Mikey Williams is the ultimate 21st century prospect. After rising to stardom in eighth grade, when he shared an AAU squad with LeBron James, Jr. and ended up stealing the spotlight with his bounce in transition and his handle one-on-one, mainstream interest in him continued to pick up.
The 17-year-old currently has over three million followers on Instagram and in July signed with Excel Sports to manage his image rights. The agency delivered his first prominent endorsement deal last week, when it announced Puma as his official sneaker brand, in a deal ESPN’s Nick DePaula described as a first for an American high school athlete.
In the statement confirming the signing, the apparel company describes Williams as not simply a basketball player but also a social media influencer, and that part is relevant to properly understand the level of his superstardom, because as a prospect, Williams is not necessarily as special.
The six-foot-two gunner has had a somewhat eventful high school path up until this point, now up to his third different team in three years, and has not been a part of USA Basketball, missing the opportunity to participate in FIBA events that could offer a better understanding of how he can fit in a structure that features other high-profile prospects.
The San Diego native played his first year for local San Ysidro High School, leading the team to a CIF-SDS Division III championship as a freshman, then transferred to Lake Norman Christian School in North Carolina for his sophomore season.
In his third year he continues to attend Lake Norman but now plays for Vertical Academy, a program based in Charlotte started by his father and not affiliated with any state governing body, opting instead to play a 25-game national schedule, all on the road, that already featured meetings against the California Basketball Club (Sierra Canyon High School), Montverde Academy, and the Overtime Elite last Friday and Saturday.
With perception of his development within the industry not yet necessarily meeting the same level of enthusiasm on social media, ESPN currently has him placed 11th on its 2023 class rankings.
Williams is a small combo guard at this point of his development; one who can generate a lot of exciting sprinting up the court in transition and has developed a natural shooting stroke in the halfcourt but one who can’t finish in a crowd as well as he does in the open floor and is not naturally inclined to create for others against a set defense, necessitating another ballhandler by his side to run point.
On the other end, Williams impresses with his level of commitment competing one-on-one, considering his level of fame. If the stars in the pros check out of the tougher assignments until it’s absolutely necessary, it wouldn’t be a drawback if a high school star did the same, but Williams has picked up Emoni Bates and Dariq Whitehead for entire games. He’s not necessarily an ace defender but his willingness to guard the opposing star, even when that star is more of a prototypical wing, tells us something about his competitiveness.
Williams is at his most effective in transition.
He is an explosive leaper off two feet with space to go up and momentum behind him, able to play above the goal not only as a target for lobs filling the lanes but tattooing the rim rising off the bounce bringing the ball up the length of the court as well.
Williams has also shown to be at his most capable as a passer in transition, flashing the court vision for long outlet bullets and the willingness to hit the open winger when the opponent commits to him.
He was not the primary ballhandler at Lake Norman and is not the primary ballhandler at Vertical Academy but has plenty of opportunities to handle the ball in the halfcourt.
In isolation, Williams is more naturally inclined to look for the pull-up. His footwork is pretty sleek, and he has proven himself capable of creating good separation via side-steps and step-backs. He has deep range but is more of a streaky shooter, testing as more of a volume shot taker than a volume shot maker at this point.
His handle is not all that advanced, but he has a quick first step and can blow by similar-sized defenders in his age group on a straight line.
Vertical coaches its players to stand in all the right places but opponents don’t really respect the threat of the outside shot much, so it can’t offer him many clean paths straight to the goal.
Williams hasn’t yet developed much of an in-between game, in terms of stop-and-pop pull-ups in rhythm or floaters/runners. He is a willing passer off drawing two to the ball but not naturally inclined to create for others off the bounce.
There are flashes of appealing court vision on pre-arranged reads and dexterity developing some of the tougher passes on the move. On Friday against the Overtime Elite, Williams executed a play where he ran a side pick-and-roll with the corner empty and had the freedom of movement needed to deliver a left-handed hook pass to the opposite corner off a live dribble. But these moments of advanced reads are few and far between.
Williams can attack either side of the pick and hit the roll man on a basic soft trap but hasn’t yet developed an ability to play with pace in pick-and-roll, particularly impressive timing tossing up lobs on the move or the court vision to hit weakside shooters on the regular. When kept from the rim, he is usually looking more for the one-dribble three-pointer off the ball-screen or for an elbow pull-up off a side-step.
But generally, Williams is most often seen forcing the issue against the crowd, either weaving his way through traffic with spin and hesitation moves or maintaining his balance and his momentum forward through contact, in order to charge into the chest of rim protectors. Though he seems to get the benefit of the whistle a fair amount, Williams isn’t in much of a winning position when he doesn’t.
More of a two-foot leaper, he can hang in the air and has flashed a few acrobatic finishes here and there but hasn’t yet developed enough strength to finish through contact on the regular, much comfort going to his left-hand mid-air or enough skill for soft-touch finishes maneuvering his way around a defender parked between him and goal.
For now, the most promising aspect of his skillset seems to be shooting off the catch, as he’s shown a smooth approach. Williams has a low release out in front but catches on the hop, goes through compact mechanics, which leads to a quick trigger, and gets tremendous elevation, which leads to getting his shot off cleanly prior to or over most closeouts.
He is more of a spot-up shooter at this point but has shown glimpses of appealing footwork and minimal dip launching three-pointers off dribble-handoffs and off screens on baseline out of bounds sets.
Williams bends his knees to get down in a stance defending on the ball and competes one-on-one.
He is prone to getting beat on the first step by smaller guards who rely on straight speed to get by but puts in the effort to slide side-to-side and stay in front of more average operators, including taller players. Williams has a well-developed 185-pound frame in the context of his height and his age and has shown a knack for being able to hold his ground against skinnier opponents.
In the game against Bates Fundamentals last season, Williams matched up against Bates pretty much the entire game and consistently contained dribble penetration through contact when the notoriously skinny Bates tried to get his body into him. Williams also pushed Bates out to the three-point line on a post-up, though Bates subsequently just ended up hitting a face-up jumper over him.
But in pick-and-roll, his intensity leaves something to be desired. It’s rare to see him fighting to go over ball-screens and hustling in pursuit to try challenging a shot or deflecting a pass from behind.
That’s the case off the ball as well; Williams is usually not in a stance defending the weakside and is not an active participant in help defense. You’d assume that someone with his bounce could be some sort of an asset in rim protection and rebounding but that’s not really true right now.
He is attentive enough not to get burned by his man moving around the floor but doesn’t join scrums to help crowd the area near the basket or make plays on the ball.
His effort in rebounding doesn’t stand out much either, neither in terms of helping boxout whoever is close by nor by levering his bounce to chase the ball off the rim over or quicker than the competition.