Believe it or not, we’re a week away from basketball season, with both men’s and women’s basketball right around the corner. To kick off our coverage of the 2021-22 coverage of the men’s team, we will preview each player on Northwestern’s roster. We continue with Elyjah Williams, a grad transfer from Farleigh Dickinson University.
Who he is
Senior; 6-foot-7, 220 pounds; Evanston, Ill.; played at Evanston Township High School; graduate transfer from Farleigh Dickinson
33.2 minutes per game, 13.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, 3.1 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game, 1.5 blocks per game, .556 FG%, .635 FT%, .420 3P%
In his 2020-2021 season, Williams put forth the best statistical output of his collegiate career. He increased his scoring output by over two points per game and experienced steady improvements in almost every other statistical category outside of fouls per game.
Williams started in all 21 games that he appeared in for the Knights last season and earned the NEC Co-Player of the Week honors on 12/14.
One area where Williams improved most was his three-point shooting. After shooting 27.3% his junior season from three, Williams improved to 42.0% from deep last season. However, as you will read below, there is a caveat to that improvement. Overall, Williams has developed on an upward trajectory every single season in collegiate basketball. Whether or not that translates to the Big Ten is what remains to be seen.
Williams adds a facet of grit and toughness that this Northwestern program has not seen since Sanjay Lumpkin played at NU. His former head coach at Farleigh Dickinson, Greg Herenda, compared Williams to “a bruising running back barrel(ing) his way toward the goal line.” What differentiates Williams from Lumpkin, however, is that Williams can finish in the post. As Inside NU co-editor in chief Dan Olinger wrote about in May, according to BartTorvik statistical database, “Williams was only one of 96 players in college basketball who attempted over 120 shots at the rim while standing 6-foot-8 and under, and of those 96, Williams finished 27th in at-rim FG%.”
While Dan is skeptical regarding Williams’ true development as a three-point shooter due to a small sample size, he did finish 21-for-50 from three in his senior season. If Northwestern is able to spread the floor with two physical bigs in Pete Nance and Williams that are capable of hitting three-point shots, opposing teams will have difficulties guarding them. Additionally, Williams does a solid job creating for his teammates as a power forward, evidenced by him averaging just about three assists per game last season.
Williams’ free throw shooting is definitely an area for improvement. He is a career 60% free throw shooter, and if opponents foul him in the post and bank on him missing one free throw, it would be less than ideal. Northwestern finished the 2020 season seventh in free throw percentage at 71.8%, so it is important that Williams does not sink NU from the stripe.
Beyond free throw shooting, Williams struggles a surprising amount on the defensive end. Williams will not not quite quick enough to guard faster opponents along the perimeter, and given his lack of size when guarding Big Ten bigs, he could face foul trouble often. It will be intriguing to see how Collins and Co. utilize Williams on the defensive end.
Like it or not, it’s very much a possibility that Williams begins this season with a spot in Northwestern’s starting five. While that’s not a guarantee, it would likely push Robbie Beran into a key rotational spot. It’s not clear just how productive we can anticipate Williams being as a transfer from Farleigh Dickinson, but it is true that at the minimum his toughness adds a much-needed layer to this Northwestern team. Any ability that he exhibits scoring in the paint and/or from three would be gravy and make him a solid starter in the Big Ten.