After not getting selected in the 2018 NBA Draft, it has been quite the journey for Johnathan Williams with the Los Angeles Lakers.
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Despite playing well during Summer League and the 2018-19 NBA preseason, Williams was waived. However, after a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in the season opener, the Lakers waived Travis Wear and signed Williams to a two-way contract.
With the Lakers only having three true centers, rebounding and defense are two areas of concern. When JaVale McGee fouled out in overtime against the San Antonio Spurs, Williams received an opportunity and did not disappoint.
He finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 14 minutes off the bench. By doing so, Williams joined Magic Johnson and Andre Ingram as the only Lakers players with at least 8 points and 3 blocks in his debut.
While that was Williams’ first NBA game, he has experience under bright lights. “I played in the Final Four back in college and the national championship game, so I’ve been through the biggest stage,” Williams said.
“But playing in the NBA is pretty incredible, too. I was kind of nervous but once you step on the court and get that first down and back, it kind of goes away.”
From an uncertain future to an impressive debut 10 days later, the 23-year-old revealed how he was able to stay mentally strong. “One thing my parents always said, ‘God has a plan,'” Williams said.
“I just prayed about it and kept moving forward. Talked to my pastor and tried to stay focused. Never get too high, never get too low. Always pushing forward.”
With Ivica Zubac struggling and Moritz Wagner making progress but still recovering from a left knee contusion, Williams may have found minutes as the team’s backup center, which is a position he is comfortable playing despite primarily spending his collegiate career at power forward.
“It’s kind of similar,” Williams said. “I’ve been playing bigger guys my entire life, so it’s not a big deal.”
For Lakers head coach Luke Walton, Williams’ debut validated why he has been so high on him since the start of training camp. “That’s what we’ve seen from him since training camp started,” Walton said.
“It’s what made our staff really start to take a close look at him. Defensively, he’s active and he’s really intelligent. His communication for a guy that’s just trying to make camp, how much he talks during the drills and calling out coverages, has been really impressive.
“Those are the things we saw. And obviously, we believe in our players. He was really, really good down that stretch. He was out there playing basketball, making reads, not afraid of the moment. I was very happy.”