OKC Thunder rookie Jalen Williams channels Scottie Barnes

OKC Thunder forward Jalen Williams (8) drives to the basket against Miami Heat forward Haywood Highsmith (24): Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder forward Jalen Williams (8) drives to the basket against Miami Heat forward Haywood Highsmith (24): Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

With  OKC Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren out for the season, I’ve been a bit lax in looking at the rookie rankings this season.

However, there have been some great performances by the other Thunder rookies with Jalen Williams in particular creating some excitement from the scribes who cover the rookie crop.

He won’t be in the mix to win rookie of the year, especially with Paolo Banchero and Benn Mathurin getting out to hot starts. But, there is every reason to believe he could perform well enough to make an All-Rookie team.

The main sites offering weekly rookie ladder input are Jasmyn Wimbish of CBS and Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

OKC Thunder rookie Jalen Williams could be the overachiever in a loaded class

Through two months of gameplay, Aschburner has consistently pegged one of Paolo Banchero or Bennedict Mathurin in his top two spots with the former only falling out of the top spot when he missed time due to an ankle sprain.

His top 10 has frequent flyers such as Jaden Ivey, Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Duren, Keegan Murray, Tari Eason, Shaedon Sharpe, Andrew Nembhard, A.J. Griffin, Walker Kessler, and OKC Thunder rook Jalen Williams.

In fact, Williams was making a steady climb up Aschburner’s weekly rookie ladder rankings. He debuted at No. 9 on his list on November 16th and climbed one rung in each of the successive four listings but stalled when he reached the top six on December 7th dropping back to 7th in the most recent week (December 14th).

Williams won the West’s Rookie of the Month for November on a week when the OKC Thunder delivered a 3-0 performance and he shot a robust 67.7 percent!

While head coach Mark Daigneault has offered accolades that focus on Williams’ defensive chops I’m inclined to align with Aschburner’s reference to last season’s Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.

Jalen Williams channels 2022 Scottie Barnes rookie role and production

That might seem like a reach or praise a bit too high (biased?) but watching Williams on the court and all the boxes he checks is reminiscent of Barnes last season.

Williams is averaging 11.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and shooting 53.6 percent from the field on 8.4 field goal attempts.

Like many rookies he’s struggling with the long ball hitting below league average (28.6%) on 2.5 attempts per game — but he’s not shying away from taking them.  He’s equally comfortable coming off the bench or starting and has stepped up to take big shots in big moments.

While Aschburner has yet to raise Williams onto the heralded top five ladder rungs Jasmyn Wimbish of CBS ranked him fourth overall this past week behind only Mathurin, Banchero, and Smith Jr.

"The versatility that Williams possesses as a 6’5 guard continues to shine through for the Thunder. His feel for the game is levels ahead of where most rookies are, and he’s constantly making the right play within the flow of the game. He can create for himself out of the pick-and-roll, he’s got great athleticism which comes through in transition, and his high IQ makes him a dangerous cutter."

Revisiting the Barnes’ comparison, diving into his rookie season statistics offers more insight. The big difference between these players is Barnes’ overall production was higher, particularly on the glass. The fact he started every game and was on a team further along in the process has to be considered when comparing the two players.

In contrast, Williams has split his appearances between starting and coming off the bench and averages almost 10 minutes fewer than Scottie did in his rookie season. Williams also isn’t tasked with as much ball handling as Barnes.

Notably, Jalen is shooting better from the field than Barnes did in his rookie campaign but trails the Raptors’ all-purpose sophomore in his perimeter shooting, steals, and rebounding (particularly offensive boards).

Re-read what Wimbish says about Williams though, and there are intangible likenesses between the 2022 RoY and Williams that should have Thunder Nation grinning.

I mean, I’m looking at the Rookie of the Year 2022 versus a player who Sam Presti grabbed 12th, and several inches shorter but the fact I’m even diving into their similarities speaks volumes about the potential of Williams.

Next. Week 9 Power Rankings: Thunder road woes. dark