Sleeper Deep Dives: Trevion Williams
The senior big man has not grabbed as many headlines as his star teammate Jaden Ivey, but Trevion Williams has taken another big leap this season that should lead to him getting first round looks.
Trevion Williams entered this season on an upward trajectory. After not ranking in the Top 100 of his high school class, Williams barely cracked the ten minute per game mark as a freshman and averaged just 5.2 points and four rebounds per contest. He was far enough away from the draft radar that even a second round selection would have seemed out of the question.
However, Williams made slow but steady progress over the course of the next two years. He earned a few more starting nods as a sophomore, and his averages went up to 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. His junior season was a bit of a coming-out party for Williams, as he led the Big Ten in offensive rebounds, put up 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, and earned a First Team All Big Ten nod. He was selected as a preseason Wooden Award candidate for the 2021-2022 season.
In some ways, Williams has taken a bit of a step back during his senior year. After starting all but two games last season, Williams has come off the pine in all but four of his games this season. His overall time on the court has dipped as well, down to 20.7 minutes per game after averaging 25 minutes per game as a junior and 21.5 minutes per game as a sophomore.
While the raw numbers might not look as strong as they did a year ago, Trevion Williams’ draft stock is healthier than ever. This year, he has showcased some truly elite passing that have taken him from a glass-crashing bruiser to an elite playmaker who can fit into a variety of different contexts. His defense, while not exactly flashy, has been quite solid this year and has further shown his awareness of the game.
Williams might not have the top of the draft potential of his teammate Jaden Ivey, but some of Williams’ passes are more than worthy of highlight-reel status. Furthermore, the rest of his game indicates that he will play good enough defense to remain on the floor and allow his playmaking flair to shine through in the NBA. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Passing Wizardry and Post Punishing
The raw numbers overall for Williams have gone down slightly from last season. In addition to the drop in minutes, he is down to 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. His points and rebounds per 40 minutes have gone up, but his totals have gone down with his decrease in minutes.
One stat that has not gone down for Williams, however, is his assist numbers. After averaging 2.3 assists per game against 2.4 turnovers per game last year, he is averaging 3.0 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game this season. He has already matched his assist total from his sophomore season in fewer than half as many games.
Just talking about the raw numbers with Williams’ passing shows clear signs of his improvement. However, that isn’t the point, really—the point is he’s making at least three fun and ridiculous passes per game. He isn’t just tossing highlight-reel passes for the sake of it either—he reads defenses and makes the simple reads when they’re there, and the absurd reads when they aren’t:
Every time he touches the ball, there’s a chance that something magical might happen. Sometimes, it feels like almost any play is possible when Williams gets a chance to set up his teammates:
Williams is a great offensive player even without his passing wizardry. He ranks in the 87th percentile offensively per Synergy Sports, averaging 1.063 points per possession. He does even better in half court settings; he ranks in the 90th percentile in scoring on those looks. He’s one of the few big men who can reliably generate points on post-ups; he averages 1.022 points per possession out of the post, which ranks in the 79th percentile. At 6’10” and 280 pounds, Williams isn’t just someone who can feast on smaller players—he’ll be big enough to bully opponents at the NBA level as well.
The thing about Williams’ passing is that it isn’t just the crown jewel of an otherwise barren offensive treasure chest. Add in his passing to his overall scoring, and he jumps to the 91st percentile in possessions plus assists and the 93rd percentile in the half court. NBA teams don’t frequently run post-up plays for pretty much any big men outside of their star players, but Williams is such a good passer that it opens up that avenue for him at the next level. Teams won’t just post him up hoping for a middling chance at a bucket; they’ll let him post up when he has a chance to punish smaller players, knowing full well that he’ll create an excellent look for one of his teammates if he can’t create one for himself. Even if he doesn’t get many chances to operate out of the post, he has the passing acumen to devastate opposing teams in short-roll situations.
Defense: Smart Positioning and Good Instincts
Given his offensive brilliance, Williams will have an opportunity to earn a spot in the NBA just because of the benefits that he provides on that end of the floor. However, his chances of playing his way into more than an end-of-the-bench role at the next level will also depend heavily on his defense.
There are reasons to be concerned about nearly any big man who isn’t athletic enough to be a switch defender, and athleticism is unfortunately the biggest downside for Williams. He isn’t a top-flight vertical athlete, and his foot speed is not exactly anything to write home about. In spite of the athleticism-related concerns, however, there is plenty of reason for optimism about Trevion Williams on the defensive end.
The place to start with his defense is in some ways similar to his offense. Simply put, Williams sees the floor at an exceptional level on both ends of the court. On offense, that means making ludicrous passing reads and getting in good positions to set the kinds of bone-crushing screens that his size allows him to set. On defense, that means that Williams is a useful help defender who can contribute to a good defensive scheme as long as he isn’t forced to switch out frequently on the perimeter.
Williams has taken serious strides as a defensive playmaker this season as well, in addition to his playmaking growth on the offensive end. Despite a decrease in minutes, Williams is averaging a steal a game for the first time in his college career. The ability to read plays that makes him a high-level offensive player also allows him to jump into passing lanes and disrupt opposing offenses. He’s not a bouncy shot-blocker, but he does take full advantage of his size around the rim when he’s defending near the basket.
The defensive numbers back that up beyond just his steals numbers—Williams ranks in the 78th percentile defensively per Synergy Sports, allowing just 0.701 points per possession on plays that he’s defended. His lack of top-tier athleticism is more of a concern when projecting his defense at the NBA level, but he’s shown this season that he can at least get by as a drop defender due to his positioning instincts and size. Defense will not be his calling card in the pros, but he’s shown signs that he can, at a minimum, be good enough on that end to allow his spectacular offensive skill set to shine through.
While he has been exceptionally effective in a slightly smaller role this season, there is reason to believe that Williams might show even more down the stretch run of the college basketball season. He has only started in four games this season—but those were also four of his last five games. While Zach Edey did start in Purdue’s most recent game against Penn State, he also only played nine minutes due to foul trouble. Williams casually put up 21 points and 9 rebounds in that contest, including six offensive boards.
Edey might continue to start over him, but Williams could easily earn that role back—as he already has this season. Even if Williams doesn’t return to the starting lineup, the two big men can clearly work together to create magic as they did at the end of the Wisconsin game. Furthermore, Williams doesn’t need to start to put up dominant performances—as he showed against Penn State and on plenty of other occassions this season.
Williams has grown leaps and bounds as a player since his freshman year. His passing has gone from an afterthought to a core part of his game. He is not just a good passer for a big man—he is a good passer for a basketball player. He makes good reads beyond just the highlight passes, but those highlight passes are something special to watch. With his ability to punish defenses from the post as a scorer and a playmaker, along with his great defensive instincts and positioning, he is the kind of player who makes the game much easier for his teammates. He might have flown under the radar for a while, and he might not be the focus of the prospect spotlight for Purdue, but NBA teams would be wise not to overlook him in the weeks and months leading up to the NBA Draft.