CHICAGO — Thursday afternoon in his native Chicago, Trevion Williams got to play in his first formal game since his Purdue career ended, as his NBA Draft Combine squad played its first of two scrimmages.
Williams’ Team Curry won — comfortably — and the legion of NBA kingmakers looking on saw a lot of what they might not have from Williams during his Purdue career.
The former Boilermaker big man led fast breaks and doled out live-dribble assists. He made a three, and he protected the rim, rejecting long-time Big Ten nemesis Kofi Cockburn at the iron.
It was an outstanding, if not understated, 14-point, 13-rebound, five-assist showing from Williams, who understands that the more different avenues of value he can provide, the better his chances will be to make the NBA, and stick .
“A lot of times in college you don’t get to show certain things because you’re playing a specific role,” Williams said. “It’s not to say I could never do those things. I feel like they were always there, but in order to fit into a system and be successful, you have to play a role and be good in your role. That wasn’t my role at Purdue. Everybody’s journey is different. … The Combine is kind of different, allows you to be more free and show other aspects of your game.”
There’s not a player at the Combine who wouldn’t say they’re in the best shape of their life. That’s kind of the point of the pre-draft process. But it certainly applies to Williams, who came in at 265 pounds, looking lean by his standards, and represented himself well in testing.
Williams says he’s been working out here in Chicago, keeping mostly to himself in order to limit distractions while he’s worked on his conditioning, the sort of approach that could serve him well from here on out.
A trapping player sometimes fall into is the assumption that an NBA career is a reward, when in reality it’s the hard part. Milwaukee Bucks forward Bobby Portis spoke at the Combine on Wednesday to make that point.
“As hard as it is to make it, it’s harder to stay,” Williams said. “Bobby talked about that yesterday, that once you make it, it becomes even harder, with guys coming in and out. You want to earn that (second) contract, earn peoples’ respect to get them to say you belong.
“I definitely understand it’s going to tougher now, so I never want to settle. I am in the best shape of my life, but there’s always work to be done.”
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Williams is guaranteed nothing, generally projected right now in the back half of the second round. A lot can change before the June 23 draft, but Williams is clearly in a position where he has to earn his place, rather than having his place handed to him.
The NBA is a league of stars, and winning generally comes from surrounding stars with complementary pieces who fill needs, seize opportunities and make their centerpiece players better.
For players in Williams’ situations, such things are what it’s all about. Rebounding generally translates, and that’s his strength, but the more he can show he can pass, shoot, handle, make decisions and certainly defend, the better his chances of finding a spot In the league where the likes of Grant Williams and Kevon Looney are playing critical roles for great teams in the playoffs right now.
“It’s all about knowing how to fit in,” Williams said, “and those little things — picking guys up when they fall, being loud on the bench, having energy. Those little things matter.”
Williams has visited the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks thus far for workouts but said he’ll have a number of other such opportunities following the Combine.
He’s one of two Purdue players at the Combine, along with Jaden Ivey, who’s positioned very differently than his former teammate.
Ivey’s generally regarded as a top-five-level pick, and has operated accordingly at the Combine, opting out of the scrimmages and most testing as well as Thursday’s media session, as every other top-five sort of player — Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero, as well as Shaedon Sharpe — did.
Iowa’s Keegan Murray, Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin were the lone top-10-ish prospects to speak with the media on Thursday.