One to Watch: Troy Williams, Indiana

Second in a series identifying 14 college basketball players who will have a breakout season–one on each Big Ten team

One of the biggest things separating great college players from great NBA players is a jump shot. Many analysts have waxed poetic about how Michael Carter-Williams and Elfrid Payton could become stars, if only they could develop a reliable jumper. Last offseason, similar remarks were made about Troy Williams. Now, in his junior year, Williams has a much better jump shot and should make the proverbial leap from a good player to a star.

Williams is an athletic freak, and always has one or two plays per game that make you shake your head in disbelief. He works best on offense as a secondary option, cutting to the basket and receiving a dump-off pass for a dunk. Even if the ball isn’t passed to him, he’s always a threat to outleap everyone on the rebound and throw down a ridiculous putback jam. Williams is incredibly efficient near the rim and has shot 55 percent on two-point field goals through his first two collegiate seasons. His game has expanded to also include a more effective transition game. During his freshman season, Williams tended to be out of control when running the fast break–resulting in bad shots, turnovers, or offensive fouls. But over the course of his career, he has visibly slowed down when leading the break, to the point where he can make the right pass or knock down a floater to avoid committing a foul.

The knock-on Williams has always been that he doesn’t have a reliable jump shot. That certainly seemed true in his freshman campaign, when he shot just six of 29 on three-pointers. But Williams has improved his shooting and picks spots more carefully so that now defenders have to respect his range. Free throws used to be wildly unpredictable, but with improved mechanics, Williams transformed himself into a 74 percent shooter. No longer can defenders simply foul Williams to prevent a layup, because he’ll make them pay from the charity stripe.

Williams is the best defender on the Hoosiers, but a lot of the time his work goes underappreciated. It’s easy to notice when he gets a chase-down block or swats a shot into the fifth row, but he’s a great on-ball defender too. Williams has terrific length, which allows him to take away passing lanes when he’s on the ball and gives him the ability to get a lot of deflections when he’s off the ball. As anyone who has ever attended a Tom Crean postgame press conference knows, the Hoosier coaching staff loves deflections.

Where Williams truly shines is on the glass. The Hoosiers did not have a true center or post player on the roster last season, and Williams did a phenomenal job of making up for this by attacking every rebounding opportunity. Williams secured 21.7 percent of available defensive rebounds and 15.7 percent of all available rebounds. 7-footer AJ Hammons of Purdue is the only returning Big Ten player with comparable numbers.

Williams should be a double-double machine this year for Indiana, consistently having the types of games he’s had against tournament teams such as Butler (22 points and 11 rebounds), Georgetown (23 and 8), Ohio State (15 and 12), Maryland (17 and 10), and Wichita State (11 and 12). The Hoosiers have an impressive roster led by Yogi Ferrell, one of the quickest and best point guards in the country, and Thomas Bryant, a highly-touted center with impressive range. But it is Williams whose play will determine the Hoosiers’ success, and his improvement should lead Indiana deep in the NCAA tournament.

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