Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
2020-21 season review: Jaylin Williams
Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams celebrates Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, after scoring a basket during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 81-66 win over Alabama in Bud Walton Arena. Visit nwaonline.com/210225Daily/ for the photo gallery.
The sixth in a nine-part series reviewing Arkansas basketball in 2020-21.
Weight: 245 pounds
Stats: 3.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.9 turnovers
47.8% FG, 56.5% two-point FG, 30.4% three-point FG, 74.2% free throws
Per 40: 9.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.7 blocks, 2.3 turnovers
SEC stats: 4.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.1 turnovers
52.3% FG, 63.3% two-point FG, 28.6% three-point FG, 78.3% free throws
Best month: February — 6.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks
44.0% FG, 56.2% two-point FG, 22.2% three-point FG, 73.7% free throws
Worst month: December — 1.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.7 blocks
33.3% FG, 50.0% two-point FG, 25.0% three-point FG, 60.0% free throws
• Easy for others to play with. It is always a positive and a great look when veteran players, guys who have been around the block in college basketball, come out and say they enjoy sharing the floor with a freshman. That is exactly how Justin Smith, who spent three seasons at Indiana, commended Jaylin Williams in the final months of the season. Smith and Williams often shared the floor down the stretch, and that frontcourt pairing played lights out in a number of games. They complemented one another really well, were both tough on the backboards and were plus interior defenders.
I found it impressive, too, that Williams didn’t press the issue on either end of the floor or try to do too much once he saw his role expand in SEC play. After not getting the minutes he likely expected early in the season, it would have been easy for him to lock into the mindset that he was going to go get the game and look to make a splash impact right away. Outside of one stretch early in SEC play, he didn’t do that. Williams’ scoring regularly came in the flow, and a few times the offense ran through him, particularly in the Florida and Alabama games at home. He did not disrupt Arkansas’ rhythm with his shot taking or stand out in a negative way defensively. That’s huge for a first-year player and indicative of the selfless player he is.
No part of Williams’ game, though, spoke more to his selflessness than his willingness to give up his body on defense. Despite missing four games, the freshman led the Razorbacks in charges taken entering the Elite Eight matchup with Baylor (15). There were times when I wished Williams would instead attempt to contest or alter a shot near the rim, but you can’t argue with the results.
• Tremendous passing big. Several times during the regular season Williams put his vision and special passing touch on display, and I remarked that he has a chance to be Arkansas’ best passing forward in a long, long time. He finished the season with five multi-assist games, including a high of four in the second round NCAA Tournament win over Texas Tech. Arkansas fans were likely fanning themselves after Williams let go of his Oliver Miller-esque baseball pass to Davonte Davis against the Red Raiders. Williams played first and third base growing up, so he reverted back to his roots in that sequence. That play was also a showcase for how in-tuned he was with his guards. His first instinct after grabbing a rebound was to look to push and get the Razorbacks an easy score with the Texas Tech defense far from set.
From the beginning of SEC play through the Elite Eight, Williams recorded 30 potential assists. Teammates were 13 of 16 on two-point attempts he created and 7 of 14 from three-point range. A fairly efficient scorer himself, especially at the rim (21 of 30), Williams generated quality offense for others well, and his passes often wowed and found their mark.
• Rebounded in bunches. Evidenced by his strong numbers per 40 minutes played, Williams impressed with his knack for grabbing rebounds in bulk. He also showed great ability to rebound in traffic, pulling would-be second-chance opportunities from opposing forwards with his sure and strong hands. Six times last season Williams grabbed at least seven rebounds in 23 minutes or less, and he finished with nine or more three times in a little more than one half of play. For the year, Williams totaled 10 rebounds in four games, including in his college debut vs. Mississippi Valley State. The three other games: at LSU, vs. Florida, vs. Texas Tech.
The freshman had a terrific five-game stretch on the glass from Feb. 9-27 in which he grabbed at least six defensive rebounds in four games. He averaged nine rebounds in wins over the Gators and Crimson Tide in 22.5 minutes per game. According to KenPom data, he posted the sixth-best defensive rebound rate in SEC play at 21.2%. That is a great mark and a sign of good things to come for Williams.
• Solid blocks and steals numbers, and a tough interior defender. Williams had his share of emphatic blocks during his freshman season. The missile he sent into the stands against Missouri in Arkansas’ SEC home opener stands out as much as any block by any Razorback this season. Williams has a chance to be a terrific rim protector as he continues to grow on that end. In SEC-only games, Williams posted a block rate of 5.0%, according to KenPom. That ranked ninth in the league. Three times in conference play he blocked multiple shots, and he had a high of four against LSU to wrap up February.
Williams did not tally a steal in Arkansas’ last four games, but he did show a nose for the ball a handful of times throughout the year. Two of his three multi-steal games came against LSU when matched up against the likes of Darius Days and Trendon Watford. Those are tough assignments for a young player, but he held his own for the most part. Against Alabama and the Tigers to end February, Williams held his matchup to 8 of 30 from the floor when he was the nearest defender, including 5 of 18 vs. LSU. The 18 shots defended were the most by an Arkansas player in a game.
Through his first six games, he limited opponents to 5 of 21 shooting inside the arc. Other notable performances on the defensive end: 3 of 13 vs. Georgia, 1 of 6 vs. Florida, 3 of 12 vs. Alabama, and 0 of 2 vs. Colgate. Opponents shot 44.5% on two-point attempts when Williams was in the lineup, according to HoopLens analytics.
• Turnover troubles early on. In early January when Williams’ minutes began to pick up with Smith out due to an ankle injury, he had a three-game run in which he struggled taking care of the basketball. Against Tennessee, Georgia and LSU, he committed 10 miscues, including a season-high four against the Vols. Those were instances of Williams over-dribbling a bit and picking up offensive fouls, and being careless passing the ball. But, to his credit, he responded to Eric Musselman saying he needed to be better valuing possession. He had one game with multiple turnovers in his last 15 outings. For the season, his turnover rate was 23.9%, according to KenPom.
• Jumpshot was inconsistent, but will come along with time. One knock I had on Williams in the first few weeks of SEC play was that he hesitated to pull his jumper when he had a good look. It isn’t an incredibly smooth shot, but he has shown the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter in the past. It can be very effective, and if he becomes more consistent with it he could be one of the tougher frontcourt covers in the SEC next season.
Last season, he knocked down 3 of 12 midrange jumpers outside the lane. Williams was 0 of 3 left of the lane, 1 of 2 in the middle of the floor above the foul line and 2 of 7 on the right side of the floor. The one two-point jumper he hit above the free throw line came against Alabama. It was smooth and confident. That is how I want to see Williams shoot the ball routinely in 2021-22.
From three-point range, he favored the top of the key and left wing, launching eight shots from each area. He was 1 of 8 from the left wing and 3 of 8 from straight away. Williams combined to hit 3 of 8 attempts on the right side of the floor, including 2 of 6 on the right wing.
• Working to improve footspeed defensively. Following the season, Williams told reporters that his mission this offseason is to become quicker and have greater lateral footspeed in hopes of being able to match up with and stick with guards on the perimeter when needed. If he can do that, he will be even tougher to pull off the floor. The speed Baylor played with and found great success because of in the Elite Eight was likely eye-opening for Williams, who was the last line of defense after Bears guards won their matchup on the perimeter and penetrated for scores and assists.
On floor: Offense (819 poss.) - 1.05 PPP, 34.4% FT rate; Defense (827 poss.) - 0.93 PPP, 44.5% two-point FG
Off floor: Offense (1,599 poss.) - 1.05 PPP, 31.9% FT rate; Defense (1,588 poss.) - 0.91 PPP, 47.5% two-point FG
Best Williams quote: “My work stayed consistent. I was getting the gym every day working out. Practice would come and I’d go hard, just like everybody else. I was making sure we’re all still playing hard. Don’t get satisfied with the wins. After practice I stayed and worked out. My work stayed consistent, and when I got my opportunity to get on the court I was able to show it.” — Williams when asked about his role expanding during SEC play
Best quote on Williams: “He came into his own on both sides of the ball, really. Just an excellent screen setter. You could tell he had the loudest voice, but sometimes J-Will would say things just to say them. By the end of the year, he was making calls that were, like, instrumental to us getting wins or instrumental to us getting stops. He became a tenacious rebounder, just excellent, one of the best in the country, honestly, that I had seen. And he became an anchor, honestly, on both sides of the ball. He was making calls on both sides, telling me what we should run and giving me suggestions, even with our coverages, helping out a lot. I think he just came into his own as far as the maturity level and his understanding of the game overall.” — Jalen Tate
Season review series
Part 1: Justin Smith
Part 2: Davonte Davis
Part 3: Jalen Tate
Part 4: Moses Moody
Part 5: JD Notae
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