Derrick Williams should be the Minnesota Timberwolves' starting small forward next season. I know, a few months ago the notion that he could be a part of the team’s future, rather than simply trade bait, or worse, a complete bust, seemed ridiculous. But after seeing his recent success, I’ve bought in.
He is beginning to make decisions more quickly and drive to the lane when he has the opportunity. As a result, he is much more confident and has had two 28-point nights this month.
With Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved locking up the guard positions, and Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic likely to start at the four and five spots, there is a need for a young, healthy player to be the small forward and Williams is the man to fit it.
That is not to say that there is some merit to the thought of trading the former No. 2 overall pick. His stock is as high as ever right now, and I could see how he may have lost the trust of some Timberwolves fans. In fact, he had ample opportunity to seize playing time earlier in the season when the team suffered a litany of injuries and Williams did not answer the bell.
Also, it cannot go overlooked that Andrei Kirilenko, who also plays the three, is an excellent defender and a good shooter in addition to being a locker room plus.
But here’s the catch: Kirilenko is 32. Williams is 21. While AK-47 should begin the year as the team’s starter, it would be in the Wolves best interest to eventually wean themselves of his talents and open a spot up for the younger Williams.
The other problem with trading D-Will is assuring that the team gets fair value.
Other GMs around the league may be hesitant to toss another player of equal potential (i.e. another No. 2 overall pick or even an established starter) Minnesota’s way in exchange for Williams. Therefore, the Timberwolves could look back at the deal down the road and see D-Will blossom in another city while the player they got in return is simply a serviceable starter.
Williams could also be seen as a valuable sixth man or part of the rotation. While I feel that he is likely to begin the season on the bench, Williams has proven that he can handle starter’s minutes and is beginning to thrive in that role.
Hopefully with more playing time and the assurance a player receives when given a spot in the starting rotation, the Wolves will see more consistency from him next season.
The paramount reason why Williams is capable of being an NBA starter is his versatility. He is not a lights out shooter a la J.J. Redick or Brandon Roy, nor is he a battering ram like Nikola Pekovic or Roy Hibbert, but he hits outside shots at a decent rate and can get to the basket.
He must improve his shooting percentage, however, if he wants to take ownership of the three spot. He is above 30 percent from three, which is all right, but needs to do better than 40 percent from the field because it hurts his ability to get to the basket.
Right now, players are sagging off of him so far that you would think he has the plague, preventing him from getting inside.
If he improved his shooting from just inside the arc, it would force opponents to play closer to him and he could use pump fakes or even a quick first step to blast past the person guarding him and get to the basket.
In order to shoot more effectively, he needs to know what he is doing once he gets the ball. Often he will hesitate and double clutch, even when he is open for a shot, and this allows his shot to be contested.
He also shillyshallies in situations where he is more closely guarded and allows his defender to get in front of him, closing a lane to the basket that would have been there had he acted more quickly.
In games that he has scored frequently, Williams is prepared to make a decision before he receives the ball and is better equipped to either shoot or drive upon receiving it. “I just thought he had a much better sense of what he wanted to do,” said coach Rick Adelman after Williams’ 28-point performance against New Orleans on March 17.
I thought he was terrific tonight; he was really active taking shots there. When he gets himself set—when he catches the ball, he has to be ready to shoot it. Sometimes he’s trying to figure out what he’s trying to do, he’s just got be ready to take his shot and not worry about it.
Williams says he has sat down with Shawn Respert, the Timberwolves Assistant Coach for Player Development, to address this problem.
“Just looking at the film with Shawn, I’ll see when I’m double clutching or hesitating,” he said after the New Orleans game. “It’s just a lot better when I just catch and shoot and not think about it and taking a lot of good shots. That’s why I had a lot of success tonight.”
With his increased productivity, the former University of Arizona Wildcat is feeling more confident—he says that he’s almost at the level he was at in college—and is willing to take more shots and drive the basket more frequently than he was earlier in the season.
“Coach said that once the injuries started happening, I needed to be more aggressive,” he says. “I really felt tonight that I could pick and choose my spots and if I can drive, I’m going to go and if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it and just be more efficient out there.”
That’s the difference between Derrick Williams the Starter and Derrick Williams the Bust: When he feels confident shooting the ball, knows where to launch it from and is able to get to the basket, the man is a valuable asset in the Timberwolves' system. When he is hesitant to shoot and unwilling to drive, forget it—he’s just another flop.
I believe in Derrick Williams. I’ve seen him knock down threes and toss down dunks. Everyone in the building knows when the man is on: His swagger radiates like Old Spice deodorant. And his teammates are encouraging him to keep it up. “Ricky has been on me a little bit,” says Williams, “if I’m open, just shoot it. Just not second-guessing myself.”
Of course Rubio would say that, right? He’s always so happy and encouraging. In essence, Rubio is telling Williams that when he is open he can either worry about if the ball is going to go in or make things simple: Just shoot the damn ball!
That’s what a starter would do.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.