The 2012-13 NBA regular season was one of marvelous hype for the recently relocated Brooklyn Nets. While the excitement was undeniable, there was reasonable concern over the sudden decline of point guard Deron Williams.
The question is, how will the 2013 NBA Playoffs impact D-Will's place amongst the NBA's elite point guards?
From 2005 to 2011, Williams was the leader of a Utah Jazz team that consistently made the playoffs and once reached the Western Conference Finals. In that time, D-Will averaged 17.2 points and 9.1 assists per game.
In turn, Williams rivaled Chris Paul as the best point guard in the NBA and two-time MVP Steve Nash as the top pick-and-roll facilitator.
Since coming to the Nets in 2011, however, Williams' numbers have not been indicative of his efficiency. Averages of 19.3 points and 8.5 assists will impress, but here's what doesn't.
With Utah, Williams posted a career field goal percentage of .466—with Brooklyn, that number dropped to .419.
During Game 1 of Brooklyn's series against the Chicago Bulls, we saw a flashback to the D-Will we used to know. Williams finished with 22 points, seven assists and three steals on 9-of-15 shooting.
A majority of those numbers came while the game was still competitive—you know, before the third quarter.
Health is the Key
In April of 2011, Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams underwent surgery on his right wrist to remove bone fragments and scar tissue. While the surgery transpired two calendar years ago, there was speculation that it was hurting him throughout the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
In January of 2013, Williams expressed to Roderick Boone of Newsday that it was all about confidence, not injuries.
"I'm just overthinking," he said. "I've never been a player than can go out there and look to play and think. I just react and now I'm kind of like, I come off and am thinking, 'Should I shoot this. Should I not?' I'm just not playing the way I should be. That's all on me. It's not on injuries. It's just in my head and I've got to get it out."
While over-thinking was certainly an issue, we're inclined to believe that injuries did play a part.
In October of 2012, Williams required an injection to keep down the swelling from left ankle synovitis. Shortly thereafter, Williams underwent an MRI and found that he was suffering from bone spurs in his left ankle.
Roughly three weeks later, D-Will underwent an unrelated dental procedure and was forced to miss practice—that came at a time in which he was nursing a sore elbow.
Williams was later reported to have suffered a sprained joint in his right wrist, although he claimed it was unrelated to the previously alluded to surgery. If you can believe it, that wasn't the end of the injuries D-Will sustained in 2012-13 alone.
Since the All-Star Break...
During the first half of the 2012-13 NBA regular season, the injuries Deron Williams' battled clearly effected his quality of play. He averaged a respectable 16.7 points and 7.6 assists, but did so on a slash line of .413/.347/.855.
Since the All-Star Break, however, Williams has been healthy and his numbers are up to 22.9 points and 8.0 assists on a slash line of .481/.420/.866.
As for the previously alluded to factor of over-thinking, that appears to be cleared up, as well. Not only is Williams shooting at a significantly higher clip across the board, but he's become a stronger decision maker.
All in all, we've seen D-Will return to the days in which he was an unquestioned top five point guard and Top 15 player—but why?
Feeling the Flow
When Deron Williams first arrived with the New Jersey Nets, the burden of expectation was indescribably powerful. D-Will had just been accredited for running legendary head coach Jerry Sloan out of town and thus controversially left the Utah Jazz (via Yahoo! Sports).
Upon joining the Nets, the world was stunned to see a player that we simply did not recognize.
For all of his off-the-court issues, there was never a single question about what Williams could achieve while on the court. For that reason, there was a unanimous gasp of disbelief when we saw D-Will's slash line fall to .349/.271/.793.
While those numbers went up in 2011-12, one thing was perfectly clear: Williams was trying to do too much.
Known as one of the world's elite facilitators, D-Will became of a score-first mentality. He posted career-high numbers of 17.5 field goal attempts, 6.2 three-point field goal attempts and 4.0 turnovers, all the while shooting 40.7 percent from the floor and 33.6 percent from beyond the arc.
In 2012-13, that hasn't been the case.
D-Will closed out the regular season with averages of 14.4 field goal attempts, 5.7 three-point field goal attempts and 2.8 turnovers per game. He did so while shooting 44.0 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from beyond the arc.
So why the sudden change?
For the first time in his Nets tenure, it appears as if Williams is letting the game come to him. With Joe Johnson alongside him and Brook Lopez down low, D-Will seem to feel comfortable allowing the game to run through his All-Star teammates.
In turn, D-Will has returned to his perch amongst the NBA's elite—temporarily.
If Williams is able to continue at this pace during the 2013 NBA Playoffs, there's no question that he will solidify his return to the ranks of the elite. If Williams is unable to maintain his current level of play, however, the questions will arise once again.
The ball is in D-Will's court as he battles the demons of perception—can he trust his teammates enough to salvage his deserved reputation as an elite?