The Good, Better and Best-Case Scenarios for Jaylin Williams’ NBA Career

Jaylin Williams OKC Thunder
photo credit: OKC Thunder

Former Arkansas basketball standout Jaylin Williams will begin his professional career on an NBA roster, as he landed his first contract with the OKC Thunder over the weekend.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Fort Smith native has agreed to a four-year deal worth $8.2 million with the team that took him No. 34 overall in last month’s NBA Draft.

The full details of the contract are not yet known, but that works out to an average annual salary of $2.05 million.

This news comes after Williams’ first three appearances in Summer League play, in which he averaged just 14.5 minutes. He struggled offensively, scoring only 2 points on 1 of 12 shooting, but he did rack up 13 rebounds, 7 steals, 2 steals and 1 block. And oh yeah, he drew a charge.

Williams and the OKC Thunder will play their next Summer League game at 8 p.m. CT Monday on ESPN.

Although he’s not getting the kind of money he would have received as a first-round pick, it’s not too far off. The final player taken in the first round, UCLA’s Peyton Watson, will make $2.8 million per year in his rookie contract.

Making seven figures is nothing to scoff at, and should position Williams — who is very smart and has a great support system — well for the future, but as head coach Eric Musselman has said before, where you really make your money in the NBA is with your second, and subsequent, contracts.

The key, of course, is making it to that point.

Second-Round Hit Rate in NBA Draft

According to one analysis of the 11 drafts from 2003-13, teams had the same chance of drafting a player in the second round who stuck in the league for three-plus years as drafting one who never made the league at all — roughly 26%.

For every second-round homerun like Nikola Jokic and Draymond Green, there’s a second-rounder who failed to even make a roster. Luckily for Williams, he has a high chance of avoiding that distinction because, as an early second-round pick, he received an actual four-year deal and not a two-way contract that would have required him to spend much of the season in the G League.

There is still a good chance he ends up getting some time in the G League. Consider Moses Moody who, even as a lottery pick, still played some in the G League as a rookie this past season — but Jaylin Williams should also get an opportunity to play for the OKC Thunder.

What he does with those opportunities will likely dictate if he gets that coveted second contract and how much it might be worth down the road.

Best-Case Scenario for Jaylin Williams

Every second-round pick from now until the end of time will likely point to Jokic as an example to strive for. The two-time MVP is, after all, arguably the greatest second-round pick in the history of the game — or at least well on his way to earning that title.

Pointing to Jokic as an absolute best-case scenario for Williams is even easier after Musselman mentioned early last season that he and his staff were implementing things the Nuggets did with Jokic because of Williams’ elite passing ability. He even drew that connection after a close win over Cincinnati in which Williams had a team-high four assists.

“We talk a lot about his passing like Jokic from Denver because he can see the floor, he can space the floor,” Musselman said. “I think his basketball is still way, way ahead of him. I think he’s going to continue to get better and better. Our players are really, really comfortable with him with the ball in his hands because he’s such a willing passer.”

However, it would not be fair to compare Williams to a future NBA Hall of Famer  and four-time NBA All-Star like Jokic. Not only is he one inch taller, but Jokic is also about 40 pounds bigger, plus it’d be unrealistic to put those kinds of expectations on a second-round pick.

More Reasonable Expectations for Williams’ Next Contract

Because of that, don’t count on Williams getting anything close to the five-year, $264 million supermax contract extension — the richest deal in NBA history — that Jokic recently got from Denver.

That said, he doesn’t need to become an all-time great to make a solid living in the NBA.

Look no further than another in-state standout-turned-Razorback who recently agreed to an eight-figure deal. Like Williams, Daniel Gafford was a second-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, going 38th overall to the Chicago Bulls.

The El Dorado native has since been traded to the Washington Wizards and is currently still on his four-year, minimum-salary rookie deal, but impressed enough to earn a three-year, $40.2 million extension before he even became a regular starter. With that deal in place, Gafford averaged 9.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 20.1 minutes this year, when he started 53 of 72 games played.

Contracts like that aren’t even particularly rare these days, as you don’t need to be an all-star to make $10+ million per year.

Just look at the 2018 draft class, the year before Gafford. That group of players is beyond the four-year range of most rookie contracts and several of the early second-round picks have cashed in with their second deals.

Most notably, Jalen Brunson — the No. 33 overall pick that year — recently signed with the New York Knicks as a free agent and received a four-year, $104 million deal. Taken one pick later, Devonte Graham got a four-year, $47.3 million deal with the Hornets. Then there are the 36th and 37th overall picks — Mitchell Robinson and Gary Trent Jr. — who are set to make $60 million and $51.8 million over the next four and three years, respectively.

Each of those players have evolved into regular starters in the NBA, but none of them are all-stars or remotely close to household names. Obviously, Jaylin Williams has work to do to get to that point, but there’s a clear path to life-changing money — more than he could have dreamed of from NIL deals at Arkansas.

And from barely playing early in his freshman year to becoming an All-SEC selection as a sophomore, no Arkansas basketball player in recent memory has shown a better work ethic when it comes to reaching his potential.


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