The Jalen Williams-Jaylin Williams Power Rankings: A New Contender Rises
4:31 PM EST on December 28, 2023
Defector's Jalen Williams-Jaylin Williams Power Rankings are an unbiased, independent evaluation of high-level basketball players with names that could be rendered in the International Phonetic Alphabet as [ʤeɪlɛn ˈwɪljəmz]. Previous installments can be viewed here.
Jalen "J-Dub" Williams
Since the inaugural JWJWPR, Jalen Williams finished as runner-up in the 2022-23 Rookie of the Year race and became a core piece of the Thunder's future. This comes as no shock to the authors, who were high on J-Dub's potential in the draft, though we'll concede some surprise about the way he's thrived. As an NBA sophomore, J-Dub plays more like a burly scoring-oriented wing than like the jumbo pick-and-roll playmaker he was at Santa Clara. This could be chalked up to team role—when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is running the offense at a roughly MVP level, find ways to be useful off-ball—as well an intentional offseason transformation. Jalen was listed on the training camp roster at 218 pounds, up seven from his rookie weight. He said over the summer that he was adding weight to become "positionless," and he's been slotting in as the nominal 4 in most lineups this season, and looking sturdy and decisive in the lane on an impressive 12 drives a game. He's become an even better finisher, making 74 percent of his shots at the rim. Chet Holmgren-level spacing will do that.
Thus far in his sophomore campaign, Jalen Williams has ticked up his usage (22 percent, from 18 percent) and slightly improved his true shooting (62 percent, from 60 percent). His three-point shooting, a relative weakness in his scoring arsenal, is also up to 42 percent from 37 percent, albeit on a small diet of three attempts a game. Anyone looking for proof of concept of Jalen as a versatile wing scorer should consult the Thunder's win over the Knicks on Wednesday, a career-high showcase of bucket-getting: 36 points, on 13-of-17 from the field, 5-of-5 from three.
The Thunder have the most compelling future of any team in the NBA, powered by the trio of Gilgeous-Alexander, the increasingly astonishing Holmgren, and Jalen on the wing. His place on that Thunder roster is roughly as secure as his place on the prestigious JWJWPR. Anyone besides these three is expendable, should this 20-9 Oklahoma City team choose to go all in on title contention sometime soon. (They should!) If Jalen can mix back in some of the on-ball passing craft he flashed in college, he might wind up as one of the best J. Williamses in the history of sport.
Jaylin "J-Will" Williams
After spending about a third of his rookie season as a starter, Jaylin Williams was obviously going to have to adjust to a new role. Now that Chet Holmgren is healthy and destroying everyone, J-Will's minutes are down from 18.7 to 11.9. He missed the first five games of the season with a hamstring injury, and has settled into the backup center role for the most eager five-out team in the NBA. He hasn't scored a point in three games, hasn't played double-digit minutes in two weeks, and is shooting just 39 percent from the field this season. But fear not: Williams is still among the premier charge-drawers in the league, and that low shooting number is less heinous in context, as he's mostly spacing the floor on offense and taking almost two-thirds of his shots from deep.
Like a domino spanning a pathway, a second Jaylin Williams looms. At 23, the college basketball player at Auburn is the eldest of the three J. Williamses. He's been a fixture on Bruce Pearl's squad since the 2019-20 season, playing in over 100 games for the Tigers during a very successful run. This season, he joined the 1,000-point club and became Auburn's winningest men's basketball player. Williams came to Auburn just after the team's 2019 Final Four run, and though he's never been a primary or even secondary option for the Tigers, he's a glue guy and a tough defender. Williams is right now playing the best basketball of his career, putting together a very efficient quartet of performances against good teams.
So, could he make it in the NBA and potentially cause further confusion? The tape shows that Jaylin Williams has a shaky, yet improving handle, a surprising amount of flair as a passer (with an impressively low turnover rate), and some glimmers that he might know where to stand. He's 6-foot-8, reasonably athletic, and has shown flashes as a three-point shooter (bonus points for being a lefty), which at least means that when he tries to make the pros, he'll have a clearly outlined role.
Williams has had a somewhat odd trajectory in college, playing a career-high 26.4 minutes as a sophomore and cementing himself as a starter, only to hit the bench and play a reduced role on the Jabari Smith-Walker Kessler team in 2021-22. He bounced back and declared for the draft following his senior season, but elected to return to school. No mock drafts currently project him as a selection in 2024, probably because he'll be 24 years old by Summer League, but he'll likely get a look over the summer. You know which team prioritizes decision-making, toughness, and being named some variation of J_l_n Williams? That's right—Sam Presti, bring him home. Until then, he can't appear on this ranking.
Considering all the information, the second Jalen Williams-Jaylin Williams Power Rankings are as follows:
1. Jalen Williams
2. Jaylin Williams
NR: Jaylin Williams