Coming off one of the very best games of his somewhat disappointing young career, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams is proving that Kevin Love's injury-plagued season has been good for at least one person in the organization.
Williams posted a season-high 24 points and a career-best 16 rebounds in a 97-93 loss to the Utah Jazz on Feb. 13, which completed a five-game stretch in which the second-year player has been averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game.
That recent swing has seen a significant uptick in production from what we saw earlier this season and in Williams' ho-hum rookie year.
After joining the Wolves as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the Arizona product struggled mightily. And with averages of just 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds on 41 percent shooting during the 2011-12 campaign, the word "bust" was thrown around pretty generously.
This year, Williams' overall numbers don't look much better. He's still shooting just 41 percent from the field, and he has only slightly improved his per-game scoring and rebounding averages to 9.9 and five, respectively.
But there's no question that he's been playing better than ever of late. And it may not be mere chance that his improvement has coincided with Love's hiatus.
Based on stats available at NBA.com, the Timberwolves apparently view Williams and Love as incompatible on the court. Before Love's injury, the pair had logged a grand total of 29 minutes on the floor together this season. And the numbers show that Williams is better across the board when Love's not out there with him.
Over a much larger 701-minute sample, the story was the same in 2011-12. Williams scored 1.5 fewer points and took 1.4 fewer shots per 36 minutes when he shared the court with Love last year. His three-point percentage and rebound rate also took small dips.
Even if we ignore the stats, it's easy to see how Love's absence has benefited Williams.
Without an All-Star caliber forward ahead of him on the depth chart, Williams has simply had a much greater opportunity to play. And with the team going nowhere in yet another injury-riddled campaign, Minnesota really has nothing to lose by allowing Williams to play as much as possible.
He's been logging a season-high 25.5 minutes per game in February. And it's worth mentioning that even members of the Minnesota media are jokingly connecting Williams' run to Love's absence:
Derrick Williams just grabbed his career-high 13th board. There's 16:30 left to play in this game. Comin for you, @kevinlove— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) February 14, 2013
Unfortunately for the Wolves (and fortunately for Williams), Love is due to miss at least another month after having surgery on his twice-broken hand in mid-January, according to a report at the time by Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. So there's a good chance that Williams will have some time after the All-Star break to build on his breakout run.
In a perfect world, the Timberwolves would be able to find a way to effectively pair their duo of perimeter-oriented forwards. But with Love taking a high volume of long-distance shots—he has averaged more than five three-point attempts per game over the last two seasons—it's hard for Minnesota to find a fit for Williams.
If one or the other could develop a more effective offensive game on the block or at the elbows, that could go a long way toward optimizing Minnesota's future lineup. And a little D wouldn't hurt, either.
And maybe there's hope that Williams is making those sorts of changes.
In his big game against the Jazz, Williams took 11 of his 17 shot attempts from within three feet of the rim. So perhaps he's using his time with Love sidelined to focus on getting things done in the paint, which could eventually lead to a more compatible style.
In any case, Williams is playing well while Love recovers from injury. I guess that shows there's always a silver lining, no matter how bleak a team's present situation might seem.
*All stats via NBA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.
**All stats accurate through games played Feb. 14, 2013.