Will Brooklyn Nets' Deron Williams Ever Be a Top-20 Superstar Again?

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Will Brooklyn Nets' Deron Williams Ever Be a Top-20 Superstar Again?

There was a time when Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams was widely considered a top-five player at his position and a top-20 NBA superstar. 

Those days now seem like a distant memory. Now the question for Nets fans is whether or not the 28-year-old can ever reach that superstar status again.

But before engraving D-Will’s tombstone, one needs to properly analyze the recent decline in his play. This can’t be done without also examining the Nets’ struggles as a whole.

Since joining the Nets midway through the 2010-11 season, Williams has failed to stay healthy and find consistency in his game. His field-goal percentage and point and assist totals have plummeted.  He’s also been nagged by ankle, shoulder and wrist injuries.

It’s difficult, however, to pinpoint a single factor that’s led to the 28-year-old’s decline.

Is it the pressure of living up to the five-year, $98.7 million deal he signed in the offseason to stay with the Nets? Is it due to not having a pick-and-roll partner like Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap at power forward? Or is it the slew of recent injuries that have accounted for his waning production?

Drafted in 2005 by the Utah Jazz, Williams made an immediate impact in his rookie season, averaging 10.8 points and 4.5 assists in 28.8 minutes per game. He showed improvement every year playing in Utah and eventually made a name for himself in Salt Lake City and around the league.

In his second season, D-Will’s numbers improved dramatically. His points per game increased by 5.4, and his assists per game rose by 5.8. From 2007-08 to 2010-11, the young superstar averaged over 10 assists per game. He posted career-high scoring numbers in 2010-11, recording 21.3 points per game in his final half-season with the Jazz.

Six-and-a-half strong seasons in Utah culminated in three All-Star Game appearances in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Through 57 games in 2012-13, Williams’ points per game, assists per game and field-goal percentage have all fallen below his career averages. 

Williams is better suited to a transition-style offense.

The Nets continue to rank last in the NBA in pace. This means they rarely run on the fast break and rarely take quick shots. Coach P.J. Carlesimo prefers his team to bring the ball up the court at a slower pace and use more of the shot clock on the majority of possessions.

This has helped Brooklyn’s defense, which ranks fifth in points allowed. But it has resulted in fewer shot attempts and fewer points scored.

Williams is averaging nearly four fewer points than he did with the Nets last season, but that’s mainly because he’s taken nearly four fewer shots per game.

In 2011-12, the Nets ranked 21st in pace and Williams averaged 21 points per game. During Williams’ final half-season in Utah, the Jazz ranked 17th in pace and Williams averaged 21.3 points per game.

Even as the floor general of the slowest-paced offense in the NBA, Williams is tied for ninth among point guards with 17.3 points per game. If the Nets ran a fast-paced offense, Williams would easily average 20 points.

Deron Williams and Kris Humphries were formidable tandem last season.

After being traded to the Nets, Williams averaged 12.8 assists per game in 12 games played. Last year, he averaged 8.7 assists; this year, he’s down to just 7.5 dimes per contest.

The Nets’ slow pace on offense can account for some of the decline, but the struggles of backcourt partner Joe Johnson and the disappearance of power forward Kris Humphries must also be factored in.

Like Williams, Johnson has struggled with his scoring and his shot. He’s shooting just 42.4 percent from the field and scoring a meager 16.8 points per game, both considerably below his career averages.

Williams’ assist totals have also suffered as a result of Humphries' inexplicable lack of playing time and production. Humphries averaged a double-double in 2010-11 and 2011-12. The Nets rewarded him with a two-year, $24 million contract last July.

The Kris Humphries seen in the video has yet to make an appearance for the Brooklyn Nets. Once a rebounding machine with an excellent mid-range jumper, the eight-year pro is averaging just 5.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in 18 minutes per game in 2012-13.

Reggie Evans has been a liability on offense.

Since taking the reins in late December, Carlesimo has phased Humphries out of the starting lineup. He’s opted instead to start Reggie Evans at the 4 and Gerald Wallace at the 3. The results on the offensive end of the floor have been disastrous.

As reported by Stefan Bondy of the Daily News, 22 percent of Evans’ shots have been blocked. The struggling power forward failed to score a single point in his last three games. Wallace isn’t performing much better, averaging just 6.7 points per game in his last 10.

Williams' ankle injuries have prevented him from dunking this season.

But back to our focus, Williams’ field-goal percentage has been affected by his nagging ankle injuries. The inflammation in his ankles has made him less explosive and prevented him from converting more easy baskets.

Monster dunks like the one over 7’2” center Roy Hibbert in the video above have become a thing of the past. As reported by Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York, the three-time All-Star hasn’t attempted a dunk in an NBA game since April 13, 2012.

Williams is taking an average of 5.3 three-point shots per game in 2012-13, more than he attempted in any season in Utah.

This can all be attributed (to an extent) to the Nets' inability to space the floor with Evans and Wallace in the starting lineup. It has provided fewer opportunities for the Nets’ backcourt to penetrate.

The Daily News reported that Carlesimo talked about the possibility of pairing Andray Blatche and Brook Lopez together in the rotation. As Blatche is a much better shooter than Evans, pairing him with Lopez could help draw defenders away from the basket, making it easier for a hobbled Williams to get to the rim.

When healthy, Williams is capable of having superstar performances.

It was just a little over a year ago that Williams scored 57 points against the Charlotte Bobcats.

He’s had a few big performances this year as well. He recorded 19 points and 13 assists in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he scored 33 points in a victory over the New Orleans Hornets.

D-Will is capable of becoming a top-20 player again.

But to do so, he’ll have to perform at a high level on a more consistent basis to regain his superstar status. Unfortunately, this won’t be possible until he gets healthy, and he probably won’t be healthy for the remainder of this season.

The Nets will also have to do a better job of catering to their most talented player's strengths if they want him to regain his old form. This will mean increasing the pace of the offense, spacing the floor better and improving the frontcourt rotation.

 

For more Brooklyn Nets analysis, follow Andrew on Twitter

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