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Duke men's basketball 2021-22 player preview: Mark Williams

<p>Williams showcased his full skill set in the ACC tournament March 10 against Louisville. He enters this season as the projected starting center.</p>

Williams showcased his full skill set in the ACC tournament March 10 against Louisville. He enters this season as the projected starting center.

As November nears, it is becoming apparent that basketball season is on the horizon. That means that it is time for our player previews of every member of Duke men's basketball. Next up is sophomore big man, Mark Williams. Read the previous previews here: Stanley Borden, Spencer Hubbard, Keenan Worthington, Michael Savarino, Bates Jones, Jaylen Blakes, Theo John, AJ Griffin, Joey Baker, Trevor Keels, Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore.

Mark Williams

Year: Sophomore

Height: 7-foot

Position: Center 

Last year’s statline: 7.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 15.2 MPG

Game breakdown: Williams had a slow start to his Duke career, making his first start in early December. He only managed to play more than eight minutes in a game prior to January. However, his stellar ACC tournament made up for this sluggish start and overshadowed it. So, I guess it is reasonable that the Cameron Crazies can blow their trumpets about their four-star center. After all, it is all about how the story ended and not how it started, isn’t it?

Williams picked up his game on both ends of the floor as the season progressed. The biggest aspect of his game that improved the most was his defense. While Williams was a huge paint threat because of his size, the stats that stood out the most were his blocks per game and his field goal percentage. His best performance in Duke's final game against Louisville, where he scored 23 points with 19 rebounds, showed us the kind of player Williams can develop into: a dominant interior force.

The Virginia Beach, Va., native's inability to defend ball screens will be a huge question for the Blue Devils this season. He is great at turning shots away but often falls out of position and lost during the pick and roll screens. He would need to learn how to sort his feet during these situations or this might prove to be one of the weak links for the Blue Devils.

Role on the team: Williams will definitely get the nudge at the center position this season. After being in the shadow of Jalen Johnson much of last season, his job will be to protect the rim and clean up missed shots. For the first time in multiple seasons, Duke has a good rotation at the center position. The team has two back-to-the-basket centers who can dominate the boards. With the graduate transfer Theo John as his backup, both Williams and John will be capable of playing strong minutes. Williams’ 7-foot-7 wingspan would also be essential to put defensive pressure on opponents. 

Williams' offensive role will increase as well this season. While he won’t be the star on this end he will be able to feed off of Duke’s talented freshman class. With players such as Keels and Banchero gleaning a plethora of attention from the opposing team’s defense, Williams will be open for lobs or short-to-medium range jumpers throughout the game. The seven-footer's role on the team will take a big leap from last season to the upcoming one. He will also finally be able to play regularly in front of the Cameron Crazies for the first time as well. It would be neat to see Williams occasionally shooting from range as he did once during Countdown to Craziness.

NBA comparison: At 7-foot-1 and 245 pounds, it is no surprise that Rudy Gobert is a likely comparison. Gobert is another big man who has consistently been able to protect the rim for years meriting the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award three times. His shot-blocking ability and rebounding are his biggest attributes, as he often leads the league in those categories. On the offensive end, the Frenchman is also a target for lobs and his reliable put-backs are crucial contributions to the Utah Jazz. And like Williams, Gobert has also been highlighted for struggling with perimeter defense. Addressing this issue and an improvement from his freshman season will likely put Williams in contention for the conference's top defensive honors.

Projected stats: 9.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 21 MPG

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