It’s time to stop calling Derrick Williams a bust. He has yet to reach his potential as the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft, but no longer can we put him in the same category as Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson or any other Minnesota Timberwolves draft pick that did not pan out.
The former Arizona Wildcat is shooting above 40 percent from the field, 30 percent from the three and 70 percent at the line for a true shooting percentage of 50 percent. Fifty.
It was only a couple months ago that people on message boards, blogs and newspapers throughout the Twin Cities were ready to bury him alive.
Kingsxman wrote in a post titled I’ll say it: Derrick Williams is a bust on the MNSportsFans.com message board:
I think you can officially say that at this point, Derrick Williams is a bust as the #2 pick of the draft. He has had numerous opportunities now to step up and has failed at every turn. The game last night was the last straw for me. The Wolves needed him to step up and be the kind of player that they hoped he would what did he accomplish? Missed layup after missed layup. Throw in a missed dunk and you have what, in my opinion, is now visible to the world: Derrick Williams will NEVER live up to being the #2 pick in the draft.
That was posted on November 15, a day after Minnesota lost to the Charlotte Bobcats at home, 89-87. Williams played 23 minutes and had a 10-9-2 line.
A day later, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan offered his take, echoing what was written on the message board. “Derrick Williams was given considerable physical gifts, and he is squandering them,” he wrote. “He is being given the precious gift of NBA playing time, and he is wasting it…Williams should be embarrassed. Apparently he is not.”
A sales and marketing columnist at the Star Tribune, Matt Krumrie, responded in a Yahoo! Contributor post:
The first month of his second NBA season isn’t even over, but fans are already declaring Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams a bust. With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio sidelined general manager David Kahn, head coach Rick Adelman and Timberwolves nation were looking for to take his game to the next level.
Flash forward four months and suddenly Williams is showing glimpses of who he can become: He is hitting three-point shots, driving to the lane and beginning to get regular minutes.
How did this happen?
Williams and Rubio found a connection
One of the most frustrating things for Timberwolves fans was that everyone around Williams was injured and he was not stepping up and replacing their production. That’s a little bit of a chicken and the egg argument, though.
As we learned during LeBron James’ time in Cleveland, Chris Bosh’s tenure with the Toronto Raptors and the Dwight Howard situation in Orlando, one superstar cannot carry an entire team. Minnesotans should know this better than anyone after seeing both Kevins (Garnett and Love) struggle to win consistently in years when they did not have talent around them.
So was Williams squandering an opportunity to play more without the regular starters around him, or was he placed in a difficult situation where he had to play more minutes without Love, Rubio and Co.?
To be fair, Williams wasn’t just failing to keep the team in the playoff picture…he was struggling to score double-digits on a regular basis. Playoffs? Playoffs? We were just asking him to help Minnesota win a game.
Once Rubio got back, the team record did not improve, but chemistry was formed between the two players and, according to NBA.com, Williams scores more points, makes more field goals and snags more rebounds with Ricky at his side.
Maybe Williams just needed one of Rubio’s world-famous pep talks, but the more likely scenario is that the Spaniard is finding him when he is open for a mid-range jumper or corner three—two places on the court that Williams shoots particularly well from.
According to NBA.com, Williams hits mid-range jumpers 39 percent of the time when Rubio is on the floor and at a 33 percent rate when he is not. As for the corner three, it is a four percent difference: 24 percent with, 20 percent without.
Safe to say, Rubio has been a positive influence on Williams.
Kirilenko got hurt
One of the biggest criticisms lobbed at Williams was that it was 32-year-old Andrei Kirilenko who emerged as the go-to scorer in November when Williams was expected to make strides as a player.
From the Souhan article:
The Wolves' most gifted healthy player isn't playing long enough or hard enough to justify the second pick in the 2011 draft, isn't playing long or hard enough to justify his place on a team that desperately needs him right now, and he doesn't seem to understand that if he can't help right now he might not be asked to help much later.
The Wolves have four players on the All-Star ballot. Three are injured. Two haven't played at all this season. Six of their seven top players were out Wednesday. Their best healthy player, Kirilenko, is surviving with brains and elbows, surviving by reminding his teammates that 95 percent of the game is played below the rim and between the ears.
Kirilenko is also a shooting forward, the position that Williams plays best. At 6’8”, 241 lbs. he is capable of playing power forward but is a bit undersized for the role. Not only that, but the Wolves would be elated to see Williams thrive as a 3 because Love will play the 4 once he returns.
So while most of the team was sidelined by injury, the man that plays his position, Kirilenko, was healthy and expecting regular minutes. And while according to NBA.com Williams made more of his threes with Kirilenko on the floor, he also missed more of his shots from the floor and scored fewer points overall.
Of course, AK-47’s injury is not a good thing for the team as a whole. He is a leader and remains a productive player, but his absence has opened up a spot at the 3—where Williams is most likely to thrive.
Since Kirilenko went down with a calf injury in late February, D-Will has received more playing time and scored roughly 20 points per night.
Adelman trusts him more
Speaking of playing time, head coach Rick Adelman has a notoriously short leash when it comes to young players. That, coupled with Williams’ poor play, has meant that the second-year player has spent a lot of time riding the pine.
Before Kirilenko suffered his injury, Williams would get 15 minutes one night and 30 the next. Some nights it was as low as five; other nights it was as high as 35. Playing time fluctuates with production and until recently the team was not sure exactly how many points they were going to get out of D-Will on any given night.
But things have evened out a little bit in the last eight games since Kirilenko has gone down.
Williams is getting about 40 minutes per game and has scored in the double digits every night, including three 20-point outings. He is also grabbing more boards and offering more assists. He often speaks of teammate Ricky Rubio getting a triple-double, but Williams is not so far away from getting one himself.
Think about it: the very concept of a 20-10-10 night from Williams would have seemed absurd in November.
Let’s not forget that Williams is only 21 years old. In a league where teenage players can come in and make an immediate impact, remember that some players take longer to find their game than others.
D-Will should become a productive member of the Timberwolves if he is given enough time to develop. Hopefully Kirilenko will pick up his player option and Williams will have one more year to come off the bench and learn from the veteran shooting guard.
If Williams reaches his potential and the team re-signs Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves starting lineup could look like this in two years: Rubio-Shved-Williams-Love-Pekovic.
That looks pretty good to me.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.