Derrick Williams: Make or Miss League
Is Derrick Williams a bad player who doesn’t belong on the Timberwolves?
The growing sentiment with an impatient fan base seems to be yes, he is. And that’s what we are right now; it’s an impatient fan base because the biological clock of Kevin Love’s potential early termination option is ticking like a time bomb. There is a presumed small window to get this team into the elite ranks of the Western Conference or we’ll be back at the first step again in a few years. Through impatience comes great desperation and understandably so.
The concept of a draft bust often leaves the player with a stigma, and it’s a concept I’ve struggled with over the last couple of years. Before then, I was right with everybody — making fun of guys like Darko Milicic and Michael Olowokandi and Joe Alexander for not living up to the unmet expectations of justifying a high selection that they have no control over. When a draft pick is screwed up, we tend to get mad at the player. “How dare they let us down!” It’s an easy way to place blame, when in fact they had nothing to do with the process other than play college basketball, declare for the draft, and perform at team workouts for a couple of months.
After that, it was up to the team that drafted him. If Darko was the number 24 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, would anybody care that he didn’t pan out in the NBA? (We certainly know he wouldn’t care… BOOM!)
If the Wolves nabbed Derrick Williams with the 11th pick instead of the second pick in 2011, would we have had such high expectations for him? Some would have but I’d imagine the promise we made to ourselves about him would have been different. But finding the proper place for blame on a draft pick that isn’t even a calendar year into his playing career seems stupid to me.
Instead we should find out if Derrick is a bad player. And if he is a bad player, has he or will he improve?
Let’s look at whether or not Derrick is a bad player. Here are his numbers from his first 74 games in the NBA.
These are not great numbers; there’s no denying that. He’s an incredibly inefficient player, hasn’t been able to increase his shooting or scoring much even though he has a higher usage rate this year, and he simply can’t make shots. Does this make him a bad player? No. Does it mean he’s playing bad basketball? Sort of.
Looking at Derrick’s shooting percentages, he’s making just 32.4% of his shots and 33.3% of his 3-pointers so far this season. Think about that. Derrick Williams is shooting better from 3-point range this season than he is from 2-point range. That’s pretty astounding and makes you wonder what is going on with his shot right now. Is it broken or is it just misfiring? Also, what types of shots is he taking?
“I’m not worried about misses and makes like that,” Williams said after the Wolves’ loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. “I think if you play your game going off of misses and makes then it can be a long season.”
There is some definite logic to that type of reasoning. If he’s worried about whether or not he’s going to make a shot, he’s probably going to be too far in his own head to come out of a shooting slump. Williams shouldn’t be thinking when he shoots; it should just be a reaction to the situation ahead of him. And while there is so much red on those two charts that it looks like they have a rash, I think the area he’s taking his shots from year one to year two is what we need to look at.
Last season, Williams floated like that plastic bag in the creepy kid’s video in American Beauty. Everything was perimeter oriented for him. It seemed like Adelman and the fans were begging him to attack the basket because a guy with his athleticism and strength can be a wrecking ball inside. He took 3.0 shots per game at the rim last season and 3.8 shots per game in the restricted area during his rookie season. It was frustrating watching him settle for the jumper.
This year, his shot selection has improved quite a bit already. He’s taking 4.1 attempts at the rim and 5.2 attempts in the restricted area each game. It’s not a gigantic improvement but it shows progress. The weird thing is he’s just not finishing these extra attempts. He’s made just 44.8% of his shots at the rim and that number drops to 35.7% in the restricted area. These are remarkably low percentages for any NBA player, especially when you look at his size. Only four players last season had a worse percentage than the 44.8% he’s had at the rim. Those four players are Chauncey Billups, Derek Fisher during his Lakers’ stint, Jason Kidd, and Ben Uzoh.
You could look at his struggles at the rim as “ZOMG HE IZ THE SUCKZ” or you could look at it as a weird first eight games for him. And what he’s doing wrong right now is completely fixable.
“I think it’s just a little bit of concentration, maybe throw a little bit of pump fakes, a little bit of everything,” said Derrick Williams. “I think they’re timing my shot on the first go, so maybe just come to a jump-stop and finish.”
If he’s rushing his attempts, it’s easy to get him to slow down. Rick Adelman suggested he needs to throw his shoulder into defenders a bit more and finish through contact. Being more physical at the rim, hanging in the air because of his leaping ability, and finishing the play is a very real likelihood for Williams the rest of this season. And when guys are able to get more baskets at the rim, it typically opens up their jumper and puts them in a better rhythm.
He’s showing the improvement from last year to this year in his process and decision-making. He’s just not executing. If you’re asking me whether I think he’s more likely to figure it out with his new decision process or regress to his ways of last season, I’m going to put my money on him finishing the plays he’s trying to make this year.
“I’m not too worried about it because I know eventually I’ll start making them,” Williams confessed. “I just have to keep going, keep going to the basket and be aggressive. They’ll fall.”
As for the defensive side of the ball and his rebounding, this is where you see the greatest improvements. He’s improved his rebounding rate by 2% from 12.2% in his rookie year to 14.2% so far this season. He’s attacking the boards a lot more aggressively than we saw last season and he’s upped his per-36 average to 8.9 per game.
Defensively, he’s been spectacular. It’s an extremely small sample size but mySynergy Sports has Williams as the fourth best defensive player in the NBA so far this season. He’s had 49 defensive possessions in which the man he’s guarding has attempted a shot, attempted a free throw because of a foul, or turned the ball over. In those possessions, Williams is giving up just 0.53 points per possession and allowing 26.1% shooting. His opponents are actually shooting lower than he has!
“I think I’m doing a good job on defense. That was my focus this whole summer was be able to stop power forwards or whoever I have to guard — just trying to lock them down.”
And you can’t really say he’s had an easy go of it defensively either. He’s had games against David West, Andrea Bargnani, and Carlos Boozer. Regardless of how you feel about those players, they’re very good offensive guys. In eight games, Williams has already earned 0.3 of a defensive win share. That’s 1/4 of what he had in 66 games last season. Some people will retort with a question of why Dante Cunningham is finishing games in Kevin Love’s absence.
Dante Cunningham is a better defender and rebounder. And he’s making shots. It doesn’t mean Derrick isn’t defending and rebounding.
Overall, I think the problem is people see Kyrie Irving setting the league on fire in losses and wonder why Derrick can’t do the same thing. Other than the obvious points that the league is set up for point guards to put up numbers and Kyrie was the number one pick for a reason, I’m not sure what the rationale is in comparing the two. Wolves never had a chance at Irving, anyway.
People look at the number two pick and wonder why he isn’t awesome. Sometimes guys need time to build up their place in the league. It’s not always an automatic jump to stardom. Number two pick has expectations from fans; it doesn’t mean the team expects him to be great right away. The Wolves desperately need him to be a star to survive injuries right now. But other than that, he doesn’t have a set place on this team when everybody is healthy. He has to carve his own niche and before he does that, he has to figure out what his game is in the NBA.
People don’t want to wait on him, and that’s fine. But you can’t talk about how much you think he sucks and then wonder why the Wolves don’t trade him for a good shooting guard. If the guy sucks, how does he have the trade value to bring in what you want?
I’m willing to remain patient with him because it is a make or miss league. For some players it’s a sprint to becoming a contributing member in the NBA. For some guys, it’s more of a marathon. I see improvement in his game that I was hoping for. He’s rebounding, taking better shots, and playing fantastic defense early on. He’s just not making shots.
They will fall eventually. And I think they’ll fall in this uniform.