Is Mark Williams the Charlotte Hornets’ long-term answer at center?

Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets, Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets, Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Charlotte Hornets selected Mark Williams with the 15th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the hope for him was that he could at least compete for the team’s starting center position at some point in the coming years. Flash forward to just over four-fifths of the season, and the rook has perhaps already staked his claim as the team’s franchise center.

There was certainly some buzz, to use an operative word, coming out of college around Williams. The former McDonald’s All-American joined Jalen Johnson, DJ Steward, Jeremy Roach, and Jaemyn Brakefield as the Duke Blue Devils recruiting class for the 2020-2021 season, all of whom ranked in the top 32 of ESPN’s top 100 rankings for the class of 2020. Just three short years removed and Williams, who ranked the lowest among his freshman teammates at 32, appears to have the brightest future of them all.

After a freshman season that saw little opportunity, Williams bounced back in a big way during his sophomore campaign. After being selected to the All-ACC third-team and the ACC All-Defensive team, not to mention being named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Duke’s starting big man was primed for solid draft positioning. Now he appears ready to take over the starting job far sooner than expected.

Is Mark Williams the long-term answer for the Hornets?

Averaging 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 63.7% from the field, what Mark Williams has done this season is nothing short of impressive. That’s even more so the case when you factor in that he is doing all of this in just 17.6 minutes of action per night. Before looking too much at the present, however, it’s essential to know how Williams got here.

Despite being selected just outside of the lottery, Williams found himself down on the depth chart early in his Hornets career, but that was always a part of the plan. While talented, the consensus was that Williams would still require time to develop if he were indeed to become the team’s eventual starter at that position. That plan hasn’t exactly panned out, however, as he has been one of the few bright spots for a struggling Hornets organization.

This season’s focus was not one of contention; that much was understood. Despite a 43-win season in 2022, when it became clear that Miles Bridges would not be suiting up for the team this season, the odds of reaching the play-in tournament (much less the playoffs themselves) seemed out of reach. With that being the case, development became the name of the game for the Hornets. The further development of star LaMelo Ball and, in addition, the development of young players Bryce McGowens, James Bouknight, and of course, Mark Williams quickly became the goal.

While that eventually consisted of minutes at the NBA level, Williams first began the season with a taste of the NBA’s G League, 11 games worth, in fact. In that time, he displayed just how overmatched he was for his competition averaging 22.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in just 27.9 minutes of work each night. Williams wound up forcing the Hornets’ hand into calling him up so that he could get some much-needed reps against some more rigorous competition.

As the season labored on for the Hornets, the team reached the trade deadline, which saw them part ways with then-starting center Mason Plumlee. With one former Blue Devil bound for the city of Angels, an opportunity sprung forward for another as Mark Williams would find himself taking over the starting job and taking full advantage of the situation.

In the 10 games since, Williams has proven himself deserving of the starting nod averaging 11.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 26.7 minutes of work a night. With solid performances against Bam Adebayo, Wendell Carter Jr., and most recently, Nic Claxton, Williams has not only proven himself deserving of the starting job this season but moving forward as well.

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The Charlotte Hornets have a bright future ahead of them, and Mark Williams will be anchoring the defense as the team’s starting center for the foreseeable future.