Listed at 6-9 in shoes, Williams has average size for an NBA power forward, but makes up for that with his chiseled frame, warriors mentality and extremely long wingspan (rumored to be somewhere around 7-2). He will be able to hold his own in the paint immediately defensively and in terms of rebounding, and will do some damage offensively as well against weaker or softer opponents. He is a solid athlete that runs the floor extremely well and gets off the ground quickly to challenge shots, sky for rebounds and finish emphatically with powerful dunks.
Offensively, his game is based around hard work and brute strength rather than a finesse approach. He has been a center at Duke for all four years, and plays like your traditional back to the basket pivot. He runs the floor extremely hard and finishes well on the break. Williams sets terrific screens and is a solid target on the pick and roll, improving his hand-eye coordination dramatically over the past few years and becoming a very steady presence for passes and easy finishes around the basket. Williams uses his lower body strength to the fullest at the college level to carve out space for himself, bump his man and work his way to the basket for a strong finish. He shows solid footwork, a simple, but effective jump-hook shot, and decent touch around the rim.
Williams gets to the free throw line at a solid rate (6.7 times per game on the season at the time of this report) and has made himself into a very decent free throw shooter at the stripe. Hes gone from shooting 63% as a freshman to 76% as a senior, a testament of his work ethic.
Hes improved substantially as a passer over the past four years, going from being a semi-black hole who is completely unable to pass out of the post when double-teamed to an average passer at the moment.
Being your consummate garbage-man, possibly his best traits as a player revolve around his hustle skills, specifically his defense and rebounding. He has a great knack for being in the right place at the right time, and does not make many mistakes.
Thanks to his strength, length, fundamental technique, tenacity and timing, Williams is an outstanding rebounder at the college level, leaving us very little reason to believe that this skill will not translate to the pros. He will go out and get rebounds out of his area as well, regardless of who or what is in the way. He has a certain knack for anticipating that all great rebounders do.
Defensively he is extremely reliable as well, thanks to his work ethic and fundamentals. His lateral quickness and footwork are terrific, allowing him to stay in front of his man. His length and athleticism come in handy, but he also displays fantastic timing blocking shots, staying out of foul trouble for the most part and routinely being amongst the top 10 shot-blockers in the country despite the level of competition he goes up against compared with his peers in this area. He does not leave his feet prematurely (and therefore does not expose his team for offensive rebounds) and is smart enough to keep many of his blocked shots in-bounds rather than swatting them into the 2nd row. He hedges and recovers extremely well defending the pick and roll, and displays solid understanding of the team defense concept in general. Williams makes his teammates better in this area by giving them the freedom needed to gamble on steals and get up on their man knowing that the Landlord has their back guarding the paint. While his shot-blocking might not translate 100% over to the NBA (a la Emeka Okafor), his terrific all-around defensive ability most certainly will.
Playing for one of the top programs in the country over the past four years, hes been involved in as many big games and pressure filled situations as any player in college basketball, and for the most part performed extremely well. He is a smart player who plays under control and is very team oriented. The experience hes garnered here will be invaluable over his career, as hes the type of guy that should be able to step on to an NBA floor and contribute immediately.
In terms of intangibles, Williams is a coachable player who has shown the work ethic needed to make necessary improvements in all facets of his game over the past 4 years. Hes a reliable player who knows his role and does exactly what the coach asks him to do. His court demeanor is solid and hell likely be a solid citizen off the floor as well.
Measurements will be key for Williams. Anything below the 6-9 he is listed at could drop his stock. Athletically, he is extremely solid but definitely not a freak, especially compared with other NBA players at his position. He is not the quickest player in the world nor the most explosive, not being the type that will soar for attractive put-back dunks or blocks like Marcus Camby or just blow by his man like Amare Stoudemire.
Offensively he is a bit robotic in his movements, not being the most fluid player in the world and often looking a bit mechanical in certain things he does. He often relies too much on his strength to score around the paint, not having too much finesse to his game. Most of his points come off layups, dunks, free throws and short jump-hook shots around the basket. Its unlikely that he will be able to maintain the same scoring production at the NBA level where everyone is bigger, more athletic and often just as strong as he is. The lack of legit size and skill in NCAA is a concern when you try to project him to the NBA, as he is truly a man amongst boys. At times will try to force his way to the hoop using his brute strength, either traveling in the process or being called for an offensive foul.
His face-up game in general is extremely unpolished, being a center in a power forwards body for the most part, maybe even a tweener. He has shown very little ability to shoot the ball outside of 15 feet, although this is just not his role at Duke so its hard to get a very accurate read on this. His ball-skills are just as raw. He dribbles with his head down, looking very stiff. You really dont want him doing much ball-handling outside of 12 feet, but he has never really had to in his career.
Comparing the player Williams was as a junior to the one we see as a senior, there arent really that many noticeable differences. It wouldnt be a stretch to say that he is fairly close to reaching his maximum potential as a player. Playoff teams or teams on the cusp of making the playoffs wont mind that that much, since Williams is a 6-9 warrior that is ready to come in and battle for them immediately, but GMs drafting in the mid-high lottery who are looking to swing for the fences for a homerun pick could decide to shy away in their never-ending search for a player to build a team around. Thats the probably the worst thing you could say about Williams, hes a role player in every sense of the word.
Williams plays in an ACC conference that has been at, or near the top of the college basketball world in terms of the level of competition hes gone up against throughout his NCAA career. His team goes deep into the tournament every single year and is an odds-on favorite to make the final four this season.
This season Williams has had mixed results going up against the top big men on his teams schedule. In a road win at Indiana early in the season he was manhandled by the smaller Marco Killingsworth on his way to a career high 34 points on 15-20 shooting, fouling Williams out on the way. Against fellow ACC big man Eric Williams of Wake Forest, Shelden was limited by foul trouble, only playing 17 minutes and seeing the other Williams score 17 points on 6-9 shooting. Duke won that game handily on the road. In an earlier matchup with potential top-5 pick LaMarcus Aldridge (see links section for an article describing this game in depth), Williams was the clearcut winner and not by a small margin, scoring 23 points with 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocks. Aldridge got his points, but it was mostly in garbage-time when the result was never in doubt. A rare triple-double (the first in his career) in a 24 point shellacking of arch-rivals Maryland might be the most impressive stat-line hes put up in his college career, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks and 3 assists.
Easily being the most polished and accomplished big man in this draft, Williams is virtually a lock to be drafted in the 1st round barring a disaster. A team in dire need of inside help and especially his rebounding and defensive skills such as Chicago or Atlanta could decide to take a look at him in the mid-lottery should their picks remain in that area. He could just as well be drafted in the late lottery or at worst the late teens as things look right now early on in the season.
In all liklihood will finish his career as the all-time leading shotblocker at Duke, ahead of Mike Gminski. Has a chance to finish as Duke's all-time leading rebounder depending on how far they go in the tournament and how well he finishes off the season.