If Elliot Williams leaves a legacy after his single season as a Memphis Tiger, it will be one of perfect timing. Williams would be the first to lift an eyebrow at such a suggestion, considering he transferred to Memphis primarily to be near his ailing mother, and the Duke team he left happened to go on to win the national championship. But when he cashes his first NBA paycheck later this year, the season he spent as a Tiger will come to feel well nigh perfect.
The St. George’s grad returned to his hometown program rocked by the departure of coach John Calipari and a lost recruiting class that would have included (at least) Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins. Had Williams not been granted an NCAA waiver that allowed him to play immediately for new Tiger coach Josh Pastner, the U of M win total for 2009-10 could well have been half the 24 they actually achieved. Williams was that integral. The only sophomore in Tiger history to score more points than the 610 Williams racked up was another Elliot (Perry). A durable two-way guard with an ability to score from inside or out, Williams embodied the prescription for what ailed a staggering program in transition from one of the most visible coaches in the country to a rookie not old enough to run for president of the United States.
But Williams’ decision to enter June’s NBA draft is the other side of his perfect timing. Currently projected as a late-first-round pick (draftexpress.com actually has him going 25th to the Grizzlies), Williams stood to lose ground with a return to the U of M program. With the arrival of Joe Jackson, Will Barton, and Jelan Kendrick next season, Williams would return to a complementary role not unlike that he filled as a freshman at Duke. He might be just as valuable in that role — guards who can contribute at both ends don’t fall from trees — but the value would be less pronounced . . . and much less visible to NBA scouts.
What kind of pro will Williams be? Like so many basketball players who turn pro shy of their 22nd birthday, he’ll be doing the bulk of his development in the NBA. Williams is quick and fast, but not extraordinarily quick or fast. He can shoot, but he’s not consistent. He can handle the ball, but not like certain point guards we’ve seen in these parts. As for his size, 6’5” guards are always in danger of falling into that “’tweener” category that can be deadly to career growth in the NBA.
The most valuable asset William's will take with him is between his ears. He’s a sharp young man, one who steered clear of clichés and errant wit in postgame interviews, one who will be more than capable of learning some of the details that your average NBA rookie might gloss over.
By the most strict definition, Elliot Williams was a “one-and-done” player for the Memphis Tigers. Something tells me, though, as the years pass along, he’ll be missed for his single season of contribution in ways his more famous predecessors will not.