For more than a decade, Thunder fans have marveled at General Manager Sam Presti’s uncanny and, frankly, unprecedented skill of drafting diamonds in the rough. This happens year after year, draft after draft.
Thunder fans call it “Presti Magic,” and I can’t help but to agree each year. I’m talking from his first-ever draft selection of Kevin in 2007 to drafting the 2022 no. 2 overall pick, Chet Holmgren. Presti rarely, one could argue, if ever, misses.
In fact, his record has been so great that fans were over the moon when Holmgren’s name was called on draft night. I’m talking videos on Twitter of literal Thunder draft night parties with fans jumping, hugging, cheering, and clinking a glass or two in celebration. So imagine their dismay and disappointment when that number two overall pick was ruled out for the season with a Linsfranc injury. The “Tank Season” social media posts came with a fury. Many of the fans that were so excited for this season didn’t see how anything positive could come from it now. They were so disappointed, in fact, that it caused many to turn a blind eye to yet another one of Presti’s diamonds in the rough.
A young man that I met on media day with a great smile, warm presence, and excitement to get to work. The first player drafted from Santa Clara College since Steve Nash, Jalen Williams.
J-Dub, a 12th overall selection from Santa Clara, has gone from what could be described as an afterthought in the hysteria of Chet’s absence to a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender. “He’s hit an enormous stride, not a wall. He’s been impressive, and he keeps getting better,” complimented third-year head coach Mark Daigneault. Before the All-Star break, J-Dub was ranked third on the Rookie Ladder. Another interesting pre-All-Star fact? In the games just prior, he averaged 17 points, five rebounds, and five assists to go along with 2.5 steals per game and 52/50/100 shooting splits. Another impressive feat is not how for the season as a whole, Williams is putting up 12-4-3 on just over 50% shooting. It’s how he leads all NBA guards in total dunks made.
Now, you might be thinking, “what good is that stat” and I will say it’s quite simple. As a rookie, Williams is sixth among guards in field goal percentage for shots within three feet of the rim. (Side note: Fellow Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins is fourth on that list) Among all guards, he is also top ten (and one of four Thunder players) in overall field goal percentage inside the three-point line at just over 72%. All of this, in addition to the leading guard in dunks and the recent uptick in three-point percentage, should tell you one major thing: Jalen Williams is becoming a bonafide scorer. In fact, he could be on the way to becoming the secondary scorer that Oklahoma City needs.
Ever since recent All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become the franchise cornerstone, the organization has missed that backup scorer that was often needed. Watching one Thunder game will show both Shai and point guard Josh Giddey’s faith in the ability of Dub and his ability to get to the rim and score at will. In fact, nineteen of Oklahoma City’s twenty-eight wins have come when he has scored ten or more points, with thirteen of those wins coming when he has scored twelve or more.
One major key is the willingness Williams has to put work in. That’s a culture in Oklahoma City that has to be bought into, and he’s done just that. We haven’t even touched the defensive side of the ball. Nearly two steals and one block per game, in case you were wondering. We’re talking about a 21-year-old who is becoming a complete player.
What I’m trying to say is that the fanbase put so much hope in one player that we forgot exactly who was brought in and why they were brought here to play. This is no shade to Chet at all. Jalen Williams has just become one of the many beloved Thunder players that have shocked the city and state as a whole with their play. The biggest difference with this one is that he has shown almost immediately why he’s a perfect fit for this city and ball club. With that type of work ethic and attitude? Yeah, no, Chet…no problem. We have Rookie of the Year JDub and a few other rookies that are ready to hold it down over the remaining twenty-five games and on until he can make his debut next season.