2022 NBA Draft: Mark Williams would fortify Bulls’ frontcourt

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2022 NBA Draft: Could Williams fortify Bulls’ frontcourt? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bulls own the 18th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Their options with that selection, should they keep it, are plentiful.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, NBC Sports Chicago will examine a handful of prospects that could be in play for the Bulls in their expected range. Next up: Duke center Mark Williams.

Name: Mark Williams

School: Duke

Position: Center

Age: 20

Height: 7-2

Weight: 242

Wingspan: 7-6 ½

2021-22 Stats: 11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg | 72.3% FG, 0% 3P (0-for-1), 72.7% FT

Three Things to Know

  • He had the longest wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine: Williams is a monstrous physical presence, full stop. His nearly 7-foot-7 wingspan was the longest measured at the NBA’s Draft Combine in May, as was his mind-bending 9-foot-9 standing reach (by a whopping four inches).

Measurements aren’t everything, but Williams used his size to establish himself as one of the NCAA’s premier paint protectors last season, blocking 2.8 shots per game and impacting countless other rim attempts with well-timed contests. He was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year for a reason.

  • His field-goal percentage last season made Duke history: Since 1992, which is as far back as Sports Reference’s men’s college basketball Play Index spans, only one Duke player has shot better than 70 percent on more than 100 field-goal attempts in a season: Williams, in 2021-22, when he shot 72.1 percent.

According to Hoop-Math, that includes an 83.4 percent conversion rate at the rim, which speaks to Williams’ optimal offensive usage: As a roll, lob and dump-off threat around the basket, where his size and athleticism project well even to the NBA. He is a truly thunderous dunker and plays with a high motor.

The problem? Although Williams improved his free-throw percentage by nearly 20 points between his freshman and sophomore seasons (53.7 to 72.7), there isn’t much evidence his scoring range will extend outside of the painted area — at least not right away. He also didn’t display much facilitating ability in college. But if he lives up to his lofty defensive potential, those offensive limitations will be workable.

  • Basketball is in his blood: Williams is the youngest of three siblings, and one of his older sisters, Elizabeth, has already forged an impressive professional basketball career of her own.

After playing four years at Duke — the Williams family is from Norfolk, Va. — Elizabeth, a 6-foot-3 center/forward, was selected fourth overall by the Connecticut Sun in the 2015 WNBA Draft. The Atlanta Dream traded for her the following offseason, and Elizabeth spent six seasons in those threads, starting 186 games, averaging 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, and earning an All-Star nod in 2017. She now plays for the Washington Mystics.

Bulls Fit

Williams’ Bulls projection is similar to Walker Kessler, who we profiled earlier in this series, but with a higher upside because of his size and athleticism advantages.

In the short-term, Williams would slot in as the backup behind Nikola Vučević and hopefully fortify a thin frontcourt rotation in the size and rim protection department. He certainly projects as capable of blocking shots, rebounding and throwing down dunks from Day 1 in the NBA, particularly if asked to initially do so in a reserve role.

And looking forward, Williams’ supreme upside would offer a better long-term answer at the center position than any currently at the Bulls’ disposal if Vučević doesn’t return after his contract expires following the 2022-23 season. Fully optimized, Williams would be a fascinating defensive fit in lineups buoyed by Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, and he can run the floor in keeping with the Bulls’ preferred high-octane style, even if his passing and shooting abilities never expand.

The only obstacle to a potentially fruitful marriage is that Williams is widely projected to be off the board by the time the Bulls select, with the center-starved Hornets a popular landing spot (they own the 13th and 15th picks). But that’s why the picks are made, not mocked.

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