I was going to begin this article by saying that we will just have to take coach Mike Krzyzewski's word when he says that Elliot Williams wasn't ready earlier in the season. Luckily, that's not quite true, as we'll see in a moment.
But first, I'll go ahead and quote what Coach K said on the ACC Coaches teleconference, in case you missed it.
“He’s a freshman, so he’s had to learn. In probably in our first dozen games he was averaging 14, 15 minutes a game, but that’s not conference play. I think he’s really grown as a result of practice and has had a great attitude. If he was at the level of play he is now, early, then you would have seen it.
"What he’s done, is he’s worked really hard, and now he’s at that level of play. Because we made a change he was given the opportunity to now use the skill he has. He didn’t have that, early, and the knowledge of how to play. He’s done a great job. He’s given us a huge lift.”
The numbers agree with Coach K. In the first 12 games of the season, Williams averaged three points and 2.6 rebounds in 14 minutes a game. He had two more turnovers (16) than he did made field goals (14) and shot 38.9 percent from the field.
In addition to the numbers, it often appeared that Williams was out of his element. He looked lost on both ends of the floor, often having to be pointed to a spot or a defensive assignment by a teammate. He rushed, made freshman mistakes, and altogether did not look like a kid ready to start in the ACC.
Then Duke assistant coach Nate James took Williams under his wing. James worked with him before practice, after practice, whenever they could. They worked on defense, how to switch, when to switch, how to communicate with your teammates.
The extra sessions have more than paid off for both Williams and Duke.
Since he earned a starting spot in the St. John's game, Elliot has averaged 31.3 minutes, 12.3 points (including 15 last night against Maryland), and three rebounds per game. He has shot an astounding 72.7 percent from the field and kept his average turnovers the same, despite playing more than twice the minutes.
In addition to that, he has played superb defense, applying tremendous ball pressure despite drawing two of the premier point guards in the ACC, Jeff Teague and Greivis Vasquez.
(Teague did score 28 points, but a lot of those came off of ball-screens, where Duke switches everything.)
Williams continued his elevated level of play last night against Maryland, not only with his scoring (his 15 points was second only to Gerald Henderson's 19 for Duke), but he also pulled down six rebounds and hounded Greivis Vasquez all night, allowing him only 10 points, just a few nights after Vasquez lit up UNC for a triple-double.
Before the season started, many people were wondering whether Elliot Williams could be the next big star at Duke. After the last three games, I think it is safe to say that he is quickly headed in that direction—much more quickly than I had imagined he would.