UNC Basketball: Is Roy Williams to Blame for Tar Heels' Struggles in the NBA?
It's tough to argue with Roy Williams' track record as head coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Since 2003, he has helped bring UNC two NCAA titles, along with five Elite Eight appearances, three Final Fours and a winning percentage near 80 percent.
But that isn't enough, is it?
Not only do we expect Roy Williams to produce title after title, we also expect every “star” player that steps foot onto the Chapel Hill campus to become an NBA great. Otherwise ol' Roy just isn't cutting it.
That is ridiculously unfair.
Sure, there are some coaches out there you can probably blame for the lack of their players' development. No names come to the top of my head, but I'm sure they are out there. Why is Roy Williams getting such a bad rap?
Honestly, I couldn't tell you.
As Tar Heels fans, I think I can safely say that we all love Dean Smith. If you don't, you're either too young or you shouldn't be commenting on the game of basketball—seriously. Smith produced 71 NBA players over the course of 36 years—the most of any college coach in history.
That is an incredible number, but how many of those players ended up as all-time greats? That is a matter of opinion, so I can't answer that myself. Make yourself a list and divide that number by 71.
That's a pretty small percentage, isn't it?
Would we ever even consider blaming Coach Smith for the failure of many of his star players at the next level? I'm pretty sure that thought never crossed anyone's mind.
Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace were the last players Dean Smith put out that had a big impact on the NBA—at least they did for a while. Well, there is also Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison. But they only had Smith for one year and Bill Guthridge for two.
Who gets the credit for those guys?
Still, they were not Michael Jordan or James Worthy, the two Smith-coached players on the NBA's list of 50 greatest players in NBA history.
Another knock I have heard on Roy Williams of late is that he doesn't produce NBA wings. There is merit to that, as not one North Carolina wing player has been successful thus far. I've heard Paul Pierce, whom he coached at Kansas, is pretty good though.
Dean Smith didn't produce NBA point guards either. That was always a knock on North Carolina, but I don't remember it ever being directed at Smith's coaching ability—as it shouldn't be.
Why should it be any different for Roy Williams?
The only answer I can come up with is that he hasn't produced a Michael Jordan yet. But really, who has? The closest players to Michael Jordan's caliber are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James—both of whom didn't play a single game of collegiate basketball.
I guess we should credit their high school coaches for making them great.
That said, let's move on to the slide portion of this article, where I will do my best to debunk the myth of Roy Williams' inability to produce NBA stars.
ESPN's Top 500 of 2011
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Before the 2011-12 NBA season began, ESPN released its list of the top 500 players in the NBA. I don't fully agree with this list, and there are sure to be some major changes on the next list ESPN compiles. However, this is the largest list from the most credible source I could find.
I mentioned Kobe and LeBron as the closest to Michael Jordan, without even stepping foot on the college hardwood. That's only the beginning. Of the players listed in the top 50, 15 of them didn't play a single game at the college level.
All of those players either came from high school or overseas. That means only 35 of the top 50 were “produced by NCAA coaches.” That number dwindles even more when you factor in one-and-dones.
I refuse to give college coaches credit for a successful one-and-done player—especially now that they can't go straight to the NBA from high school. Should Rick Barnes be credited for Kevin Durant's success?
I think not.
That isn't to say that college coaches mean nothing to a player's success. Some players need development and stay for multiple years. Those players are molded by the coach and are given the fundamentals to make it in the NBA.
However, they will only go as far as their God-given talent and drive will take them.
Then there are the players that need development, but are instead drafted on potential. Many of those players fail, and their college coaches shouldn't receive the blame.
Not every 5-star player out of high school ends up an NBA star. Otherwise, David Stern would have to double up on the amount of teams at the next level.
Before we move on to glance over Roy Williams' NBA draftees from North Carolina, here is the rundown of UNC and Williams-coached players that made the top 500.
21. Paul Pierce: Kansas (Williams)
64. Ty Lawson: North Carolina (Williams)
80. Raymond Felton: North Carolina (Doherty/Williams)
107. Antawn Jamison: North Carolina (Smith/Guthridge)
115. Nick Collison: Kansas (Williams)
121. Vince Carter: North Carolina (Smith/Guthridge)
122. Tyler Hansbrough: North Carolina (Williams)
129. Kirk Hinrich: Kansas (Williams)
165. Marvin Williams: North Carolina (Williams)
202. Brendan Haywood: North Carolina (Guthridge/Doherty)
203. Ed Davis: North Carolina (Williams)
225. Drew Gooden: Kansas (Williams)
305. Brandan Wright: North Carolina (Williams)
359. Jerry Stackhouse: North Carolina (Smith)
364. Wayne Ellington: North Carolina (Williams)
421. Danny Green: North Carolina (Williams)
463. Jawad Williams: North Carolina (Williams)
Of that list, 13 players were coached by Roy Williams and three made the top 100. Ty Lawson will likely move into the top 50 with Paul Pierce. You can also expect Danny Green to make a huge leap from his 421st spot.
Now let's look at the latest Tar Heels to enter the draft.
Leaving Too Early
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Marvin Williams, Ed Davis and Brandan Wright were all 5-star recruits when Roy Williams landed them. If you don't blame Roy for them leaving early, then don't blame him for their lack of success.
All three players showed potential in their season(s) at Chapel Hill, but even I knew they were leaving way too early. They didn't have the game down yet. That just breeds failure.
Ed Davis made it through his sophomore season, where he averaged 13.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. That not too shabby for a sophomore, but that doesn't exactly translate to NBA success.
Brandan Wright was a step up from that, scoring 14.2 points and grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game his freshman—and only—season. He also shot an impressive 65 percent from the field. Again, he chose to go into the NBA instead of developing his game in Chapel Hill.
Marvin Williams was the biggest surprise of them all. He pretty much didn't show me anything in his lone season with the Heels. I was shocked when he chose to enter the draft. He was averaging 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game his freshman year.
Williams hasn't earned his lottery selection, but he has been a solid contributor for the Atlanta Hawks. For his career, he is averaging 30.4 minutes, 5.3 rebounds and 11.5 points per game. In one of the final games of the regular season, Williams put up 29 points and 11 boards on the Knicks.
I won't give Roy credit for the semi-success of Marvin Williams, nor will I blame him for the lack of success from Davis and Wright.
The Injured One
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Sean May gave North Carolina fans some excitement over his three-year stint at Chapel Hill. He was a big part of the 2005 championship team and also took home the Most Outstanding Player award that year.
After averaging 17.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game his junior season, May left for the NBA and joined the Charlotte Bobcats.
What many thought would be a promising future, was instead riddled with injuries—the exact NBA fate his father had endured. May went down his rookie season after only playing in 23 games. Then came the microfracture surgery on his right knee, and things began to go south from there.
By 2008, May was deemed physically unfit to play. When he got another shot with the Kings, he ended up with a stress fracture in his left foot during preseason training.
Sean May would never get another shot.
I'm not even sure how good he would have been as a power forward in the NBA anyway. His skill set was more fit for a center, but he only stood at 6'9”.
Neither injury nor height should fall on the shoulders of Roy Williams.
The Mental One
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I have no doubt Rashad McCants had the skills to make it in the NBA. His greatest flaw was his mental stability—or lack thereof.
There was a great Sports Illustrated piece on McCants, and I encourage anyone interested in looking deeper into the former star's mind to give it a read. Here is a quote from Roy Williams that pretty much sums up what you get with McCants:
Rashad is such an offensive weapon that he's the guy the other coach talks about the most. He has an ability to score and make shots with people guarding him about as good as anybody I've ever had. But the other thing that's important with this team is his moodiness, his indifference, whatever you want to call it.
It wasn't as if he didn't ever produce in the NBA. McCants scored 30 points or more three times and even hit seven threes in a game. He just never did it on a consistent basis.
The injuries he endured—coupled with his lack of chemistry with teammates and coaches—turned out to be greater than the skills he possessed were. Matt Doherty was also the coach that recruited him, to boot. With McCants' personality, I doubt Roy would have even considered him.
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Wayne Ellington was an excellent guard for North Carolina and played a big role in the 2009 team's domination of NCAA competition. After three years in the NBA, he doesn't really have a whole lot to show for it.
Ellington was drafted in 2009 by the Minnesota Timberwolves and has yet to fill a starting role with the club that finished 26-40 this year.
Offensively, his numbers have been commendable. For his career, he is shooting 41 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc. Both of those numbers are better than Wesley Johnson's, who starts over Ellington.
Johnson isn't a great defender either—only slightly better than Ellington. So, why is it Ellington isn't starting?
Consider the average height for shooting guards in 2011-12 is roughly 6'6”. Wayne Ellington is slightly undersized at 6'4”, while Johnson stands at 6'7”.
Not only is Ellington hindered by a horrible team (with a few good parts), he also isn't being given a chance due to his lack of height. If Minnesota can get better or if he is traded to a team that would have more use for him, we may see his career turn around.
Again, nothing here appears to be a development issue that would point fault to Roy Williams.
They Didn't Really Have It, Anyway
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I understand everyone loved David Noel and Jawad Williams—I did too. They were both solid players for the Tar Heels during their time under Roy.
Let's be honest, though. Neither one of them had what it takes to be stars at the next level.
Noel was a 3-star recruit out of high school. If anything, he can thank Coach Williams for making him look good enough to get into the NBA.
As for Jawad Williams, he was a solid player and also played a part in the 2005 championship season. None of his numbers pop off the pages, though. For his collegiate career, he averaged 12.7 points per game and shot 35 percent from downtown.
None of their numbers are bad, but their skill set and stat columns don't exactly scream “NBA star.” No disrespect is intended toward either of these fine Tar Heels. It is what it is though.
From Solid to Baller
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Believe it or not, you don't have to be a top-50 player to make a big impact in the NBA.
Ty Lawson has opened a lot of eyes since Chauncey Billups left Denver, pushing him into a starting role for the Nuggets. This season, he is averaging 16.4 points and 6.6 assists per game.
Last night, with their backs against the wall, Lawson led the Nuggets to their second straight win—forcing a Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He scored eight of the first 11 points of the game and went on to score 32 points. He had six assists and shot 5-of-6 from downtown.
Danny Green is the latest to jump onto the scene, earning a starting role on the talent-laden San Antonio Spurs. This season, he is averaging 23 minutes and is knocking down 44 percent of his three-pointers.
With David West on the roster, Tyler Hansbrough still isn't starting for the Indiana Pacers. His contributions don't go without notice, however. He fits right in with the tough mentality of the Larry Bird-built team.
We certainly haven't seen the last of Hansbrough.
Then there is Raymond Felton, who was actually recruited by Matt Doherty. Felton has had trouble finding a home in the NBA. So far, he has played with Charlotte, Denver, New York and Portland.
Felton finally appeared to be breaking out in 2010-11 with the Knicks. He averaged 17.1 points and 9.0 assists per game, before he was sent to Denver in a trade for Carmelo Anthony. If they managed to keep him, the Knicks might still be playing in the playoffs and Felton would have added legitimacy to his career.
It appears the moving around may have gotten the best of him. Only time will tell how the rest of his career will pan out. But Felton is by no means a scrub—and neither are Lawson, Green or Hansbrough.
Sorry they aren't top-10 players, but come on.
The Bottom Line
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Is Roy Williams to blame for the Tar Heels' struggles in the NBA? Absolutely not. And frankly, I'm tired of hearing the argument.
I hope I have helped put that nasty rumor to rest. However, I am sure there are folks out there whose views just will not change.
I welcome any rebuttals you may have. I will let you know right now, though, you don't have a prayer at changing my outlook on Roy.
To go even further, Roy Williams is a college coach. His duty is to produce wins and championships, not NBA stars. Yes, we would all love to have the best of both worlds, but it just doesn't happen that way—for anyone.
Maybe for Mike Krzyzewski, but how many really end up stars? A lot of great role players have come out of Duke, but there aren't many that have taken the NBA by storm.
According to an article from Real Clear Sports, no school has more players in the NBA than UCLA. The last time they won a championship was in 1995—the only championship that didn't come during the John Wooden era in the 60s and 70s.
Roy Williams wants players that have a team mentality and will most likely stay longer than one season. There is no way to completely avoid the one or two-and-dones, but he certainly tries.
If one-and-dones and constant NBA success is something you want, then perhaps you should consider John Calipari and Kentucky as an alternative. If tradition, character and championships are what you want, then Roy Williams and the Tar Heels are the right fit for you.
I will stand by Roy Williams until the day he retires. I hope you will, too.
Top 50 NBA Players
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I will leave you with ESPN's top 50 NBA players of 2011, along with their colleges. Pay attention to how many are from the same school. Then ask yourself how much the coach had to do with their success at the next level.
NBA Top 50
1. *LeBron James: No College
2. *Dwight Howard: No College
3. Dwyane Wade: Marquette
4. Chris Paul: Wake Forest
5. *Dirk Nowitzki: No College
6. Kevin Durant: Texas
7. *Kobe Bryant: No College
8. Derrick Rose: Memphis
9. Deron Williams: Illinois
10. Blake Griffin: Oklahoma
11. *Pau Gasol: No College
12. Carmelo Anthony: Syracuse
13. *Amare' Stoudemire: No College
14. Steve Nash: Santa Clara
15. Russell Westbrook: UCLA
16. Kevin Love: UCLA
17. Rajon Rondo: Kentucky
18. *Manu Ginobili: No College
19. Tim Duncan: Wake Forest
20. Zach Randolph: Michigan State
21. Paul Pierce: Kansas (Williams)
22. *Kevin Garnett: No College
23. LaMarcus Aldridge: Texas
24. Chris Bosh: Georgia Tech
25. Al Horford: Florida
26. *Marc Gasol: No College
27. Rudy Gay: Connecticut
28. *Tony Parker: No College
29. Joakim Noah: Florida
30. *Andrew Bynum: No College
31. *Nene: No College
32. Joe Johnson: Arkansas
33. Andrew Bogut: Utah
34. Andre Iguodala: Arizona
35. Ray Allen: Connecticut
36. Danny Granger: New Mexico
37. *Tyson Chandler: No College
38. Stephen Curry: Davidson
39. Eric Gordon: Indiana
40. John Wall: Kentucky
41. *Monta Ellis: No College
42. Kevin Martin: Western California
43. *Josh Smith: No College
44. Lamar Odom: Rhode Island
45. David West: Xavier
46. Luol Deng: Duke
47. Tyreke Evans: Memphis
48. Gerald Wallace: Alabama
49. Jason Kidd: California
50. Carlos Boozer: Duke