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Derrick Williams will be front and center/forward in NBA draft

Arizona forward is expected to be the first or second pick Thursday.

June 21, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • Arizona's Derrick Williams, the Pac-10 player of the year, made a big name for himself during the NCAA tournament.
Arizona's Derrick Williams, the Pac-10 player of the year, made a… (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters )

Derrick Williams would seem hard to miss.

He's the 6-foot-9, 248-pound, 20-year-old in the gray T-shirt that reads, "I'M THAT DUDE."

On a recent night in a Marina del Rey restaurant he's among patrons half his size, and soon to be a fraction as rich.

Yet the waiters shuffle by — "Excuse me, sir? Excuse me?" he says to no avail — as if he's not there.

But Williams' place in the spotlight will come Thursday when the lightly recruited La Mirada High product turned-Arizona star forward struts on stage in a tailored black suit as the likely first or second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.

His agent, Rob Pelinka, who also represents Kobe Bryant, guaranteed Williams either the first pick to Cleveland or second to Minnesota. Williams worked out only for those teams and says he hopes to go first over Duke guard Kyrie Irving.

"They said he did really well. They said I did really well, too," Williams says of his Cleveland workout.

If he does go to Cleveland, he won't wear the number he did at Arizona: 23. "They probably banned that number anyways," Williams says, a reference to LeBron James.

But despite this draft's dearth of talent, one NBA scout says Williams would be a lottery pick almost any year.

"No question. You can't deny the year he had at Arizona," the scout says, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to publicly discuss college players.

In his sophomore season, Williams averaged 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, shot 59% from the floor, was named the Pacific 10 Conference player of the year, and led Arizona to a 30-8 record and within a two-point loss of a Final Four appearance.

He played in the post for most of his two seasons at Arizona. What position he'll play in the NBA is unclear, although, the scout says, "The majority of the league views him as a power forward."

Williams is a mismatch offensively because he's more athletic than most power forwards and bigger than most small forwards. "He is going to cause havoc on the offensive end," the scout says.

But his defense and rebounding are potential weak spots. On average, Williams grabbed one rebound every 3.6 minutes last season. For his size, he should be closer to grabbing one every three minutes, the scout says.

Williams acknowledges this, but notes that in his freshman season at Arizona he averaged a board every 4.6 minutes, so he did and can improve.

Defensive questions aside, Williams did boost his draft stock in a recent appearance on "Sport Science." The TV show found Williams typically catches and shoots the ball in about 0.79 seconds, on par with Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant, who's among the league's fastest catch-and-shoot players.

Also, the optimal backspin for a ball to hit the rim and fall in is 2.3 revolutions per second, the show stated, and Williams' shots rotate at 2.2 revolutions per second. Which helps explains why he shot 56.8% from three-point range last season.

Of course, above and beyond questions about him are questions about an actual NBA season. A lockout is pending if a new labor deal between the players and owners is not struck by June 30.

If there is a lockout, Williams says, he could always go back to school, start working at basketball camps or play overseas.

Until a new collective bargaining agreement is struck, it's unknown how much he'll make his rookie season. But under the soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreement, the rookie scale for the 2011-12 NBA season would guarantee Williams about $4 million.

"Don't spend your money," Luke Walton, current Laker and former Wildcat, advised Williams via text message recently.

Williams says that's not an issue. His AAU coach Lionel Benjamin calls him "cheap" and Williams agrees.

He might buy his mom, Rhoma Moore, a new car, or fix up her house, but she says she doesn't need anything.

She'll be there with Williams for the draft along with his sister, niece, AAU coach and agent. Arizona Coach Sean Miller will be coming, she says, and so will about 10 friends from home and Arizona.

They won't wait long to hear his name called. Then, the spotlight will be his. At long last.

Last weekend, as Williams exited the restaurant, a woman standing behind him in the valet line asked, "Is that the Arizona guy?

Yes. He's that dude.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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