The Nets will go as far as Deron Williams takes them.
Williams hasn’t been the same player since aggravating an ankle injury in the 2012 Olympics. USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo told the Daily News that Williams was out of shape at the Olympics prior to aggravating the injury.
Colangelo claimed Williams was overweight, while Nets general manager Billy King maintained the star point guard weighed just one pound heavier than he did prior to being acquired from the Utah Jazz in February 2011.
Williams’ weight may or may not have been to blame for his ailment, but there’s no denying he’s been banged up this season. Through 59 games he’s been bothered by injuries to his shoulder, wrist, thigh and, most recently, his ankles.
The 28-year-old has been dealing with inflammation in his ankles all season. He received a cortisone shot to treat a bone spur before the season, and was given two more cortisone shots during the All-Star break (via Daily News).
Williams underwent platelet-rich plasma injections the Monday before the All-Star break after suffering what appeared to be a setback in a game against the Chicago Bulls on February 1 (via Daily News).
Instead of resting, the Nets point guard opted to play through the pain over the next four games. Brooklyn lost three of four over that stretch with Williams averaging just 15.5 points and 5.7 assists.
As reported by Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York, Brooklyn’s floor general was averaging just 13.7 points, 5.7 assists and 4.0 turnovers and shooting 38.7 percent from the field prior to his prolonged rest.
The last time Williams attempted a dunk was November 23 when he was emphatically rejected by Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin.
"I can't jump -- I don't know if you've noticed -- I haven't dunked. I can't dunk," said Williams (via ESPN NewYork.com)
Due to his nagging ankle injuries, he hasn’t dunked in an NBA game since April 13, 2012.
Williams has returned to form since the All-Star break, averaging 22.8 points and 8.4 assists. He carried the Nets to a big win over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday, scoring a season-high tying 33 points.
The Nets leaned heavily on Williams in the fourth quarter against New Orleans, and No. 8 delivered, scoring the final 11 points of the game. Having a go-to-guy in the fourth quarter will pay huge dividends for Brooklyn in the playoffs.
Particularly encouraging for Nets fans was the variety of ways in which D-Will got his points in New Orleans. He scored inside and out, and got to the free throw line early and often going 9-of-10 from the stripe.
He may not be Rajon Rondo, but this no-look dish to Brook Lopez is an example of why the Nets are a much better team with Williams orchestrating the attack. Passes like these are the reason he’s a three-time All-Star.
The Nets offense is at its best when Williams plays aggressive and acts as a facilitator. He averaged over 10 assists per game with the Utah jazz from 2007 to 2010. He’s vastly underrated as a passer, and is a big reason why center Brook Lopez is having a breakout season.
The biggest beneficiary of a healthy Deron Williams is Brook Lopez.
When Williams penetrates and pushes the ball on the fast break, he draws defenders away from Lopez, leaving the big man open to bury mid-range jumpers and uncontested layups, as seen in the video above. Moving without the ball, Williams gives Lopez a passing option both in the paint and spotting up on the perimeter.
When D-Will drives in the half-court offense, he has the option to kick it outside to an open shooter, convert on a layup, or get to the free-throw line.
There’s a reason the Nets gave him a $98 million max-contract in the offseason.
Elite point guards aren’t easy to come by, and very few NBA point guards possess the combination of his scoring ability, vision and ball-handling skills.
D-Will reached the second round of the playoffs with Utah in 2008 and 2010, and led them to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. He is a game-changer with playoff experience. This will be crucial for the Nets when they match up against teams like the Miami Heat, New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers in the postseason.
The Nets may win a game or two in the playoffs with D-Will struggling, but they won’t win a first round series if he’s not firing on all cylinders.
For more Brooklyn Nets analysis, follow Andrew on Twitter: