Williams Has Solved Hornets’ Center Worries


“With the 15th overall pick in 2022 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select— Mark Williams.”

With the 2022-23 regular season coming to a close, it seems as though the Charlotte Hornets have finally found their long-term answer at the center position.

After starting his first NBA game on Feb. 10 this year, Mark Williams became the Hornets’ defensive anchor for a defense that was top 10 in the league.

There were many people who did not think Williams would be this impactful. Some were doubting the center’s ability since the moment he was drafted. So how did the former Duke Blue Devil become the future of the Charlotte Hornets’ center position?

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Draft Night

Where were you when the Hornets drafted Williams? That is a moment many Hornets fans knew they would look back on and end up despising. Before that pick, the Hornets traded their 13th overall selection for a future first and multiple seconds, which was not an ideal swap for many Hornets fans. It does not help that with that pick, the Detroit Pistons selected Jalen Duren, who posted a 14 and 10 game with three blocks in his NBA debut.

Many people thought Duren would be a better fit with LaMelo Ball due to Duren’s amazing athleticism. With the hope of getting Duren along with trading the pick that ended up being Duren, Mark Williams did not stand a chance being in the good graces of some Hornets fans on draft night.

For the next few years, you can always expect people to compare the two centers. That’s how divisive of a decision this was for the fan base. Williams would have to come out of the gates swinging to earn the approval from those who doubted him.

Summer League Affirmed Preliminary Judgment

Summer League was going to be an interesting time for the newly-drafted Williams due to sharing center duties with Nick Richards and Kai Jones. Some were concerned if the rookie would get the minutes he needs if both Jones and Richards are playing. The Hornets took an approach that allowed Williams to get his minutes by sitting Richards just after two games.

In his minutes at Summer League, the Williams showed the occasional flash but was not the most impressive overall. For starters, he seemed very timid around the rim on offense. He would get the ball underneath the basket and struggle to go up and finish through contact.

Defensively, he had good anticipation for contesting shots but still softly contested too many of them where it would not change the shot at all. So while Williams had his fair share of flashes that resemble what he is today, it was not enough to quiet the thought that maybe the Hornets made a mistake.

G League

Like many other young guys, Williams had to complete his due time in the G League.

At this point, the 21-year-old is coming off a decent Summer League but still had some work to do before getting real NBA minutes. During this time, Charlotte was running a Mason Plumlee-Nick Richards center rotation. Richards started strong with a 19 and 10 game against the Spurs. While Hornets fans were happy to see the former Kentucky center play well, everyone knew this could make it more difficult for the 15th overall pick to draw some NBA minutes this season.

In the G League, Williams made his mark — sorry, couldn’t help myself — on the competition, averaging 22.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. It was hard to ignore his domination in the G League while looking so much more comfortable and settled than he was in Summer League.

Williams looked extremely comfortable in the post while exhibiting shut-down defense the Hornets haven’t had in a long time. He also showed some range, hitting an improbable logo three-pointer to send a game into overtime.

Backup Minutes

After ripping through the G League, Williams started seeing his first real NBA minutes due to an injury to the rising Nick Richards. Between his first game of regular minutes in December to the trade deadline, he averaged 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks over 15.3 minutes per game.

At this point, the Mark Williams agenda was in full swing. Everyone from Hornets fans to national-media sports journalists were lobbying for the rookie to get more tick after what was his best game of the season on Dec. 29 against Oklahoma City.

Williams established tremendous promise in his backup minutes and it was difficult not to be excited for the future of the Hornets’ center position.

Starting Job Was Opened

At the trade deadline, Hornets fans were keeping a close eye on if Mason Plumlee was going to be dealt.

With two young centers now more than capable of playing at an NBA level, trading Plumlee to guarantee minutes for the two was apparent for the Hornets’ front office, who sent him to the Clippers.

The starting center job was now vacant. It is very well documented that Steve Clifford was a big fan of Richards, so there were whispers that Richards would become Plumlee’s successor.

On Feb. 10 against the Celtics, however, Williams logged his first NBA start. From that day through the rest of the season, he averaged almost a double-double with 11.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. In March, he contributed to a Hornets defense that posted the sixth-best defensive rating of 114.6.

This is what Hornets fans have been longing for— and it seems they finally got it.

According to Basketball Index, Mark Williams is in the 70th percentile of all centers at Rim Deterrence which is a good sign for a rookie. Williams’ fellow 2023 center draft-mates Walker Kessler and Jalen Duren are in the 89th and 28th percentile, respectively. Williams has looked great in his time as a starter and has Hornets fans very excited for the years to come.

The seven-footer has improved dramatically in the paint offensively as well as his toughness on the defensive glass. Williams has done a lot in his brief time as a starter, from a 20-rebound game to a game-sealing block and dunk while guarding Trae Young on the perimeter.

The center problem may have finally been resolved in Charlotte.

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