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A Mark Williams Appreciation

Watching him play has been an immense pleasure.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 30 Womens - Boston College at Notre Dame
 SOUTH BEND, IN - JANUARY 30: Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Blake Wesley (0) tries to drive around Duke Blue Devils center Mark Williams (15) during a mens college basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on January 31, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion At The Joyce Center in South Bend, IN.
Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let’s start with the photo that accompanies this article: Blake Wesley is 6-5 and Williams makes him look tiny. The guy is incredibly long and he’s going to threaten that shot. There’s no way around that. Williams is a tremendous shot blocker.

But that’s not all he is.

Williams blocks shots, true. Watch how often he now controls the block though. This is a pet peeve around here: there’s a macho side to shotblocking. And while it’s fun to spike one into the 10th row, what have you done? Just delayed the next shot. Instead of a turnover, you just gave the ball back. Duh. Remember that phenomenal Zion Williamson block at Virginia? What if he could have just caught it? What the hell do you do with that?

Well, Williams tends to get the ball back and that’s an immense asset. We’ve often thought that the most dispiriting thing you could do in basketball is simply to catch a shot in flight and Williams can do that.

He’s more than a shot blocker though.

Remember Taymon Domzalski? Maybe not. He was at Duke in the mid-90’s which isn’t exactly yesterday.

Domzalski had one of the great plays in Cameron history: Maryland’s Keith Booth was coming in for a massive dunk. Domzalski went up and stopped it mid-air. It was a seriously powerful play, electrifying. Still causes chills to think about that one.

But Domzalski, for all his assets (Dr. Domzalski now) had hands of stone. He just didn’t have good hands for the game.

Williams has excellent hands. We’ve watched him many times knock the ball loose from much smaller players, often from behind. He tips rebounds to teammates a lot. He just has good hands.

Leaving his height aside, he’s a really smart basketball player. He and Paolo Banchero, another great passing big man, have developed a nice chemistry. He can move outside and pass in or vice-versa. Those guys have learned to feed off of each other.

Lately he’s shown range out to the foul line on occasion. He also is a great running big man who frequently is the first guy on the break.

That’s not to say that he’s perfect. Obviously not - who is?

Williams is stronger than he was last season but he’s still coltish and can’t always assert himself physically. He’s gotten better at going up with the ball inside in traffic but it’s still an issue. At times he tries to go up and turns the wrong way and can’t think his way out of it. He periodically throws up some really weak shots in those situations and doesn’t even take advantage of his height. It’s like watching a 13-year-old against high school seniors when it happens.

He also shows flashes of temper that will eventually get him T’d up and on occasion he has gotten in foul trouble that’s limited his effectiveness. And while he’s improved his lateral quickness, smaller teams can give him fits.

All of these are things he can improve on though and some have already improved sharply. And as they say, you can’t teach tall.

You also can’t teach a guy what to do with it. Well you can to some extent, but Williams hunts blocks like an Orca hunts seals. He’s cunning and patient.

He’s just beginning to understand how good he can be and is still physically immature. When he puts on 15-20 pounds of muscle and really has his offensive repertoire down he’s going to be a nightmare.

But don’t be overly dazzled by his physical gifts, impressive though they are. What makes him special is his intelligence for the game. Adding that to his physical talent is like basketball AR. Williams is an absolute treat to watch now and he’s only going to get better.