By The Numbers
During his freshman campaign, Da’Monte Williams averaged 3.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game on an average of 16.9 minutes. While he played in 31 games in the 2017-18 season, he only started three of those matchups, which was to be expected for such a young player. Williams was not expected to make a huge impact on the team during his first season, and he largely met expectations as a reliable, yet raw, bench option for Brad Underwood’s squad.
Williams often saw 15-30 minutes of playing time per game from the non-conference portion of the schedule through late January. However, from the victory over Indiana on January 24 through the remainder of the season, Williams rarely saw more than 10 minutes of playing time per game, as his time was ceded to players like Greg Eboigbodin.
The freshman Williams predictably struggled against Big Ten-caliber opposition. He shot only 31 percent on field goals and 20 percent from beyond the arc during conference play. Also, his assist/turnover ratio was just about even at 0.95 in conference games. However, his 77 percent free throw percentage during conference play was the highest among freshmen, and tied with Mark Alstork for fourth on the team.
Impact on the Illini
The best way to examine Williams’ impact on the team requires a look into his advanced statistics. In terms of his conference play Defensive Rating (DRtg), Williams trailed only Kipper Nichols with a DRtg of 110.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. Though the advanced metrics view his defensive prowess favorably, Williams recorded the third lowest conference play Offensive Rating (ORtg) on the team, behind only Mark Smith and Matic Vesel with an estimated 87.8 points scored per 100 possessions.
Williams’ net ORtg and DRtg during conference play comes out to -22.7, which is again third lowest on the team behind Smith and Vesel. Unlike Smith and Vesel, Williams showed a well-developed ability to play effective defense. His offensive game should improve over the course of his career, and his net ORtg and DRtg should then come closer to balancing out.
One of the most significant problems facing the 2017-18 Illini squad was a propensity to give up way too many fouls and consistently put opponents on the charity stripe. Williams appears to have bucked that trend according to the advanced statistics, as he led the team by registering only 4.6 personal fouls per 100 possessions in conference play. Trent Frazier (4.7) and Michael Finke (4.8) trailed him closely in that category.
Clearly, Williams will be key to cutting down on one of the major deficiencies that plagued the Illini last season.
Da’Monte Williams’ Best Game
William’s top performance was undeniably his play against No. 9 Purdue at home on Feb. 22. He was perfect in that game from beyond the arc (3-of-3) and hit another two-point shot post — 11 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field.
Williams also added four rebounds and two assists during the game to round out his performance. Both of Da’Monte’s assists led to fast break points for the Illini against a top-ten opponent.
Williams’ effort and ability to generate turnovers are exactly what Brad Underwood is looking for in his defensive scheme.
The Quick and Dirty
Although his scoring capacity hasn’t fully developed yet, he is still very young and has time to perfect his shot and ability to score points as his career progresses. When I watch Da’Monte play, I see a player who is fundamentally sound and has many of the game’s finer aspects already figured out.
Being able to score at a high level in the Big Ten requires either considerable talent or years of experience. Unfortunately, Williams does not have the overwhelming talent necessary to contribute on offense as a freshman. But, considering how well he has picked up the defensive end of the game, I imagine it is only a matter of time before he begins to consistently score double digit points.
Overall, I’m bullish on Williams’ potential for the Illini in the seasons to come. I think that he will slowly transition from his role as a primarily defensive bench player to a well-rounded starter between his sophomore and junior seasons. Having three more years to develop chemistry with Trent Frazier and Spicy G can also help him find ways to use his unique skill set in manners that complement his classmates’ very different talents.