Shortly after the NCAA declared all college basketball transfers immediately eligible, Deandre Williams made his Memphis Tigers’ debut.
Williams declared early entry for the 2020 NBA draft before withdrawing and transferring from Evansville. It was unclear if he would have to sit out a year but due to the ongoing pandemic, the waiver was approved. This is good news for draftniks considering that he is one of the more intriguing prospects in the nation, even if he is not yet appearing on mock drafts or big boards.
During his first appearance, coming off the bench, Williams scored 10 points while shooting 4-for-5 (80.0%) from the floor. He also managed 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block during just 17 minutes of action. It was obvious that energy was much higher when Williams was on the floor.
Despite foul trouble, which makes sense because of the jitters, it was a fairly good performance for Williams. The transfer brings an immediate spark to the program, as Memphis coach Penny Hardaway has outlined (via Daily Memphian):
“DeAndre, he’s probably our best all-around player, honestly. He rebounds, he blocks shots, he makes plays, he can knock down threes. He’s our toughest defender. I mean, he does everything. He really does. He brings a lot to the table for us. And when he’s on the floor, then he’s the point guard, he’s the point forward and he makes plays happen for everybody else.”
As his new coach said, Williams showed do-it-all potential at Evansville, averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game during his first college basketball season. This was highlighted by a 37-point, 10-rebound victory over Miami (Ohio), in which he shot an absurd 17-for-18 from the field.
Deeper dives into the numbers, however, show how special of a player he was at Evansville. In fact, his profile on Synergy Sports Tech illustrates that he was one of the most efficient players in college basketball. Overall, Williams averaged 1.18 points per possession for Evansville. That ranked 98th percentile among all D-I players, per Synergy.
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Williams was 56-for-68 (82.4%) on attempts within five feet of the rim for Evansville, per Bart Torvik. That ranked sixth-best among those with as many attempts, trailing 2020 draftees Obi Toppin, Nick Richards and Udoka Azubuike.
He was often able to beat his man when guarded one-on-one and when driving left on isolation plays, per Synergy, Williams was 9-for-13 (69.2%) from the field.
Meanwhile, he showed unselfishness and plus-playmaking skills considering that his assist percentage (30.0%) ranked second-best in the nation among all players 6-foot-9 or taller.
“I love facilitating,” Williams told USA TODAY Sports Media Group’s Rookie Wire when he touched base with us in May 2020. “That’s the difference. I don’t always have to score. I can drive [against] two, three defenders and make sure they all suck into me and then just kick it out. That’s just my game.”
He can best be described as an inside-out scorer on offense because of his ability inside the paint and beyond the arc, as he also shot 45.5% on his 3-pointers. Even more impressive, via Synergy, he was a remarkable 12-for-20 (60.0%) on his catch-and-shoot attempts from beyond the arc. That level of productivity as a floor spacer should warrant immediate attention.
Teams can run plays for him as well as one element of his game that may translate best in the NBA is his ability to succeed during pick-and-pop opportunities. Last season, via Synergy, he was 13-for-15 (86.7%) and averaged an NCAA-best 2.1 points per possession on these looks.
“I’m starting to evolve my game into shooting and I want to show everybody that I can shoot as well because I can,” Williams told Rookie Wire. “My game is not just dribbling and attacking people. I can also shoot as well. I want to be able to show that I’m versatile and I’m able to do anything on the court. That’s what people need at the next level.”
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Another aspect that stands out for Williams, who averaged 6.9 rebounds per game, is his ability to grab and go. After pulling down the board and taking the ball up the court in the open court, he was 10-for-15 (66.7%) as the ball handler in transition this past season.
“I can get it off the glass. If I have a big in front of me, I’ll just push it,” said Williams. “That’s what the big guys are doing nowadays. They’re getting it off the glass, they’re pushing, they’re facilitating.”
This is an aspect of his game that will be even further accentuated when playing under Penny Hardaway at Memphis. During the 2020-21 season thus far, per KenPom, the Tigers’ pace ranks in the top-10 fastest adjusted tempos among all 357 D-I teams.
Williams also brings a defensive intensity and will often serve as the small-ball five for the Tigers. If he is able to thrive in that role, too, he should be able to separate himself as a draftable player in the 2021 NBA draft.