11-on-11: Comparing Derrick Williams under Adelman and Porter

Steve McPherson —  February 1, 2013 — 7 Comments

Williams

The theories about exactly why Derrick Williams has underperformed in the NBA are legion, encompassing everything from unreasonable expectations for a player who shouldn’t have been picked so high to fundamental concerns about his tweener status to even more fundamental concerns about his work ethic and motor. (If you want a good read about his efforts to get better, check out Jon Krawczynski‘s post on Yahoo! Sports.) One particular thread of this discussion, though, is the idea that coach Rick Adelman simply doesn’t like playing young guys—that Williams is being punished unreasonably by being installed in Adelman’s doghouse and could blossom if simply given some more time on the court.

You can hardly blame Adelman for Williams’ inability to stay in the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. After picking up 5 fouls in just over 12 minutes of action, Adelman had little choice, but given Williams’ history with Adelman, it seems reasonable to wonder if Adelman’s return will not be a positive for him. As it happens, Adelman’s recent absence from the sidelines has given us a perfect opportunity to look at how Williams fared under Terry Porter during the 11 games he coached versus the 11 previous games under Adelman.

According to Porter, Adelman was still setting the lineups and making rotation decisions, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Williams went from averaging 14.5 minutes per game in the 11 games Williams played in (that is, not counting DNPs) prior to Adelman’s leave of absence to 26.7 minutes per game under Porter. Obviously, Kevin Love’s injury plays a part in this as well (he re-injured his right hand on January 3 against the Denver Nuggets), but nevertheless, this stands as a good test of what a player who seemed to be doing well with limited minutes could do with more playing time.

Looking at the stats on NBA.com, the thing that jumps out right away is the difference in offensive and defensive rating (or, basically, points scored and allowed, respectively, per 100 possessions). Between December 14 and January 5, Williams had managed an OffRtg of 97.7 and a DefRtg of 99.0, good for a NetRtg of -1.3. This is not terrible. By comparison, another undersized, athletic power forward who is much more efficient on offense and generally thought to be a plus-defender, Thaddeus Young, has an OffRtg of 102.0 and DefRtg of 101.9, making for a NetRtg of .1 for the year. Neither Young nor Williams are expected to be defensive stoppers, but rather simply to play competent man defense.

But it got much worse under Porter for Williams. His OffRtg dipped to 97.6 while his DefRtg ballooned to 109.7 for a NetRtg of -12.1. That’s a bad rating. Things don’t get better as you look deeper into stats like true shooting percentage that measure not just how well a player is shooting, but that also give you some sense of how smart they are with their shot selection (TS% takes into account the weighted value of 3-point shots). In the 11 games between December 14 and January 5, Williams notched a TS% of 60.8%. In the 11 games following, this number dipped to 47.3%.

Where it gets really troubling, though, is that his usage rate (that is, the number of plays used by a player per 40 pace adjusted minutes) stayed more or less the same: 20.7 in the earlier timeframe and 20.1 under Porter. That means that while he was out on the floor for almost twice the amount of time, he wasn’t being used proportionally more. The plays he was using were just much more inefficient.

The shooting picture gets clearer when you look at where he takes his shots from. Below are charts showing his shot distribution (L) and shot performance in the 11 games prior to Porter’s stint as head coach.

Williams_ShotDistr+Perf_Adelman

Overall, we’re looking at about half as many shots during this stretch of games as during the following 11 (60 shots versus 122), but it’s immediately apparent that he’s getting better looks. Almost half his shots are at the rim, a third are from the arc and the remaining 12 are from midrange. Yes, he’s shooting below the league average at the rim at 50%, but he also shot 50% on above-the-break 3-pointers (although 0-for-4 on corner 3s—more on this shortly) and an impressive 58.3% on the small number of midrange attempts he took.

His shot selection under Porter fell off precipitously. Below are the same charts for those 11 games.

Williams_ShotDistr+Perf_Porter

He’s still taking 50% of his shots around the rim, but less than a quarter of his shots are coming from the arc where before he was taking around a third from there. That wouldn’t be a problem if those extra shots were going into the paint, but instead they’re largely coming from midrange now, where he shot a paltry 34.4%.

For almost any player, but especially a player like Williams, the best shots are at the rim and from 3-point territory. Part of this is basic math: working from Ian Levy’s data over at Hickory High on expected points per shot (XPPS), the most efficient shots in the NBA are in the restricted area (1.183 XPPS), the corner 3 (1.157 XPPS) and the above-the-break 3 (1.048 XPPS).

Of course, this information based on league averages doesn’t mean that every player should prioritize these shots in this order, and Williams is a particularly interesting case. So far this season, he’s taken 80 3-pointers and only 12 of them have been from the corner. Of those 12, he’s only made one. I can’t tell you precisely why he’s taken or made so few, but I can tell you I don’t think he should be taking more of them, whatever the XPPS numbers say.

This is because if Williams’ game is going to be predicated on the push-pull of being a long distance threat and also a finisher at the rim, the bulk of his 3-point attempts need to come from above the break because it’s just much harder for him to penetrate from the corner. If his above-the-break 3-point shot is a threat, it forces defenders to close, which can allow him the space to blow by to the paint. If he can improve his passing (and the Wolves can improve their corner 3-point shooting), it also opens up the possibility of kicking the ball to the corners if the defense collapses. By contrast, if Williams is setting up in the corner, he has to either penetrate going towards the middle of the floor—where the defense is—or along the baseline, where there’s a lot less room for a 6’8” power forward than for a 6’2” guard like Luke Ridnour. It’s also much harder to make passes back out when driving along the baseline. Williams will likely never become a spot-up 3-point threat, but it’s reasonable to expect he could develop into a dual long-range/close-in threat.

The biggest impediment to that development right now, though, doesn’t seem to be only related to giving him more time on the floor. More playing time in the 11 games during Adelman’s absence showed a drop off in his game compared to the 11 that preceded it. Whatever the deeper reasons behind Williams’ struggles, it seems like the blame can’t simply be levelled at Adelman not giving him a chance.

Steve McPherson

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7 responses to 11-on-11: Comparing Derrick Williams under Adelman and Porter

  1. I haven’t had a chance to look at extensive video, but do you feel that Williams is being used properly while he IS on the court? You bring up a lot of good points and the numbers you highlight are quite telling. I’m just curious if Williams is being used in a way that maximizes his skills. He could play as a poor man’s Kevin Love w/o the offensive boards but with more quickness and athleticism. I’m not sure that’s happening though. I’m not holding my breath that the light will go on and the game will just become easy for him. I’m just hoping that our #2 overall pick isn’t a total waste.

  2. I think Williams plays best when he is spoting up for the shot or on ISO. The problem he has with the ISO at this point is that he is not making his decisions fast enough, by the time he makes his decision on what he wants to do, the defense has recovered and is ready for him to drive or stop and drop. I have noticed he is getting better at making quicker decisions and his charging fouls have dropped. I would like just for one game, to have Williams the focal point of the offense and let him go out there and just do his thing. Post him up 15 ft from the rim and clear the lanes. Let him take 25 shots.

  3. I agree. Adelman plays Ricky and Alexey a lot and they’re young, so D-Will’s pt isn’t based on his age. Like you said, the numbers just aren’t there. Adelman plays the best players – players who work and move and D it up. Williams just isn’t doing those things as much as those who are playing.

  4. You surely jest!!!!

  5. Williams is getting better, which is good. He actually isn’t that bad of a defender. He can guard SF and taller SG better than Kirilenko and Ridnour can. What he needs to do on offense is get rid of the ball when he gets doubled on the base line (and not turn it over). When the ball is in the air he needs to move towards and be near the rim like a normal PF would do, and not hang out outside of the 3 point line. Also he can jump very well, so how does he get his shot blocked so often??? He must lead the team in having his own shots blocked. Also, I don’t know if I have watched a player miss dunks with the ball going flying straight up in the air as often as it occurs with Williams, this probably happens at least once a game lately. He was such a good outside shooter at AZ, and has one of the best 3-point% on the Wolves, they need to take advantage of that more. He is one of the most athletic guys on the team, and you can’t teach that, his coaches need to utilize it better. Don’t give up on him, he is 21 and is slowly coming around.

  6. I don’t see a bright future for Williams because he has struggled to establish himself as a role player on a Wolves team decimated by injuries. He too seldom makes any impact on offense and he is too often a non-factor off the ball. I don’t think he is misused, he is just struggling to find his game and is over challenged by playing against stronger and bigger guys.

    They always say he is working on his game and working with the coaches and he has made improvements on defense. For some reason though, he can’t seem to show improvements on the court. My guess is the Wolves will fall out of playoff contention and when they do, he will play 30+ minutes every game. If he can’t improve his game until the end of the season, he will be traded in the offseason because the Wolves really like Budinger and AK. With Love being the starting power forward, Williams would see little to no playing time and his contract his too big to not play him.

  7. I think one of the players Williams needs to emulate on offense is Carmelo. They are similar athletes and williams is a good shooter with potential to become a much better one. Compare Williams’ numbers above to similar charts of Melo’s here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1432894-breaking-down-carmelo-anthonys-favorite-new-sweet-spot
    It could be part of the problem that Williams wants to be a go-to volume shooter like Melo and Adelman hates that, but it seems like an inevitable progression and ceiling for Williams to reach as a player.

    If Dwill can improve his timing on ISO’s like Shawn says above and not be blocked so often like TMon says above (use your body and get fouled Dwill!), then improve his overall hustle, he can find a spot in the lineup as a stretch 3.

    With the flexibility of Love at the 3 point line all the time, Williams should be able to find space as a slasher/cutter and not need to clog the lane next to Pek so we can keep all three and have one big happy with Rubio feeding the whole family. There’s plenty of trade bait on this team, they just need to make moves that benefit the core so they keep some continuity and can develop guys like DWill.

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