For a bracket so stocked with quality college basketball teams – both Virginia and North Carolina are favorites to make the Final Four – you’d think there would be more NBA prospects in Charlotte this week for the NCAA tournament.
That’s not to say there aren’t any legitimate college basketball prospects here. Just, they don’t come from those blue bloods.
But make no mistake: both Robert Williams, Texas A&M’s power forward, and Khyri Thomas, Creighton’s combo guard, are certified professional talents.
And the Charlotte Hornets, depending on how the draft falls, could be in the market for one of them.
Any conversation about the sophomore’s pro prospects must begin with his size and how he uses it. At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, he has the frame of an NBA power forward .
But you wouldn’t think someone as big as Williams would be as nimble or bouncy as he is. He has the foot speed and explosiveness of a wing. Being so light on his feet makes Williams a tremendous asset as a rebounder and a true putback threat off of missed shots. His SEC-leading nine 9.0 rebounds per game is proof of the former.
But Williams’ calling card in two seasons of college ball – and what NBA scouts will find most appealing about his game – is his defensive prowess. Specifically, his shot-altering and blocking ability.
As if it weren’t difficult enough to score on someone 6-10, Williams’ leaping ability makes things that much more difficult for his opponents. That in part is why he was able to string together one of the more impressive streaks in college basketball the past two seasons – Williams blocked a shot in 41 straight games for the Aggies, before coming up short for the first time against Kentucky in January. Against Alabama this month, he recorded seven blocks.
“His ability defensively to block shots is something that can cause some problems for anybody,” Texas A&M coach Bill Kennedy said. “If we can get him to block shots, I think that’s something that’s changed the game for us. We’re getting easy transition baskets when he blocks shots.”
Williams’ weaknesses are his unpolished offensive game and inability to stay on the court because of foul trouble and injuries.
At this point, Williams is mostly an interior player offensively, as his jump shot hasn’t caught up with his physical tools. He’s averaging 10.3 points this season, but over two seasons, he has only made two of 30 3-point attempts. With the direction the NBA is headed – where power forwards are expected to stretch the floor more with their shooting and aptly defend on the perimeter – Williams will need to improve his shooting outside of the paint.
Thomas isn’t a name most casual basketball fans have heard of, but as the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, he’s worth a look by NBA scouts.
Thomas is 6-3 and 210 pounds, and as his accolades suggest, his NBA calling card is defense. That height is deceptive given how long Thomas’ arms are – his wingspan is closer to 6-foot-10, meaning he can compensate for his size and still defend taller players. He averages 1.7 steals per game, partly because of that length, but he also has the quickness and presence of mind on defense to stick tight to his man and not get lost in traffic.
Thomas’ offensive potential isn’t as exciting as his defensive tools, but he’s an able offensive combo guard. He averages 15.3 points while shooting almost 42 percent from 3-point range. Thomas excels driving to the basket more than he does shooting from deep, but he’s shown an increased willingness to shoot from behind the arc this season, and to improved results.
Thomas just isn’t as explosive as other guards in the draft, and while his defensive tools are more likely to carry over to the professional level, there are doubts about if his offense could do the same.
Could the Hornets be interested in either?
Williams is projected by media pundits and scouts as a lottery pick, so the Hornets would have a shot at him in the first round. But given Charlotte’s needs at other positions – namely a backup point guard behind Kemba Walker – a third power forward behind Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams isn’t something the team is likely to pursue.
As for Thomas, he could be a more realistic target for the Hornets. While his size isn’t favorable considering the smaller stature of Walker and rookie Malik Monk, his wingspan mitigates some of those defensive concerns. If the team maintains its scoring options in the second unit, there will be less pressure on Thomas to force the scoring issue and more freedom for him to focus on defense.