Timberwolves Player Profiles: C.J. Williams

Dec 3, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard C.J. Williams (9) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Johnson (@CjohnsNBA) contributed to this story.

The Minnesota Timberwolves preseason is here. Additional player profiles below. 

C.J. Williams played four years of college ball at North Carolina State from 2008-12. Coincidentally, he’s the same age as James Nunnally, a Timberwolves newcomer who has followed a similar path to find an NBA opportunity.

Following his collegiate career, Williams played a year of professional basketball in Cyprus. After that, a couple of seasons in the G League. Then, to Italy and France before two more G League campaigns. In 2016-17, he was finally signed to a training camp contract with the Dallas Mavericks, which allowed him to appear in his first five preseason games.

But it wasn’t for another year until he signed a two-way deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Williams’ first appearance in a regular season NBA game was at age 27; he is an admirable journeyman.

On the last day of July, the Timberwolves signed Williams to a two-way contract. Let’s dive into his player profile.

Statistical Profile

  • Williams’ shot chart demonstrates a willingness to shoot from just about anywhere.
  • Though he connected on just 28.2 percent of his 3-point shots last season, he attempted a greater portion of his field goals from deep than any member of the Timberwolves outside of Anthony Tolliver and Tyus Jones.
  • Williams wound up appearing in 38 games for the Clippers; he started in 17 of those contests.

Role on the Wolves

Before the 2017-18 season, the NBA implemented a new avenue for teams that are rounding out their roster: two, two-way contracts. Each organization is now allowed to identify and sign two players that are permitted to split time between the NBA and the G League.

The two-way deal that Williams signed, by rule, will afford him 45 days on the Timberwolves’ roster — the remainder will be spent with their G League affiliate in Iowa. Last year, those 45 days, spread across the season, allowed Williams to play 38 games with the Clippers.

As it relates to his role on the Wolves, Williams’ 2018-19 season will largely depend on when, how and if Thibodeau chooses to cash in on his limited availability.

But there are a number of interesting loopholes that can also be exploited within these deals. According to the CBA, if a player provides one or more days of service with their NBA team prior to the first day of G League training camp — or after the last day or their G League team’s season — that time will not be counted toward their 45-day minimum.

This upcoming year, the Timberwolves will open their regular season schedule in San Antonio on Oct. 17. Seven days later, on Oct. 23, G League training camp begins. Then, the Iowa Wolves will play their final regular season game on March 22. The Timberwolves, conversely, won’t wrap up their schedule until April 10.

Based on the way these dates align and the Timberwolves’ open 15th roster spot, it’s possible that Williams will be in the lineup to begin the year. And even if he has exhausted his 45 days when spring rolls around, he’ll be able to rejoin the Timberwolves if they have roster space to absorb him. Though it’s worth noting, two-way players are not allowed to compete in postseason games.

If he is with the Timberwolves to start the season, it doesn’t mean he’s certain to play.

After all, he’ll be competing with Josh Okogie, Luol Deng, Nunnally and Keita Bates-Diop for a sprinkling of backup minutes on the wing.

The Timberwolves could also use Williams — a player who has very recently proven his NBA worth — as a sort of roster insurance policy. If injuries turn dire, Okogie or Bates-Diop struggles at the NBA level, Deng proves he’s played his last meaningful minutes or Nunnally struggles to win Thibodeau’s favor, Williams could be called on to play in a pinch.

Still, while Williams’ age and experience make him a unique case, Thibodeau was reluctant to utilize his two-way players last season. In the end, an opportunity to crack the Timberwolves rotation is likely to rely on unpredictable variables.

Film Clipboard

If a situation does present itself for Williams to crack the rotation, the Wolves can count on a player who is confident in his game.

“I was thinking nonstop about scoring my first NBA basket,” Williams told Sports Illustrated about finally receiving the opportunity to play his first-ever NBA game in his hometown of Charlotte no less. “I honestly thought I was going to break down and cry. But when it happened, I felt nothing. At first, I thought: ‘Why doesn’t this feel good?’ Then I realized it was because I always felt like I belonged in the NBA. This is what I was supposed to be doing.”

Here is that Williams bucket:

This is a very fitting first bucket because it is quintessentially Williams. He is lined up on the opposite side of the floor — a tertiary option in the offense — waiting for a spot-up opportunity if the ball is skipped. When Williams recognizes his defender (Jeremy Lamb) has turned his head towards the ball, decisively, he cuts to the basket.

The shot itself is also quintessentially Williams: a reverse lay-up that protects his mediocre athleticism from a block. It is easy to imagine Williams running this action countless times in empty gyms, practicing the type of play he would someday execute if he were ever given a shot in the NBA.

On the contrary, the offensive concern with Williams is that he is at times a bit too deliberate. He’s a guy who will keep firing 3s if he’s cold and often bites off more than he can chew in creation situations. I would guess this is, in part, a bit of classical conditioning from the playstyle he developed overseas that often asked him to do more than he needs to do in the NBA.

The best example of this on the film is probably Williams’ propensity to take long and at time awkward floaters on drives.

While this floater comes late in the shot clock — and thus should be somewhat forgiven — it is not the optimal look. Either pull the deep 3 there or get a step or two closer to the bucket. A floater is an admittance that you are not physically capable of competing deeper into the lane. This is why we often point guards often reliant on this type of move.

Here is another example of not having the physicality to enter the restricted area and relying on the floater.

This what you get from an undersized wing who is a fringe NBA talent.

Expecting anything near perfection would, of course, be unreasonable; so this OK. Dealing with a couple bad looks here and there is fine provided the decisiveness he plays with reaps benefits elsewhere. This is most likely to show up on the defensive end through being a deliberate defender, and could earn major points with Thibodeau. The Wolves need a wing defender far more than a wing creator. They have plenty of guys who can do that at a higher level.

What the Wolves do not have is a stable of capable off-ball defenders. When Williams is off-of-the-ball on defense, he is always in tune with where the action is. Reminiscent in Taj Gibson-esque ways, Williams is the type of player who consistently gets away with being a step or two further off of his man than the average off-ball defender would. This comes from a recognition of knowing his man is not involved in the play.

Watch here as Williams allows the player he is defending (Taurean Prince) to slither away to the corner. Through knowing that it will be very difficult for Kent Bazemore to deliver a pass to Prince — given the angle of the play — Williams stays in the lane and attacks the roll man (Ersan Ilyasova) as Ilyasova receives the ball.

Having a third defender who can effectively incorporate himself into the defense of a pick-and-roll is something the Wolves missed greatly this season. Through Gibson’s continued brilliance, the addition of Anthony Tolliver and the possibility of using Williams here, the Wolves could make strides in their pick-and-roll defense.

Here is another example — this time not in the pick-and-roll — of Williams’ willingness to leave his man. He commits to taking away the easy drop-off pass in the post and is willing to tip his hat to DeMar DeRozan if he finds Fred Van Vleet (Williams’ man) in the corner.

So much of defense — particularly in the pick-and-roll coverage system Thibodeau uses — is about being deliberate. Williams is certainly that, and his coach last year — who doubles as perhaps Thibodeau’s greatest friend in the NBA — Doc Rivers appreciated how rock solid Williams was in this way. Rivers’ defensive system is also similar to Thibodeau’s, making familiarity another one of Williams’ greatest assets he can add to the Wolves this season.

Don’t be surprised if Thibodeau leans on Williams early in the season if the Wolves defense falters.

To find additional Zone Coverage player profiles follow the below. Links to be updated throughout the preseason.

Become a Zone Coverage Member Today!

How Can DLo Convert His Haters Into Believers?
By Charlie Walton - Jun 26, 2022
Wendell Moore Has the Versatility to Slot Perfectly In the Wolves Rotation
By Jonah Maves - Jun 25, 2022

Walker Kessler Brings More To Minnesota Than Just Blocks

Dec 3, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard C.J. Williams (9) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

After trading back in the draft for picks 22 and 29, fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves seemed pleased with new team President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly […]

Continue Reading