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On Ziaire Williams and the potential of patience

In the absence of Dillon Brooks, Ziaire has a chance to prove that his flashes aren’t a mirage.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to talk about Ziaire Williams, but I first want to tell a story.

Back in August of 2020, I met a guy that was invited to the party of one of my friends; we’ll just say that his name is Brian. Brian had apparently enrolled in the same seminary as me, and my friend wanted someone from the seminary to connect with him since he was new in town from Alabama.

Or at least that’s what I initially thought. Because after getting to know him for a few hours at this party, I started to understand that there was more to why my friend wanted me to meet Brian. See, my friend (we’ll just call her Alex) had become the subject of his...affection, and it was very obvious since he awkwardly flirted with her throughout most of the night. So it appeared that she wanted me there to distract him from her, not only for that night but also going forward in general.

It turned out to be harder than I thought. As I got to know Brian better over the next few weeks, I truly didn’t think he was cut out for my line of work. If you want to minister to people, then you need to be good with people, and well...he just didn’t appear to be. He wouldn’t take the hint with Alex, and he just simply couldn’t seem to grasp social cues in general. He was a nice guy, but I doubted his ability to succeed in everything he wanted to do.

I was wrong to do that. In the span of a year and a half, he has grown tremendously in maturity as a person in every way, and he’s serving faithfully as a wonderful role model and example for the kids with which he works.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Now there’s a lesson from this story that I’ve had to learn personally: You can’t afford to make snap, premature judgments of people. People are oftentimes unfinished products. And with just a little bit of time, maturity and patience, they can become greater than anything you could have ever expected.

While only time will tell, I think Ziaire Williams is well on his way to being yet another person to prove that my judgment was premature.

I have, of course, expressed my opinion many times that I’m not particularly high on Ziaire. It’s not that I don’t want him to succeed; he seems like a genuinely thoughtful and hard-working kid, and I want every Grizzly to be successful anyway. But the reason for my concern was and is simple: there are plenty of guys who had limited roles in college that turned out to be valuable players with greater roles in the NBA, yet I can’t think of anyone who was a legitimately bad, inefficient college player that turned out to be a highly successful NBA player. And a struggling, inefficient player was exactly what Ziaire was as a freshman at Stanford, as he shot just 37% from the field and 29% from three.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

To be fair, that’s generally what he’s been in the NBA so far as well, as he’s been one of the league’s worst rotation players. Out of 500 qualified players, his FG% of 39% ranks 404th in the league, per NBA.com. He has the second worst plus/minus on the Grizzlies (-0.9). His PER (6.6) is the lowest in the NBA among qualified players, and his VORP (-0.4) is the 7th lowest, behind such esteemed talents like Semi Ojeleye and Killian Hayes.

Having your name come up in negative fashion in the same sentence as Killian Hayes is not, in fact, something that you ever want.

However, after an extended 15-game absence due to both an ankle sprain as well as a bout with COVID, Ziaire Williams appears to have returned to action as an entirely different player. “That was great,” Ziaire said after his career-high 14-point performance against the Pistons last week. “I actually got to take a step back and kind of just watch games and get a feel for where I’ve had success, what I need to keep working on.”

Granted, it’s a small sample size, yet he no longer looks like a nervous rookie who’s simply trying not to make mistakes. He instead looks like a confident role player who plays within himself and makes the team better with his presence.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The stat sheet supports this. In his four games back, he has shot 53% from the field—4th among qualified rookies—and 46% from three, which ranks 5th. Of course, the Grizzlies have been transcendent as a whole over their last 10 games, but Ziaire has been incredibly helpful rather than inhibitive to their cause since coming back. His plus/minus (+10.3) ranks second on the team behind only Jaren Jackson Jr. among those who have played each of the last 4 games.

But beyond the details of his superb recent box scores, there have been moments of tantalizing potential greatness that have presented themselves in Ziaire’s game.

For me personally, this was one of he most exciting plays of the season for not just Ziaire Williams, but also the Memphis Grizzlies as a whole. At first glance, it may not seem particularly extraordinary. After all, Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks in particular have proven themselves to be adept at pull-up mid-range jumpers. But what makes this shot distinct from them is the accessibility of it; at 6’9”, Ziaire’s mid-range pull-up jumper is unguardable. When he’s being aggressive with the ball in his hands, he can get this shot with an ease that no Grizzly has since Rudy Gay.

But if that play was an appetizer, then this pull-up contested jumper over one of the NBA’s best shot-blockers and defenders in Jarrett Allen during clutch-time is the main course. It’s no hyperbole to say that this is the type of film that star-caliber players have.

Of course, it’s plays like these that demonstrate the vision of what the Grizzlies front office has for Ziaire Williams. When push comes to shove in crucial situations, NBA teams need jumbo-sized wings that can create and score off the bounce in half-court situations. Although the Grizzlies are currently loaded from a roster construction standpoint, they’re still in need of someone who can fit this archetype. They obviously hope that Ziaire will meet this need, and he’s already showing flashes of being up to the task.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the absence of Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies will need those frequent flashes, as Ziaire Williams will continue to take his place in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. He has an opportunity to continue to grow and mature into the player that the Grizzlies hope that he’ll become.

And he has a chance to continue to prove that patience just might be a virtue that we all need.

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