2011
The Clipboard
Williams vs. Hickson

by Sebastian Pruiti

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Using Basketball Prospectus' college basketball translations, we have determined player comparisons for 2011 draftees. Through game tape, our Sebastian Pruiti explores what makes these players so similar as well as what these draftees are going to have to improve on to validate the comparisons.

Despite a broken pinky finger on his shooting hand, Derrick Williams put together a terrific sophomore season that made him a lock for a top-5 slot, and most likely the second overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Williams' comparison is J.J. Hickson, who was the 18th pick a few years ago after one year at N.C. State and is now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What's similar?

Working Off The Ball (Posting & Cutting). A large part of both Williams' and Hickson's offense comes from working off of the ball, both when working to get post up position and cutting off of the basketball. With Williams, 34.7 percent of his offense came from either posts or cuts, while 32.7 percent of Hickson's offense came from those type of plays.

Specifically in the post, both Williams and Hickson like to make the catch and then face up, with both players doing it on 45 percent of the time during their post-up possessions. This makes sense considering that both players have similar body types that rely on quickness rather than strength in the post. The only difference is what happens when the players face up. Williams likes to use his quickness to get to the rim, while Hickson prefers to take a jumper off the face up. This isn't to say Williams can't shoot facing up; he'd just rather take it to the rim:

Williams likes to turn, face, and drive, and then that threat of driving off of the face up results in defenses giving him space. Once that happens, he can knock down the face-up jumper because he is a good shooter. Even though he rarely drives when he faces up, Hickson is a quicker big man and the defense always has to worry about that drive, so they give him room, allowing to get the jump shot off.

In addition to posting up, both players do a very good job of being alert and using their quickness to make themselves available at the rim through a cut.

Both players do a really good job of reading their defender (and the whole defense), making themselves available for the pass, and going up quickly as they make the catch. All of these are skills a big man needs to have if they want to be able to convert cut opportunities into points.

Post Defense. Despite not being the biggest guys at the PF position, both Williams and Hickson do a solid job when defending post up situations. Both players were in the top 40 percent of players in terms of PPP allowed in post-up situations, with Hickson giving up just 0.867 points per possession and Williams giving up just 0.726 points per possession (on 42.9 percent and 36.6 percent shooting allowed respectfully). Both players are fantastic at staying straight (even when jumping), contesting shots without fouling:

In these clips, both Williams and Hickson give up good post position to the man they are defending, but they both are able to contest without fouling by staying straight (even when Hickson gets caught in the air by Brook Lopez, he jumps straight, avoiding the foul) and not creating contact. By taking away their opponent's trips to the free throw line, they limit the number of points they give up in post-up situations.

What's different?

Normally in this section, we would be looking at what the college prospect would need to do to validate the comparison. With this specific comparison, we will be considering what Williams does better than Hickson already.

Shooting/Creating Own Offense. While Hickson has trouble stretching the floor with his shooting ability, Williams is coming to the pros with a NBA-ready jump shot, one that allows him to step in and be a stretch four (and a deadly pick-and-pop player) from day one. Not only did Williams shoot 56.8 percent from behind the college three-point line, he shot 55.8 percent on all jump shots--50 percent when guarded, and 46.2 percent in pick and pop situations. In fact, Williams was so successful with his jump shot that he was eighth among all division one college players in PPP on jump shots, scoring 1.60 points per possession. Meanwhile, Hickson shot around 30 percent in all situations, including just 30.9 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers when left open.

While outside shooting seems to be the biggest hole in Hickson's game, Derrick Williams won't have those types of problems his rookie season during the NBA. He has a nice stroke and he is going to be able to use that shooting ability to ease his transition into the pros.

That shooting ability also allows Williams to create his own offense much more effectively than Hickson out of isolation opportunities. Williams handles the basketball well enough that he is a threat to both shoot from 15 feet off the dribble and he is athletic/quick enough to drive by fours if they play up on him, taking away his shot. The ability to both attack the rim and hit the midrange jumper allows Williams to do much more things with the ball in his hands than Hickson can do right now.

When looking at their body types and their styles of play, it is easy to see why Derrick Williams and J.J. Hickson were put together by our college basketball translations. With that being said, it is safe to say that Williams will have more of an impact as a rookie than Hickson did last season and that is because Williams is coming into the league as a more polished player offensively. Specifically, his superior shooting and ballhandling ability make him a better prospect than Hickson.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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