OKC’s Jalen Williams, the budding star we knew he’d be

When Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was ruled out of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s contest against the San Antonio Spurs, there was immediate concern about where OKC’s offense would come from.

In previous games, it felt like SGA was OKC’s only source of offense. The name that came to mind during pregame and the player I predicted would step up and answer the call against the Spurs was Jalen Williams.

Yes, the 21-year-old rookie Jalen Williams who hasn’t been a professional athlete for six months yet, was OKC’s top scoring option, leading the Thunder to a 119-111 win over the Spurs behind a career-high 27 points, six rebounds, and two assists.

OKC bounced back from consecutive losses with a quality win over their Western Conference foe, and a significant reason for that was Williams, who has what I believe to be the highest ceiling of OKC’s young core (Chet Holmgren, Jaylin Williams, Ousmane Dieng, Josh Giddey, and Tre Mann, for example).

It’s about J Dub’s mentality. Not to be cliché, but his Mamba Mentality. It’s well-documented that Williams idolizes Kobe Bryant, and he has taken some snippets of Kobe’s game and implemented them into his authentic style of play.

Being around the NBA game for almost a decade, I’ve seen plenty of talented rookies. There have been numerous instances where a rookie will turn into something remarkable and cases where, well, I can tell that the NBA is too much for them, or they don’t have the proper focus or skills to be a productive NBA player.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m rarely wrong in these instances.

Williams has the perfect mix of poise, confidence, talent, physical ability, and fundamentals, with a side of that “I don’t give a damn” attitude that so many confident stars seem to have.

“I don’t think about the fact that I’m a rookie,” said Williams after notching his career-high against the Spurs. “I just go out there and play and let the game come to me.”

Early on, I declared that Williams reminded me of a young James Harden, and I’ll stand by that, but he’s potentially much more of an all-around player. Again, especially this prematurely into his career.

Their overall style of play is different, but statistically, Williams is on par with where Harden was in his rookie season with OKC in 2009-10, at least on a base level.

(Slide the toggle to the left for Jalen William’s stats and the right for James Hardens)

Harden averaged 9.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 22.9 minutes. Through 28 games, a quarter of his rookie season, Dub averages 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. Harden shot 40.3% from the field and 37.5% from 3, and Williams currently shoots 53.2% from the field and 30.0% from deep.

There are similarities and vast differences. Some may argue Williams has more opportunity than Harden had, playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but is that true? Yes, Durant transcended to superstar status in his third season and Harden’s third, averaging 30.1 points per game, but Westbrook was in his second year, averaging just 16.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 7.1 assists in 34 minutes played per game.

I bring forth the argument that Williams’ role on this team is very similar to Harden’s role on the 2009-10 Thunder, playing behind SGA, who has transcended to superstar status, averaging 31.0 points per game, and Josh Giddey, who averages 14.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 30.9 minutes per game in his second season.

Whether Williams is comparable to Harden or not, he’s the best Oklahoma City Thunder draft pick since 2009 when Sam Presti drafted, you guessed it, Harden with the third overall pick.

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