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Duke men's basketball 2020-21 player review: Mark Williams

Williams was the leading scorer in three of Duke's final four games.
Williams was the leading scorer in three of Duke's final four games.

As Duke men's basketball wraps up its season, the Blue Zone gives individual breakdowns of each player's season with comparisons to their preseason projections. Read the previous player breakdowns here: Mike Buckmire, Patrick Tapé, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman III, Joey Baker, Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore Jr., Jordan Goldwire and DJ Steward.

Mark Williams

Season breakdown: Williams saw the floor sparingly over the first half of the season, logging over 10 minutes just once until well into the ACC schedule. In his first career start against Bellarmine in December, he gathered seven rebounds and scored five points to go along with four blocks. Despite his almost immediate success as a key role player when given the opportunity, Williams initially only played a few minutes, even when he took games’ opening tips. In a five-game stretch in February, Williams was not a large factor offensively, but he recorded multiple blocks and feasted on the glass in each outing. Almost concurrently with fellow freshman-forward Jalen Johnson’s decreasing playing time came Williams’ rise to prominence. Despite playing single-digit minutes in the signature win against Virginia, the IMG Academy product proved to be one of Duke’s best players from that point on. 

In likely the biggest surprise of the year, Williams averaged 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds for the remainder of the season, shooting an efficient 74.6% from the field. His minutes had skyrocketed from 10.7 per game to 28.0 over the season’s final weeks, and he recorded his first career double-double in February’s crushing win against Syracuse. Ultimately, in three of Duke’s final four games, Williams was the team’s highest scorer. If his increased contributions were not enough to prove he could be the face of Duke’s future, the Virginia Beach native dropped a career-high 23 points and a freshman-ACC-tournament-record 19 rebounds against Louisville in Duke’s final game. His Marvin Bagley-esque stat line, along with an enormous frame and evidently top-notch athleticism, should have Duke’s opponents zeroing in on how to stop the Blue Devil big man.

Results relative to expectations: While his season started slow, Williams came close to the Blue Zone’s projected points and blocks numbers. However, he fell short of the expectation that he’d be the team’s primary glass cleaner. Drowned out by his shortest and least productive outings, his rebounding contribution still looms larger than his 4.5 boards-per-game mark would suggest. 

With his high usage and high production at the end of the year, many wondered why he was not getting starter minutes from the onset. Additionally, some may wonder where Duke’s otherwise unsatisfying campaign could have gone had he been on the floor at full strength to contain the likes of Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, slashing guards or the ACC’s toughest bigs. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, “Big Mark” displayed persistent durability and toughness throughout the year, something Duke can use as it resets in preparation for Williams’ breakout season.

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