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Rebounding and why Johnathan Williams might be wearing a Wizards uniform again

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Williams’ presence helped the Wizards increase their rebounding. They were dead last in the NBA before his arrival.

Denver Nuggets v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

In the six-game stretch Johnathan Williams was wearing a Wizards uniform, the Wizards ranked 19th league-wise in rebounds with 44.8 rebounds/game. (He was wearing the #19 jersey, by the way.)

Why is this significant?

Well, in the remaining 29 games of the season the Wizards were dead-last 30th with 41.6 rebounds/game.

OK, I know, I’m mixing two things up - Ian Mahinmi was absent for the first 21 games of the season, so, you may say, this partly has to do with Mahnimi’s return.

Well, not really. If we adjust the stats to rebounds per 48 minutes played (this normalization is relevant to account for overtime games) then we see:

  • Neither Mahinmi nor Williams: 41.5
  • Mahinmi but no Williams: 41
  • with both: 44.8.

OK, OK, you say, you’re forgetting Latvian giant Anžejs Pasečņiks! OK, now you have a point, as the numbers show:

  • Neither Mahinmi nor Pasečņiks nor Williams: 41.5
  • Mahinmi but no Pasečņiks nor Williams: 38
  • Mahinmi and Pasečņiks but no Williams: 43.9
  • with all three: 44.9

Let’s talk a bit about Williams and come back to this interesting point at the end.

Development in Israel

Your guess is as good as mine, but what is it about ex-Lakers ending up in D.C.? First, and most famously, Thomas Bryant, on whom I wrote the first in-depth story for BulletsForever. Then came Mo Wagner, Issac Bonga, and most recently, Jonathan Williams. The common thread? They all suited up for the South Bay Lakers in the past two years.

Williams had a slightly different path though. After being waived from the Lakers he signed with Israeli team Maccabi Rishon LeZion and played for them up until Christmas.

I spoke with the team’s head-coach, Guy Goodes, who is perhaps most famous for being David Blatt’s assistant coach in Maccabi Tel-Aviv the year the team won the EuroLeague championship and right before Blatt was hired by the Cavaliers and for then succeeding Blatt in Maccabi Tel-Aviv. He is currently also the coach of the Israeli U20 team and so is keen on player evaluation and development.

“To get to the NBA you must be elite in something. Jonathan is an elite rebounder. He just has a special knack, or a sixth sense if you want to call it that way, for rebounds,” Goodes explains. “He had some impressive games in the Israeli League and in the EuroCup including a few double-doubles. We played him as a center although he is not a classical center, and in the NBA his optimal position would be a 4. Whether he can stay in the league depends on whether he can improve his shooting - this is clear with today’s spacing.”

While there is no doubt Williams is an elite rebounder, and that his main limitation is shooting, the big question is how much can he improve?

I always like to give the PJ Tucker example. PJ famously was a very mediocre shooter but through a lot of hard work (and elite training by Stefan Weissenboeck) is now an outstanding corner 3 shooter. I spoke to Maccabi Rishon LeZion assistant coach Daniel Sokolovsky who worked closely with Williams:

“Williams is left-handed and the typical scouting report on him when he got to Maccabi Rishon LeZion was simply to stay on his right shoulder, as he was well-versed in using his left hand but his offensive arsenal with his right hand was limited,” Sokolovsky said. “We worked very hard with him to give some finishing options and some post moves with the right hand and general orientation in the paint. The improvements were palpable towards the end of his stay here.”

I asked Sokolovsky about Williams’ work ethic,

“Johnathan was a legit hard worker. He would stay to work after each and every practice, and basically whenever the gym was available to us,” Sokolovsky said. “He made real strides in improving his free-throw percentage through pure hard work, and as a secondary benefit his mid-range shot improved, too. If he keeps working on the things we worked on together here I have no doubt he can improve his shooting much more.”

Pasečņiks vs Williams, or perhaps Pasečņiks and Williams?

What is amazing is that the rebounding stats of Pasečņiks and Williams are actually, at least superficially, quite similar: 6.5 rebounds in 20.8 minutes vs. 6.3 rebounds in 20.5 rebounds.

But let’s go a little deeper.

In the four games Pasečņiks played without Williams he actually had only 4.3 rebounds in 20.9 minutes, and take this: in the six games they played together Pasečņiks had 8 rebounds in 20.8 minutes!

It is no secret that a player can be a great rebounder by actually helping his teammates rebound, e.g., by elite boxing out, just think of the years Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook paired.

The bottom line is that Williams might be a good project for the Wizards to undertake if they want to improve their rebounding (and hence their putrid defensive rating). The most sensible thing to do, if you ask me, would be to bring him over to the Wizards G-League team - a couple months of serious work with Ryan Richman and his staff can do wonders as opposed to the tiring travel schedule of the NBA. A small obstacle is that his G-league rights actually currently belong to the South Bay Lakers per Fred Katz:

And furthermore, now that Williams’ talents have been showcased in some widely-discussed upset wins against Miami and Denver, he is no longer a secret and Williams is rumored to be on the radars of the Celtics, Rockets, and a few other teams.

So the Wizards have a decision to make here.