How AAU metrics predicted success of Robert Williams

Robert Williams is receiving the kind of attention from scouts that could make him a one-and-done. John Cordes/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

While there are a number of freshman post players who can be identified as intriguing NBA prospects in 2016-17, Texas A&M's Robert Williams -- just the 13th-best frontcourt player in the 2016 class according to ESPN recruiting evaluations -- is one of the most surprising to emerge in that category.

Scouts are intrigued by the 6-9, 237-pound Williams' skill set, and he's attracted attention by laying claim to the seventh-highest box plus/minus in the country among those who have played five games and logged at least 100 minutes. (Box plus/minus uses box scores to estimate how many points per 100 possessions a given player contributes to above an average player.) Looking back at how Williams performed before college, however, provides insight into why we shouldn't be surprised by his hot start.

The pre-collegiate format most conducive to talent evaluation, as well as stat-keeping, is AAU basketball. The shoe-company-promoted circuits have seen their games become more structured, serious and competitive -- and increasingly reliable in terms of forecasting college performance. In the "one-and-done" era, NBA scouts have to consider a player's body of work beyond the five months they spend in college, and AAU is a key part of that for a significant portion of prospects.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at some select advanced metrics to see how well Williams fared compared with his peers at that level. North Carolina's Tony Bradley and Duke's Marques Bolden are two perfect players to compare to Williams because they all competed in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League circuit, play similar roles and are also potential one-and-dones. The first stat we will look at is called true shooting percentage.

True shooting percentage is different from field goal percentage in that it factors in free throws and also differentiates between 2-pointers and 3-pointers. The percentiles give a relevant context for how well they performed within the EYBL. Bradley had the fourth-best true shooting percentage overall, which put him well above his peers. Bradley has kept pace at North Carolina, putting up a 62.7 percent true shooting rate through nine games. Williams' EYBL numbers were comparable to Bradley's, and his true shooting percentage was better than Bolden's.

Williams' collegiate true shooting percentage has continued to climb, reaching 68.1 percent at this early stage of the season.

Next, let's take a look at offensive rebound percentage.

Offensive rebound percentage shows how many available offensive rebounds a player was able to grab, and what we see here is Bradley again at the top of the pack, with Bolden and Williams close behind.

Bradley currently leads the nation in offensive rebound percentage (22.6), with Bolden (13.5) and Williams (10.5) also putting up comparable numbers to what they did in the EYBL. Offensive scheme can play a significant part in this number though. North Carolina is second in the country in offensive rebounds and sends more guys to the glass than Texas A&M.

Now let's look at defensive rebound percentage.

Here we see Williams was just behind Bradley but comfortably ahead of Bolden. In the early stages of the college season, Williams has the edge on Bradley in this metric (17.0 to 15.9), with Bolden posting an 11.4 in limited minutes as he has recovered from injury. Rebounding is one of the most translatable skills when moving up a level, so this bodes well for Williams as well as Bradley.

Next is block percentage, which is a good way of measuring rim protection.

Rim protection is becoming increasingly valuable in the space-and-pace era of the NBA, which is slowly trickling down to college. Williams is the clear-cut leader here and is part of why he's turning heads. His block percentage in college is 13.9 percent, which puts him at ninth in the country according to KenPom.com. Bolden and Williams put up similar defensive rebound percentage numbers in the EYBL, but it should be noted that Bolden's block rate was almost half of Williams'. Lastly, let's look at the most important stat: box plus/minus.

Here we see Williams' impact, which cements his case. After faring well here in the EYBL, Williams has posted the fifth-best BPM among any freshman at 15.9, which also puts him at ninth in the country for all players who have played five games and logged 100 minutes (with three games played, Bolden doesn't qualify yet), according to Basketball-Reference.

So what we see here is that Williams was similar to his more highly touted peers and had a solid case as being the better recruit from a statistical standpoint. Recruiting includes many other dynamics, of course, but on the court it was evident then, as it is now, that Williams belongs in the same class as other potential one-and-dones at his position. This should make it no surprise that on this bigger stage, scouts are paying greater attention.

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