Is This a Make-or-Break Season for Deron Williams as an Elite NBA PG?

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Is This a Make-or-Break Season for Deron Williams as an Elite NBA PG?
USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn Nets star Deron Williams is entering a pivotal stage in his career.

He's always been considered one of the absolute best floor generals in the NBA, but the 2012-13 season showed some cracks in the armor, and the point guard crop in the NBA is getting better by the minute.

Luckily, he's got a talented supporting cast in 2013-14, along with close friend Jason Kidd at the helm.

The time is now for D-Will to reassert himself as an elite playmaker.

 

The 2012-13 season: Taking a step backward?

 

Within his first couple years as a pro, Williams became one of the top point guards in the league.

He used his dual threat of scoring and passing to lead the Utah Jazz to the playoffs four times, and his skills were impossible to ignore in the "top five point guards" discussion. D-Will also played a huge role in winning Team USA's gold medals during the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

At his best, he possessed a combination of size and quickness that's extremely rare. He was powerful enough to bang with any guard, and he could also change directions and elevate like a speedster. When these physical qualities mixed with his court vision and thread-the-needle accuracy, he was easily one of the top three point men in the league.

When the Nets moved to Brooklyn, he lost a bit of the edge that made him such a superstar.

Williams' ankles hampered him for much of the 2012-13 season, and his declining numbers are direct evidence. Although his playing time remained the same, he saw decreases in points, assists and rebounds and an increase in fouls.

Just from the eye test, it was evident that Williams didn't have the explosiveness we saw when he was in Utah. He couldn't create separation from defenders like he used to, and this impeded his ability to generate his own shots or clear room to dish his crisp bounce passes.

His production (18.9 points, 7.7 assists per game) wasn't terrible considering the circumstances, and he managed to get hot toward the end of the year and direct the Nets to the No. 4 seed in the East.

But his place among the NBA's best point guards took a considerable hit. He missed the All-Star cut, and deservedly so.

Let's take a look at how he stacked up against the game's best quarterbacks in 2012-13. Note that he's the only floor general who scored less than 20 while dishing fewer than eight assists. Everyone who posted fewer than eight assists scored at least 20 except for Williams, who notched 18.9. 

Keep in mind, Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose missed the entire 2012-13 campaign, and when healthy, puts up 22-25 points and eight assists per game.

D-Will needs to sustain his Olympian-caliber playmaking in order to return to the top five in the position, or even top three as he once was.

Let's be clear: Numbers aren't paramount, nor is comparing Williams' individual accomplishments to others. But his overall production could potentially propel the Nets to the Conference Finals, a place Williams has been just once in his career.

 

2013-14: The pieces are in place

With healthy legs, an upgraded lineup and a familiar face at head coach, D-Will has a lot going for him entering the 2013-13 season.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are going to make life easier for him, as they both play an efficient, smart brand of basketball.

Pierce's ability to distribute the ball, make high-level passes and knock down shots will help Williams in the scoring and assisting departments. That, in turn, should help Brooklyn in the winning department.

Both Pierce and Williams have the kind of unselfishness that will allow them to share the ball and put the team's success ahead of any individual heroics.

Meanwhile, Garnett will help get the team extra possessions, finish what Williams starts and also make the right pass off double-teams in the post. It's important that the two establish a good inside-outside rapport, because they could become a sensational pick-and-roll pair.

Williams also has to fully utilize his returning starters. He must find Brook Lopez in the paint often, and his chemistry with Joe Johnson has room for improvement. Johnson and Williams didn't have problems sharing the ball in 2012-13, but they usually just watched each other work in isolation. This year, the goal is to truly collaborate and move the ball to each other within possessions.

Mix those two starters with incoming bench talent like Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, and you have a formidable core. Kirilenko and D-Will played five-plus years together in Utah, and the Russian forward will undoubtedly be a favorite transition target for the point guard. They'll try to revive the groove they had going in Salt Lake City.

Williams has a chance to orchestrate an attack powerful enough to compete for a title. He needs to take advantage of these resources while these veterans have some juice left. 

He can also look forward to working with new head coach Jason Kidd, a friend who has been something of a mentor to D-Will in the NBA and on Team USA. Kidd will work with his assistants to empower Williams to make key decisions and tailor the game plan to his talents.

 

A make-or-break season

Deron Williams is 29 years old, healthy and surrounded by as much talent as he's ever enjoyed.

If he doesn't thrive now, when will he?

It wasn't too long ago that D-Will was regularly breaking opponents' ankles, making All-Star Games and giving Chris Paul a run for his money. He can regain that lofty status by getting the most out of himself and his Nets teammates and making them a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.

A failure to produce would show that his best days are behind him and that he's not worthy to be mentioned among the league's elite point guards.

Which will it be, Deron?

 

Follow Dan O'Brien: @DanielO_BR

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