It’s going to be a “multi-year process” when it comes to Ziaire Williams’ development — straight from Grizzlies EVP of Basketball Operations Zach Kleiman himself.
It probably serves as a reminder to us all that player development isn’t a microwave process where the benefits of a young prospect are reaped immediately, as we’ve seen over the past several years. It can take time for a player to become the version of themselves that everyone expects them to be.
One of the biggest keys here is the developmental environment these players come into. We’ve seen over time that it can make or break a prospect.
While a lot of Williams’ development will come with how far his work ethic takes him, it’s equally important for the Grizzlies to have a stable growing environment for him and the rest of the team’s young players in order to reach their full potential, both as a team and as individuals.
Luckily, the Memphis Grizzlies have fostered a great environment that empowers its players and places them in position to win games on any given night. There’s been growth across the board for the majority of the roster, and young players have been placed in positions to succeed immediately.
These factors in the Grizzlies system will play a vital role in this multi-year process that’ll aid Ziaire Williams into becoming the best possible version of himself.
There are numerous elements to the Grizzlies system that’s made it a nice plug-and-play process over the past two seasons, and it’s one that could bode well for Williams’ development as well.
For starters, the Grizzlies have played at one of the highest paces in the league since Taylor Jenkins took over — 100.77 (8th) this past year, and 103.31 in the ‘19-20 season. The brilliant point guard tandem with Ja Morant and Tyus Jones helps in that regard, but the amount of extra possessions the Grizzlies generated off defensive playmaking plays a big role as well. The Grizzlies led the league in steals per game (9.1) last season, and they’ve been in a fixture at the top of the leader boards for fast break points per game (17.3, 1st, last year; 17.3, 2nd, ‘19-20).
This area of the system bodes well for Williams, because it’ll allow him to find runaways towards easy buckets while running the lanes in transition. It should also enable his playmaking as well, as he showcased good grab-and-go potential off defensive rebounds. In this setting, he can play to his strengths and gain some confidence on the offensive end by getting easy buckets in transition.
A question I like to pose when evaluating draft prospects — what could this player be around NBA spacing around NBA-quality playmakers? The Memphis Grizzlies provide a strong example, as they have one of the better playmaking systems in the league. They’ve averaged 26.9 assists per game in the past two years, both marks in the top-4, while also possessing a strong 2.03 assist-to-turnover ratio (3rd last season). This bodes well for Ziarie Williams. He can see his efficiency rise in this system, as the offensive burden will lessen and more of his looks come off good ball movement rather than self-creation. In lineups where he’s surrounded by 2-3 extra playmakers, he should find more open looks while also learning the different nuances of shot relocation and cutting angles. In addition, with all the driving and kicking the Grizzlies do he should learn to catch the defensive discombobulated and pick his spots inside the arc.
Taylor Jenkins has deployed a system that’s predicated on ball movement, good pace, and player empowerment. After a rough season at Stanford, Williams could return to the offensive chops that made him a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school.
The running joke with the Memphis Grizzlies over the past several years was, every good shooter lost his jumper when they joined the team.
That joke is coming to a close.
Since Taylor Jenkins has taken over, we’ve seen some big 3-point percentage leaps from the wings. Solomon Hill came into Memphis basically a non-shooter (32.9% career 3-point shooter), and in his half-season with the Grizzlies, he shot 38.1% on roughly 3 attempts per game. Kyle Anderson became a reliable 3-point threat this past year, raising his 3-point clip by 8 percentage points and tripling his volume (85 attempts in ‘19-20 season, to 261 in ‘20-21). Desmond Bane (43.2%), De’Anthony Melton (41.2%), and Grayson Allen (39.1%) all certified themselves as legitimate 3-point threats, while Melton raised his percentage by nearly 12 points.
This isn’t to discredit the amount of work these players have put into their craft. These players have worked their asses off to expand their games and flourish from outside. However, the “let that [expletive word] fly” mantra Jenkins has resonated with this team has played a big part in that too. Players can take these shots without worried about getting pulled for missing.
That’s the hope with Ziaire Williams.
His shooting efficiency was rough at Stanford, but there’s no need for a true overhaul with his shot mechanics. They aren’t broken. He has a smooth form with the textbook mechanics: up-and-down fluidity, good wrist motion, and nothing truly awkward in the structure of his shot. It was simply a matter of selection and shots not falling.
The selection should improve with a less creation burden and more catch-and-shoot opportunities. Shot falling could also be mental, and Williams did have a disastrous season in that regard at Stanford with deaths in the family, strict protocols, and inconsistent practice and game scheduling. There’s nothing to panic and try to fix here, just see if the shots can start falling.
Many analysts praised Ziaire Williams’ shot-making and shooting coming out of high school, and in a fresh system with lighter expectations and creation responsibilities he could rekindle that shooting touch from his grassroots days. Now, he’s entering an empowering system with a strict message to “let it fly,” with the potential to fall in line with a number of Grizzlies’ wings that have improved their 3-point shots under Jenkins.
Ziaire Williams’ pathway to minutes next season is going to be interesting. The Grizzlies traded Grayson Allen last week, presumably opening up more minutes for De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, and Williams. However, it’s still going to be a battle for rotation spot. Assuming they just slide Steven Adams in Jonas Valanciunas’ starting spot, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Melton, and Bane are the presumable main options in the 2 and 3 positions. So minutes for Williams may be scarce, but he’ll have the opportunity to compete for them as well.
When he does get some run, he’ll have a benefit of having a simplified role to start out. The Grizzlies have their guys that’ll do the heavy lifting; they don’t need Williams to come in and carry them with big scoring or creation loads. Because of their depth, they can afford gradually bring him along.
ESPN’s Mike Schmitz mentioned the same principle with Jonathan Kuminga, comparing it to Jaylen Brown with the Boston Celtics early in his career.
If I'm GSW, I'm showing Jonathan Kuminga film from Jaylen Brown's first couple seasons with BOS. Great template for him. Brown bought into 3+D role then expanded. People forget Brown also shot under 30% from 3 at Cal with more TOVs than AST. Kuminga has similar tools + footwork. pic.twitter.com/zVBcOce7Uh— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) July 30, 2021
Now Ziaire Williams is a different prospect than Brown was coming out of California, as the latter relies on physicality more — though Brown did have similar efficiency struggles (43.1/29.8/65.4 shooting splits). However, the basis is strikingly similar: play with competitive fire defensively, crash the glass for rebounds, and take what the offense gives you for scoring opportunities.
He made a good first impression in yesterday’s Summer League debut, moving well defensively and relishing the opportunity of guarding renowned scorer Cam Thomas. In main roster action, that sort of defensive playmaking and energy could earn him minutes from the start, especially with his size on the wing.
Offensively, Williams won't have the creation burden he had in college. He’ll need to hit spot-up jumpers, attack closeouts, and find cutting and transitions lanes towards easy baskets. Every other flash he shows on that end, primarily as a shot-creator and playmaker, will be a pleasant surprise this season.
If Ziaire Williams comes in better than expected and showcases creation abilities beyond his years, that’s a massive win. Nonetheless, he’s in a good system where he’s going be able to expand his game in a winning environment — opposed to being thrown into the fire, and accumulating losses and bad habits.
A lot of this development will hinge on Ziaire Williams’ “relentless improvement” mentality with his craft — and from multiple accounts that have spoken highly of his character and work ethic, I’m betting on him doing so. How it all translates into his performance will be a major factor too.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that team environment plays just as big of a role for these draft picks as individual mindset and performance. And for Ziaire Williams, he’s going from a very unstable collegiate environment to a young team under a staff and front office that’s created a great developmental atmosphere over the past few years.
Like Zach Kleiman said, it’s going to be a “multi-year process” with Williams. There needs to be patience here. Luckily for all parties involved, there is a good infrastructure set in Memphis that could allow him to gradually grow into what everyone expects him to be: the big, creative wing next that this team has needed for years.
Stats found on sports-reference and NBA.com/stats.