When Deron Williams was torching Western Conference foes with the Utah Jazz, he rarely received the respect he deserved. As a member of the underachieving 2011 and 2012 New Jersey Nets, however, Williams' inconsistent production earned him a reputation as one of the league's top-tier players.
The question is, are Williams' injuries preventing him from re-joining the NBA's elite point guards this year?
Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York reports D-Will is playing with a sprained joint in his surgically repaired right wrist. This comes after Mazzeo had previously reported Williams was suffering from bone spurs in his left ankle.
In other words, Williams is banged up from top to bottom and it's showing in his production.
Williams is presently averaging 15.4 points and 8.9 assists per game. Although those numbers are certainly respectable, D-Will is shooting just 38.2 percent from the floor and 26.8 percent from beyond the arc.
If you ask Williams, this is not a product of his injuries (via The New York Times).
“It’s not my wrist, man, it’s my confidence,” Williams said in a reflective moment, after finishing with 10 points and a 3-for-11 shooting performance. “I just got to play better. Injuries or not, I got to play. I can’t keep having 10 points, not being aggressive. I just got to find a rhythm. It’s just tough.”
“I’ve definitely been turning down some shots, to get other guys shots,” Williams said. “But I just haven’t found a rhythm in this offense yet. I haven’t found where I’m going to get my shots from consistently. I’m not a guy that likes to go one-on-one every play. So it’s been difficult.”
Fortunately for the Nets, Williams remains one of the game's top facilitators. His average of 8.9 dimes per contest ranks him fourth in the NBA, slightly behind Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday.
Even still, the Nets' guiding light must shine brighter.
“I definitely need to play better for us to make that jump,” Williams said. “We can be a great team. You’ve seen us—we won five straight, and I haven’t shot the ball well. And we’ve had some good wins.”
He added, “I feel like I’m letting my team down. I feel like I’m not doing enough to help us win.”
Williams hit the nail on the head there. The Nets have enough interior and perimeter depth to win games in spite of Williams' poor shooting.
With a quality pairing of scoring and defensive prowess in Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn is certainly a threat to upend any opponent. With dominant rebounders such as Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans, their chances for wins certainly increase.
With that being said, Williams is averaging 14.6 points per game with a slash line of .368/.241/.800 during Brooklyn losses. Clearly his poor performances are having an adverse effect.
Fortunately, his teammates are well aware of the fact that they must help D-Will find his rhythm.
“We’re still trying to figure this thing out, man,” [Joe] Johnson said. “How we can get him going, get him in a rhythm. We just have to learn on the fly.”
Jerry Stackhouse, the Nets’ elder statesman, said Williams might have to settle some nights for being “the bait guy,” drawing in defenses while others carry the load.
“It all starts with his greatness, being able to create all that,” Stackhouse said. “Once he accepts that and understands that, we go to another level.”
There is no doubt about the fact that the Nets are made up of caliber veterans able to help Williams find his groove. There is also no doubt that Johnson should be focusing on getting himself going, which presents an even heavier burden for Williams' ailing body.
Which begs the question Nets fans did not want to ask.
Should the Nets rest D-Will?
Williams is not playing at the level of a Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo or Russell Westbrook. In fact, he isn't even playing at the level of a Ty Lawson at this point in the young 2012-'13 NBA regular season.
Until he gets healthy, that will not change.
Fortunately for Williams, the Nets play just three games over the next eight days. In response to this period of light action, D-Will had this to say.
“I need this rest as much as anybody,” Williams said before unstrapping his ice bags.
If Williams is to go through this weak schedule and emerge as the same player he has been through 16 games, it will be time to sit him down. Should he turn things around, however, head coach Avery Johnson should simply concern himself with managing Williams' minutes in the proper manner.
With that being said, Williams' confidence and injuries are not the only issues.
Elite on the Horizon
Over the next month, Deron Williams will be tasked with defending and running an offense against some of the NBA's top point guards. That list includes Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and, should he return from injury, Kyrie Irving.
Throw in the likes of Mo Williams, Kyle Lowry, Raymond Felton and the defensive-frustrater Kirk Hinrich, and you have yourself the potential for further struggles.
If Williams can't handle the physical burden of elite positional matchups, the Nets may not enjoy their team results. They're losing games when Williams is at his worst and D-Will has acknowledged such a fact.
Unless D-Will overcomes those injuries in the next eight days, rest may be the only answer for a player whose talent exceeds his present caliber of play.