Becoming a media-savvy NBA player generally involves whitewashing one’s own spontaneity, taking care not to offend, not to reveal, not even really to amuse or express much of anything at all beyond rote gestures of confidence and deference. Derrick Williams seems well on his way to mastering this drab, corporate non-speak (a style that is all the more disappointing when one overhears the colorful, often clever and playful, occasionally crass and nasty ways that players interact with each other).
But his principle charm, at the moment, lies in the fact his nervous smile, his wide eyes and mumbled, teenager-y speech belie the canned, practiced phrases. Williams is a late entry in the game of being famous. He still seems less like a professional personality than an actual naive, college aged human person.
For that matter, as he explained earlier today at his introductory press conference, he’s also late to the game of basketball. He didn’t take the game seriously until ninth or tenth grade. He wasn’t a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school. He was barely in the draft discussion entering his sophomore year at Arizona. This is the story; the theory is that this means he still has gallons of rich, untapped potential.
David Kahn and the Wolves really seem to believe in this narrative and one is strongly tempted to join them in their belief; after all, the Clippers own the Wolves’ first-round pick in next year’s seriously loaded draft. The Wolves badly need an offensive star and right now Williams looks like their best shot.
For this to happen, though, the matter of his role in the Wolves’ frontcourt needs to be resolved. Despite the talk that he is undersized for a power forward, Williams is actually bigger than both Kevin Love and Michael Beasley and his great strength and long reach make him seem, on paper at least, like someone who could indeed guard most NBA fours. Add to this the fact that, like Beasley, one of his great advantages as a scorer was his ability to use his quickness and explosiveness to face up against opposing power forwards and it would certainly seem like the four would be Williams’ most natural NBA position.
But because Kevin Love has that spot locked down, the rook will probably have to play a lot of three. And to do this, explained his agent Rob Pelinka, he’ll need to get quicker and leaner. This is a slightly touchy situation. In Beasley, Love and Williams (and even Anthony Randolph), the Wolves now have at least three forwards who don’t seem to have one obvious position. In order for this to work, whoever their coach is will have to craft a way to rotate them through the three forward positions, exploiting favorable matchups on both sides of the ball, putting all three players in positions in which they can succeed while still finding consistent, predictable minutes for everybody.
Do we trust Kurt Rambis to be able to do this without creating an unholy, unproductive mess akin to last year’s swingman debacle? I’ll say ‘maybe’ to that one. How about Bernie Bickerstaff or Lorenzo Romar? Um, I guess ‘trust’ is not the word I would use there. Sam Mitchell or Lawrence Frank? Feeling slightly more comfortable now.
So this whole dark, unruly mess of a coaching situation is a major problem (not to mention a major source of ridicule and ‘what the effs’ from observers around the league). But Kahn and Ronzone did pretty well for themselves on draft night. In taking Williams, they very much improved the team’s offensive talent level. In craftily landing Malcolm Lee with the 43rd pick, they improved their perimeter defense, which they further improved by moving Jonny Flynn. They landed a savvy-passing, good-shooting, well-bearded veteran big man in Brad Miller (whether he’s grist for the trade mill, or simply a future buyout remains to me seen) and they scored some cash to boot.
So the Wolves did a lot of work, but in that they didn’t end up moving the second pick, they are still gravely in need of some veteran leadership. And this, according to Kahn, remains a priority for the rest of the Summer: “I think that it is important that we simply become older,” he said. “We’re too young, and we know that…I don’t expect the roster to be changed fundamentally. I think we need to sprinkle in some vets now.”