The Atlanta Hawks' signing of Lou Williams was a move that flew well under the NBA radar—as could be expected in a marriage of an underrated contributor and an overlooked franchise. Both the Hawks and Williams have been taken for granted by NBA fans for the last half decade, a symmetry that makes their new relationship as fitting in narrative as on the court.
Williams comes to the Hawks at a perfect time. Having just traded away Joe Johnson for some much-needed financial flexibility, Atlanta was badly in need of a high-usage shot creator to fill out its rotation. Danny Ferry signed just such a player in Williams, and managed to replace some of the specific skills lost in Johnson's departure at the incredible bargain of just $5 million or so per year.
Unlike most of his role player contemporaries, Williams isn't limited by a lack of skill or efficiency. Instead, what separates him from the league's more prominent scorers is his pronounced tunnel vision—a limitation that turns him into a one-man scoring machine rather than a component in a high-functioning offense. In a more prominent role, that could prove problematic, but with this particular Hawks team, Williams' specialization fits the team's very precise needs. Between Jeff Teague, Josh Smith and Al Horford, Atlanta already has players who can run the bulk of the offense. What the team actually needs in light of Johnson's exodus is a talented scorer who can create shots in isolation situations as needed and balance the bench with a scoring presence.
Williams fits that bill perfectly, as he'll come off the pine to play significant minutes alongside both the starters and the reserves. Among Atlanta's top players, Williams becomes a shooting and ball-handling counterpart. Alongside the more limited bench types, he'll function as a primary shot creator, and float between guard positions depending on which teammates he happens to share the court with. Teague, Williams and Devin Harris form the foundation of a pretty odd and oddly functional backcourt. With Harris big enough to defend opposing 2s and both Teague and Williams quick enough to drive opponents crazy, Atlanta should be poised to do some pretty solid work with their makeshift rotation.
But the role that bigs like Smith and Horford play in Williams' Atlanta prospects cannot be overstated. When it comes to a ball-dominant scorer like Williams, strict offensive structure or alternative playmaking options are necessary to keep all five players involved. Williams may be a terrific mid-range shooter and among the best in the league in terms of drawing fouls, but a willing passer he is not; Williams' isolation tendencies are even more glaring than Johnson's, and while that should help on possessions where the initial options for the Hawks offense don't create open looks, it also means that Atlanta may need to find the ways to keep the ball out of Williams' hands until it's time to fire away.
Smith and Horford aren't exactly prolific dribble-drive players, but both are fantastic passers from the high post. That gives Williams and the Hawks just the kind of offensive diversion they need to coexist splendidly in the season to come, and build on the natural harmony of wanted skill and pressing need.