Syracuse basketball’s highest rated recruit since Tyus Battle, Benny Williams has yet to truly showcase his immense potential. Scouting services had him as a consensus top 50 recruit. 247 Sports compared him to Ziaire Williams, who spent one year at Stanford before being drafted 10th overall 2021 NBA Draft.
Ziaire is now getting regular minutes for the Memphis Grizzlies. If that was the bar we were going to hold Benny Williams to, then he has been wildly disappointing.
That seems like an unfair comparison point though. While Ziaire has a similar size profile and offensive skill set as Benny Williams, Ziaire was the sixth-ranked prospect nationally according to 247 Sports, while Benny was 32nd.
Ziaire had some clear shortcomings in his game. He shot under 40 percent from the field, under 30 percent from 3 at Stanford and averaged almost three turnovers per game. What made him a top-10 draft pick was his upside and athleticism.
All of this is to say, don’t panic that Benny Williams is struggling out of the gate. Freshmen never seem to do too well at Syracuse. It has been a long time since SU had a player go one-and-done to the NBA. Malachi Richardson was the last player to do so back in 2016. That was on the back of a stellar tournament run after a solid, but unspectacular regular season.
There have been a few freshmen to arrive in Central New York and make an immediate impact. Joe Girard was certainly a big fixture during his first season, but he struggled with his shot, shooting just 34.8 percent from the field. Tyus Battle was a bit more consistent, but didn’t take over as Syracuse’s top option until his second year. Quincy Guerrier was an important role player in his first season, but like Battle, needed a full season before he emerged as a top option.
We’ve seen several instances where highly touted freshmen take some time to get going under Jim Boeheim. Rakeem Christmas, a McDonald’s All American, took three years to realize his full potential as a post-dominant big man. Tyler Roberson was a four-star recruit who did not reach his peak until his junior season. (Granted, he clashed with Boeheim quite a bit and came off the bench much of his senior season.)
There is certainly cause for concern when it comes to Benny Williams. He has not made a shot from the field since Jan. 8 against Wake Forest. That was also the last time we saw him play more than 13 minutes in a game. He is struggling for court time and any sort of rhythm offensively.
Throw on his mixtape and you will see a high-flying slasher with good touch on his jumper and the ability to run the floor on the break. We saw some of that explosiveness early this season, but that raw athletic ability simply has not translated to production quite yet.
Much of that is because Williams does not fit what Syracuse likes to do offensively this season. He is not a strong enough spot up shooter from behind the arc or strong enough in the paint to factor in this pick-and-roll heavy scheme. It is also a bit hard to advocate him getting a ton of isolation looks when Girard, Buddy and Jimmy Boeheim and Cole Swider are on the floor.
Unsurprisingly, Williams looks a little lost on many offensive possessions. He is not getting many touches. Some of that is be on Boeheim for simply not finding a way to integrate him into the game plan. Sometimes, getting a player more involved, even if just on dribble hand offs or rim runs, can change their feel for the game offensively.
While it has not be the freshman season fans or Williams expected, he will still be a big part of Syracuse’s future. He has already said he plans to stay for his sophomore year after rumblings that he could consider transferring. This will be a critical offseason for him to add muscle to his wiry frame and work on finding his role in the offense.
Barring an NCAA ruling, Jimmy Boeheim will have exhausted his eligibility, and Cole Swider is an academic senior. Both are likely not coming back to SU after this season. That is going to be a lot of touches and production to replace.
With Syracuse’s postseason hopes slowly fading, especially following Jesse Edwards’ season-ending injury, I hope we start to see Williams featured a bit more. Creating some positive momentum heading into the summer would do him well, as would getting meaningful reps against ACC competition. Even if it is a down year for the league, it is still a good challenge for a young player in need of significant development.
I think we are going to see significant improvement from Williams next year. The transition to the college level is hard. He has the physical tools and shooting ability to become a great player at SU. Right now, patience is required for him to take the next step in his development.