Jalen Williams's Pick-and-Roll Creation | The Friday Screener
Jalen Williams has a lot of skills that make him an enticing prospect, but his pick-and-roll creation sets him apart from most of his positional peers.
Few players in the 2022 NBA Draft class showed as much consistency, productivity, and offensive versatility as Jalen Williams did this season. The Santa Clara wing continues to skyrocket up draft boards as people continue to catch up and be impressed by his production. Williams is an outstanding shooter, but what sets him apart from most wing prospects is his pick-and-roll creation.
Early in his career, Williams will likely be used mostly as an off-ball shooter as the threshold for NBA ball-handlers is extraordinarily high. This won’t be much of an issue for Williams as he scored 1.292 points per possession (PPP) when spotting up (97th percentile), 1.406 PPP shooting off the catch (97th percentile), and 1.769 PPP shooting off the catch when guarded (100th percentile), per Synergy. As Williams earns more trust and a more prominent role, though, he’ll have the opportunity to show how lethal he can be at creating out of the pick-and-roll.
This season, Williams ran the pick-and-roll on 37.5% of his possessions and scored 0.943 PPP (86th percentile). What makes Williams’s pick-and-roll creation so fascinating is that he isn’t an explosive athlete. Instead, Williams operates in the same fashion as many of the best NBA pick-and-roll ball-handlers: he dictates the pace. Williams is always composed, under control, and in command of his speed of play. This control allows him to move defenders and get whatever shot he wants.
Williams’s shot production fell off some when he was forced to shoot off the dribble instead of the catch, because it’s tough to replicate being the best in the country in both categories, but his effectiveness was still impressive. Williams scored 0.793 PPP (53rd percentile) when shooting off the dribble and 0.859 PPP (50th percentile) shooting off the dribble after using a screen. Williams doesn’t need to be the best pull-up shooter in the world off screens; all he has to do is force defenders to go over the screen. When they don’t, he’s more than happy to, and capable of, making them pay.
Getting the defender worried about contesting the outside jumper is where Williams thrives because it opens up everything else for him. Here, the defender again goes under the screen but is more aggressive at recovering to Williams. To get the defender to bite, Williams uses a hang dribble to simulate his shot preparation before crossing over and attacking the lane. As he attacks, Williams reuses an impromptu screen and a shot fake that gets the help defender to leave his feet. Williams stays calm, steps through, and finishes an uncontested floater.
This time, we see the results when the defender does go over the screen, and Williams attacks downhill. After using the screen, Williams takes an essential angle to the opposite side of the lane. By taking this path, Williams keeps his defender on his back and forces Chet Holmgren into the post-up, eventually triggering the sign for Gonzaga’s help defenders to recover to their assignments. As Williams’s defender attempts to recover rim-side, though, Williams quickly bursts to the middle of the lane and drops in a floater.
Williams is known for his prolific shooting, but he is very reliable in the mid-range as he scored 1.02 PPP on floaters (86th percentile), 0.833 PPP on mid-range jumpers (73rd percentile), and 1.263 PPP on floaters after using a screen (96th percentile). Additionally, Williams was brilliant at leveraging his change-of-pace dribbling, size, and strength to be a prolific at-rim finisher after using a screen with 1.339 PPP (92nd percentile).
Here, we see how effortlessly Williams uses an early offense brush screen to snake his way to the rim. After coming off the screen, Williams sees the drop defender is high in his stance and that his defender and the screener are tangled up. This confluence of events gives Williams a perfect opportunity to snake dribble across the lane and attack the drop defender’s high foot. Williams does so decisively, and the defense can’t react quick enough.
Williams’s pick-and-roll scoring effectiveness and versatility should be enough of a selling point, but as you know, we love us some versatility. One-dimensional players are easy to scheme against and often get relegated to replaceable roles. What takes Williams’s pick-and-roll creation to a higher level is his playmaking. Williams generated 1.182 PPP (87th percentile) overall on his passes out of the pick-and-roll, 1.222 PPP (82nd percentile) passing to the roller, 1.018 PPP (71st percentile) passing to shooters, and 1.44 PPP (82nd percentile) passing to cutters.
When facing aggressive pick-and-roll coverages, the most effective counter can be a quick pocket pass. Here, Williams faces the hard hedge after his teammate slips the screen. Williams delivers a live-dribble bounce pass without hesitation to split the defense and set up his teammate for an easy score.
Don’t worry—the reads, counters, and manipulation become much more impressive. This time, Williams dribbles off a double drag that the defense decides to switch. However, they miscommunicate the switch as no one goes with the initial roller. Williams sees this right away but knows he can’t make the pass immediately as it would give the weak side defender time to rotate and take the charge. Instead, Williams attacks the top of the arc and stares down his teammate in the corner to freeze the weak side defender. Now that his teammate is closer to the rim, Williams fires a pass to set up the layup. It may seem like Williams is lucky the pass didn’t sail on him as it was high. However, by keeping the pass high, Williams ensured that the smaller help defender wouldn’t be able to deflect it out of the roller’s hands.
Williams clearly understands where his teammates are at all times, but he also knows when and where the defense will be based on his actions. This awareness allows him to manipulate their rotations at a level that most draft prospects haven’t developed yet.
Here, Williams runs a high pick-and-roll, a favorite of his. The initial slip screen is just a decoy action to create movement and set up the main pick-and-roll. The defense hard hedges as Williams is on the screen, which empties the lane for the roller. This defensive choice puts the strong side help defender in a pickle as he now must choose between the roller and the shooter. The help defender chooses correctly but doesn’t hold long enough. Williams sees the mismatch and stares down his teammate on the wing, which gets the help defender to take a step towards recovering. It isn’t much movement, but it is enough for Williams to fire in an easy pass to the roller for an uncontested layup.
This time, Santa Clara runs a similar play that forces the help defender to choose between the roller and the shooter as the on-ball defense hedges the screen. Williams stares down the roller to get the help defender to commit before swinging it for the wide-open three.
Jalen Williams doesn’t have the flashiest offensive game, but his game is one of the most composed and mature in the 2022 NBA Draft. Williams can thrive as an off-ball shooter, but he has the skills to elevate an offense with his pick-and-roll creation. Williams is a three-level scoring threat out of the pick-and-roll and can set up teammates in a myriad of ways. Don’t allow the fact that he played at a smaller program to cloud your judgment because he showed up big against their toughest opponents too. In an era where versatility and pick-and-roll creation reign supreme, there are few who shine as brightly as Jalen Williams.