by Matthew Brennan, NBA D-League.com
Latavious Williams took another step in his basketball journey on Thursday night when the Miami Heat made him the 48th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. The 6-8 Williams, who was Tulsa's first round pick in November's NBA D-League Draft, was the first player to go directly from high school to the NBA D-League, thus making him eligible for this year's NBA Draft. He is also the second player drafted from the NBA D-League by the NBA, after Mike Taylor went 55th overall to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2008. As the amazing story of Williams takes another positive turn, let's take examine the outlook for both Williams and what his 2009-10 season means to the NBA D-League.
What's Next For Latavious Williams?
Shortly after being selected by Miami, William's rights were dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. Obviously it was fitting that Williams ended up with the Thunder, as he was playing under their watch all season with the Tulsa 66ers and they knew his potential better than any other NBA team. Since the Thunder have a logjam of young players at forward like Jeff Green, D.J. White and Serge Ibaka, it could be tough for Williams to make an impact right away in Oklahoma City even if he makes their 15-man roster. The odds for second round picks making their NBA team are not the best, but the success of second round choices like Carlos Boozer, Gilbert Arenas, Michael Redd, and Rashard Lewis show that impact players can be found anywhere in the draft.
From watching Williams closely in the NBA D-League this season, it looks like his ideal role at this point would be as an energy player off the bench at the forward spots. Williams was one of the best per-minute rebounders in the league this season and definitely has the athletic gifts to hold his own in the NBA. In terms of development, Williams is still very raw offensively, might be a bit undersized for power forward, and is one of the youngest players in the NBA with only one year of experience at a high level of competition. He greatly improved his game over the course of the 2009-10 season, but still has plenty of areas where can polish his game such as outside shooting and ability to put the ball on the floor. Of course, the NBA D-League option is still in effect for Williams, as he would now be considered an NBA rookie and still have two years of eligibility to be assigned. Williams would be in an ideal situation as he has already played a fully year under Nate Tibbetts in Tulsa and would get a chance to play a bigger role for Tulsa after playing as mostly a reserve in 2009-10. The Thunder, since they own the 66ers, have been very willing to assign players with Byron Mullens, D.J. White, Kyle Weaver, and Mustafa Shakur all making the trip west to Tulsa in 2009-10.
What Does This Mean For The NBA D-League?
The success story of Williams will do a lot to make the NBA D-League a more attractive place to play for young players who may not be quite ready for the NBA Draft, but want to improve their games against quality competition with plenty of NBA eyes watching. Williams (and Mike Taylor in 2008) could have taken a big payday overseas, but he would not have been playing in an NBA system like Williams did under the Oklahoma City Thunder/Tulsa umbrella and he would not have been playing against competition that would sent a total of players to the NBA 40 times during the 2009-10 season. Williams also got the chance to play with NBA scouts and/or GMs watching all of his games and he also was able to match up with current NBA players who were on assignment in games and practice (Byron Mullens and D.J. White were both in Tulsa with Williams). All of that paid off on Thursday when he became an NBA Draft Pick.
The fact that Williams came to the NBA right out of high school adds an intriguing twist to the situation. Other top high school prospects who may not want to play in college for various reasons, but are not yet eligible under the age limit to declare for the NBA, can use the NBA D-League in order to improve their games in a league as similar to the NBA as possible while placing themselves on the radar for next year's draft. The fact that Williams succeeded as the trailblazer in this regard will definitely make following in his footsteps more appealing to other players. All in all the selection of Williams in the NBA Draft is another huge step forward for the NBA D-League and caps off an outstanding 2009-10 season.