Meet Shelden Williams

Hello, Shelden Williams. Pleased to meet you.

The one player of note featured in the Mike Bibby trade besides, um, Mike Bibby is Shelden Williams. He was picked #5 overall just two years ago, and quickly becomes the third (but highest) 2006 lottery pick given up on. (New Orleans traded #15 pick Cedric Simmons for cap space this summer; Golden State declined the third year on #9 pick Patrick O'Bryant rookie deal, which is close to unprecedented for a lottery pick.)

John Hollinger's college translator -- a tool which uses college stats and other data indicators -- considered Shelden to be the #2 college prospect in the 2006 draft, behind Tyrus Thomas and ahead of Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, and Lamarcus Aldridge. Hollinger has found college rebounding translates well, and blocks are a good indicator of the necessary athleticism to succeed in the NBA. (Williams was a tremendous rebounder and shotblocker in college.) It is also worth noting Hollinger's system retroactively lauded the Kevin Martin pick (had him as the #10 college prospect in 2004) and pre-emptively murdered the Spencer Hawes pick (said he should have been a second-rounder), and also endorsed Nick Fazekas, Josh McRoberts and Kyle Visser as lottery picks last year. No man is infallible. (In fairness, none of those three have been given a chance to prove Hollinger right.)

I am of the opinion you can't grade players on current-season performance when they haven't played at least 500 minutes (and it's actually iffy up to 1,000 minutes). Shelden's at 400 minutes played this year, and much has come in garbage time. He has had long stretches in between appearances at times, which (as we have seen with several Kings) is not conducive to stellar play.

So let's look at Shelden's rookie season, when he got 1,500 minutes over 81 games, almost 19 minutes a night. What did he do well? Where did he struggle?

The good
Coming out of college, his scouting report was all about rebounding and shotblocking. And hey! he was a very good rebounder in 2006-07 with the Hawks. He took over 10% of all offensive rebounding opportunities, and 24.5% on defense, for a total rebound rate of 17.3%. As a comparison, here are the reb-rate figures for this years' Kings bigs:

Brad Miller    15.8%
Mikki Moore    12.0%
Spencer Hawes  15.1%

Upgrade. Shelden may not win any rebounding titles, but he's a plus-rebounder at power forward, never mind his size. Various scouting reports say he's great at going outside his zone for loose rebounds, which makes him the only King big (in the absence of Justin Williams) who can do so. And considering this one of the worst rebounding teams in the league on either end, he should certainly help here.

What about the shotblocking? Inconclusive, to this point. He's basically been on par with recent Brad Miller and Spencer Hawes, which isn't very exciting. Some suggested he might be a 2.5 block per night guy in the pros as a full-time starting PF, but it'll take some major improvement to even get to 2-block status.

Otherwise, his defense is said to be solid. For a fellow with (at least) a shotblocker's mindset, he doesn't foul often and should be able to play 35 minutes a night without consistent foul worries. If Ron Artest gets traded this week, Williams becomes the strongest King by far. He's got long arms, chiseled biceps and a good vertical. He's definitely an asset for a team light on interior defense.

The bad
You may note we've only talked about defense so far. Well, his offense appears to be... a work in progress. He didn't shot particularly well for a big man last year, with a eFG% of only .458 (real low) and a TS% of .518 (pretty low). Why? Too many jumpers, it seems. Look at his 2006-07 82games player page. If you're shooting a .346 eFG% on jumpers... 52% of your shots should not be jumpers. Let's take a modestly comparable player -- defensive-minded but undersized big who relies on strength and athleticism in lieu of finesse or (for lack of less inflammatory term) skills -- from the same season: Emeka Okafor. 33% jumpers, 67% inside shots. Okafor understood he could not shoot jumpers and should therefore stay inside on his attempts; Williams probably needs to figure this out. (In his limited time this year, Shelden's jumper-inside ratio has only improved somewhat, to 49-51. He needs to get much closer to 30-70, I'd surmise based on his numbers. Mikki Moore's at 31-69 this season, versus  42-58 with New Jersey. This might mean Reggie Theus and the coaching staff emphasized his role as a roleplayer and scorer-when-necessary, not featured offensive weapon. Or maybe it's the 'no more Jason Kidd' effect.)

There's another benefit to moving inside, beyond improving the shooting efficiency: More free throws. If Williams has a distinct advantage over the somewhat comparable Okafor, it's in foul-shooting. Shelden's at 75% in his pro career (and Okafor's at 60%). And this is the difference between the Williamses Shelden and Justin: 3-Wil could defend and rebound and block shots, but was an unmitigated disaster on offense; if he got the ball inside and the opponent didn't foul immediately, they didn't do their scouting work. With Shelden, it's the opposite: We want you to foul Shelden. Hitting three of every four from the line is better than what he'd do with the ball near the rim otherwise. What's more, teamed up with Hawes (79% FTs) and Miller (85% FTs), as well as Kevin Martin (87% FTs) and John Salmons (83% FTs) and Francisco Garcia (77% FTs) and Beno Udrih (85% FTs)... I think you get the point: There's not a bad FT shooter among the nucleoids of this team.

The final screeching owl on Shelden's record: Turnovers. It looks like he's guilty of a few too many travels and a few too many charges. But surprise! placing him in the paint would help alleviate some of this as well. Williams doesn't need to be set up in the triple-threat 15 feet away a la Tim Duncan. Plant him on the low box, get him in good position for the dribbler's dish or the offensive rebound. Treat him as more of a LaSalle Thompson than a Wayman Tisdale, more Yogi Stewart and less Corliss Williamson. Offensive production will be a bonus with Shelden, which may make him a disappointment as a #5 pick overall. Fortunately, where you were picked doesn't factor into wins and losses.

The completely presumptive and very possibly inadequate verdict
Shelden Williams will never be an All-Star, I'm afraid. Unless his shotblocking dramatically rockets upward, or he becomes a master of post moves... he will be a role player. But that's OK. We need role players. We were not going to see a young STAR come back in exchange for Mike Bibby. To get a stud defender, a kid with a big heart and a healthy work ethic -- that's a good get. Smart and humble basketball players, unfortunately, do not grow on trees. I think it's important for the franchise to find a good role for Williams to grow into, and for us as fans to have realistic expectations for the kid. He can score 10 points a game at his peak and be a success, so long as he fills his role properly.

I've actually excited myself a bit by exploring all Shelden's basketball flaws; he almost looks like a stronger, less explosive David Lee from my vantage point. (And he's cheaper longer, too!) Can't wait to see the kid play.

So, um, welcome to Sacramento, Shelden.

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