Diamonds in the rough? Jazz work out pair of prospects with interesting upside
Jeenathan Williams and Ron Harper Jr. displayed their wares for the Jazz on Thursday; either one could make for a great two-way signing
With the 2022 NBA draft just seven days away, the Utah Jazz held another pre-draft workout that included six prospects.
The Jazz, despite not having a pick in the upcoming draft, have worked out more than 50 players leading up to the draft, most of which have been players that are projected to either be late second-round picks, or to go undrafted and look for two-way or G League opportunities.
Of all of the Jazz’s pre-draft sessions, Thursday’s was probably the most intriguing, in my opinion, because of two players: Jeenathan Williams and Ron Harper Jr.
As the Jazz have been holding these workouts, I haven’t been scanning the names and looking at the players’ bodies of work to see who I think can come in and contribute in the Jazz’s regular rotation right away. Rather, I’ve been thinking, who would be a good player for the Jazz to have on a two-way contract? Who is someone that might be a diamond in the rough and just needs some time and development before becoming a role player? I think that both Williams and Harper could fit the bill.
Williams is a 6-foot-5 wing who played four years at the University of Buffalo. First and foremost the thing about Williams that stands out is that he looks like an NBA player. His body, his frame, his strength, his length — for a guy just coming out of college he looks like he’s ready to handle the physicality of the NBA right now.
On the court, Williams tested the NBA draft waters last year and decided to go back to college for another year after getting feedback from NBA scouts, trainers and executives.
“I heard that I needed to work on my ballhandling and that my shooting percentage needed to go up,” Williams said when asked what he’d been told last year. “So that’s what I honed in on last offseason — ballhandling and footwork — so that I could increase my shooting percentage, which I did.”
Saying he increased his shooting percentage is an understatement. Williams went from shooting 38.6% on 3.5 3-point attempts per game during his junior season (already a respectable stat line) to shooting 45.1% on 4.6 3-point attempts per game his senior year. This is also after shooting just 10.6% from deep his freshmen year.
I just think there’s a lot to be said about a player who takes criticism and really works to improve, and then is able to produce results.
Defensively, Williams is quick and moves well laterally and consistently showed improvement every season at Buffalo. He averaged 1.4 steals per game in his final year and can easily switch between guarding point guards and bigger wing players. Because of his strength he can also handle himself against some stronger and larger power forwards.
He still needs to work on his handles and cut down on turnovers, but coming into the NBA he won’t be asked to be a primary ballhandler or tasked with much creation.
And Williams isn’t banking on his increased and impressive shooting to get him a chance at playing in the NBA. He’s a defense-minded player who prides himself on that side of the ball more than anything and is hoping that’s what catches the eye of a team. He knows that he might have to work off of a two-way contract, and that’s fine, he just wants a chance.
“Honestly, I just need an opportunity,” he said. “All I’m looking for is an opportunity to go out there and show what I can do. I know once I get that opportunity I’ll seize the moment and put in the work.”
Harper is the son of five-time NBA champion Ron Harper, but that hasn’t meant that anything has been easy for him. He helped turn around the Rutgers program in his four years there and more than anything is a good decision-maker.
Harper is smart and savvy and doesn’t ever seem to be rushing himself or trying to do too much. That kind of mental poise is something that usually takes players a couple of years in the NBA to develop, but Harper is as mature as they come when it comes to seeing and thinking through the game.
Like Williams, it’s Harper’s willingness to take criticism and to seize chances to improve that impresses me the most. At the NBA draft combine, Harper had the third highest body fat percentage and has largely been critiqued for not being “athletic” enough, in part because of what many considered to be his lack of conditioning.
Well, cut to Thursday when he was at Zions Bank Basketball Campus working out with the Jazz and he was noticeably leaner.
“A big emphasis for me was getting my body in the best shape it has ever been,” he said. “Since the pre-draft workouts started I’m down like 20 pounds, down to like 8% body fat. I want to keep going, I want to lose by like 10 more (pounds) and keep dropping my body fat percentage, but I feel like as my weight’s going down I just feel myself get quicker, feeling more athletic, vertically and laterally.”
Working with trainers and a dietician team, Harper has flipped the script on what people thought he was capable of and what his flaws were. That’s the kind of work ethic and dedication that teams love to have from players and often you can’t teach it.
On the court, the 6-4 wing is a solid defender, great spot-up shooter, and has a wildly impressive 7-1 wingspan.
If I were trying to put together a Summer League squad, a G League team or even considering prospects for two-way deals, I would have Harper and Williams high on my list.