We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
There is a very old bit of Greek literature called Agamemnon by Aeschylus. You know the whole spiel about Helen of Troy and how she was “abducted” by Orlando Bloom? Well, Agamemnon was the guy that told the Greek army to get going on the Trojan War. If you don’t feel like reading literature from over 2,500 years ago (and really, who has the time for that?) then you can just watch the movie “Troy” to get the gist of what happened with that whole love story. Brian Cox plays Agamemnon in the movie.
The reason I bring this up is in Agamemnon there is a parable of a lion cub. The baby lion is taken in by a family. They nurture the cub. They feed it, protect it, and treat it as a child of their own. It was too weak to survive on its own, so they went the SPCA route of adopting it and giving it a chance to grow, be cared for and be healthy. However, caring for such a beast isn’t enough to subvert the instincts of the lion cub permanently. At some point, nature takes over within the heart and brain of the lion.
But waxing time and growth betrays
The blood-thirst of the lion-race,
And, for the house’s fostering care,
Unbidden all, it revels there,
And bloody recompense repays-
Rent flesh of kine, its talons tare:
A mighty beast, that slays, and slays,
And mars with blood the household fair,
A God-sent pest invincible,
A minister of fate and hell.
The lion kills the family that made it part of their home. He tears them apart, rips their flesh, and feasts on them, as if they had never met and just happened across each other’s paths in the wild. The parable is meant to be about Helen’s time in the city of Troy. But really, I can’t help but think about the tale of the lion cub and the family whenever I look back on the season Derrick Williams had with the Timberwolves.
Derrick Williams is a player many of us want to see grow with this team. We want Rick Adelman to coach him up, mold him into an All-Star and allow him to unleash the potential that comes with his number two selection in the 2011 NBA Draft. We know he’s a talented player. We’ve seen the talent shine through on occasion. We’ve also been frustrated with a lack of proper decision-making and timing that Williams has had far too often to feel completely comfortable about his future with the team.
That doesn’t mean he’s incapable of 1) becoming a very good player and/or 2) becoming a very good player while being a valuable member of this team. When he was first drafted, there were hopes of Williams becoming an option on the wing. The thoughts of him and Kevin Love manning the two forward positions seemed like a potential dream come true. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be something we can truly project for Williams, based on his two seasons in the NBA. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong on this team right now.
Here’s what he has going for him. He’s athletic as all get out. He seems like a decent pick-and-pop option and a pretty good pick-and-roll player. He was good in transition and did a great job of drawing fouls when he was on the break. His rebounding was fantastic for almost the entire season and he received a lot of valuable time on the court, as the season was lost with Kevin Love’s absence. We saw improvement in his game throughout most of this season, and it wouldn’t shock me if he had a breakout year in year three of his career.
The problem with Williams is his decision-making. It’s not consistently good and it’s often too slow. Nick Young of the Philadelphia 76ers averages 1.0 assist per game for his career. Derrick Williams averages 0.6 assists per game for his career. With Young, he’s a gunner and a seemingly selfish player that is never looking to pass the ball. I wouldn’t describe Williams in that way at all. He seems like a player that doesn’t know when to pass. You can see him processing what the next progression should be in the offense once he receives the ball on the elbow or the wing. You can also see him struggling with this decision, not out of selfishness but out of slow recognition. It’s something that could dissipate over time, as he gets more familiar with everything, but it’s a glaring hole in the offense when he’s on the floor.
Williams also struggled around the rim for most of the year. He made 63.4% of his shots at the rim this season, which is below the league average of 64.7% for all players and 65.7% for power forwards. Early on in the season, he couldn’t do anything right at the rim and it really shaded how fans viewed his game. Whenever he missed another one around the rim, there was this consensus groan from Wolves fans and frustration with his lack of concentration. However, as the season progressed, so did his ability to navigate the areas around the rim while using his athleticism to help figure out how to finish. In February, he made 68.9% of his shots at the rim. In March, he made 65.8% of his shots around the rim. In April, that number rose to 74.4%, the best he’s had in any month in his career.
He learned how to absorb contact and concentrate through the finish. He would occasionally miss a dunk still. He finished tied for fifth in the NBA with Anthony Davis, Nikola Vucevic, and Jason Maxiell with 12 missed dunks, after missing just three attempts in his rookie season. But it’s not the long-term problems I see with him. The long-term problems I see with him are being in love with the 3-point shot and not making quick enough decisions for Rick Adelman’s trust of Derrick Williams to grow.
Despite having only one stretch of great 3-point shooting in college based on 74 attempts, Williams was regarded as a great outside threat coming into the NBA. The lack of a large sample size was something that worried me and since he joined the league, the worry has proven to hold water. He’s not a good 3-point shooter right now, even though his 33.2% from the arc this season was the second best 3-point shooting on the Wolves this season (sorry, not counting Malcolm Lee’s 24 attempts). I think it could be fixed with a slight adjustment of making sure he’s looking at the rim as he goes into his shooting motion, but he has to fix something there.
If he’s not making outside shots and he’s taking too long to move the ball in a free-flowing offense, his defense will have to be stellar to be given minutes by coach Adelman.
And that’s where the parable of the lion comes into play. We’ve screamed for the uncaged lion to show itself. SCREAMED for it! When we see the lion out of his cage, it’s a glorious thing.
That’s some of the fun stuff he did this season, and there’s plenty more where that came from. But it’s just a glimpse into what he can potentially do. The consistency isn’t there yet, and if this team becomes playoff-bound like many of us believe it can next season, his chances to learn on the job will dwindle, if he’s even here. He has a hefty enough price tag and the Wolves are both deep at power forward and in need of wing help enough to warrant shopping Williams around on the ole trading block.
And if the Wolves give up on him and don’t end up getting a player back while Williams thrives elsewhere, could he come back to haunt this organization? That’s always the fear with moving young guys before they’ve had a chance to fully develop their skill set and understanding of the game in front of them. Will they come back and rip this house apart? If Derrick Williams is moved, will he come back and rip our flesh as his basketball instincts catch up to the nature and development of his game?
The parable of the lion cub may as well be the parable of Derrick Williams. I have no idea if he’ll be moved or if he’ll develop or if he’ll just remain what he is. None of us really know. But they will write stories of caution about this time one way or another. Either never trust a big percentage with a small sample and a smile or don’t raise the lion cub only to have it kill you later.