Jason Kidd Will Be Best or Worst Thing That Happened to Deron Williams' Career
Back when the Brooklyn Nets introduced Jason Kidd as their Savior-in-Chief—and before half the Celtics' roster followed suit—Deron Williams could already see the writing on the wall, per New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy:
I know he wants to get out and run, which I’m definitely happy about. And ball movement. The ball movement is key. We talked a lot about it this year. We got into the habit of playing a lot of one-on-one basketball and you look at the teams that won championships, I don’t think many of them thrive on just one-on-one basketball.
Kidd knows talk is cheap. He also knows his most important objective—perhaps the very reason he was brought in—is to ensure the very pricey talent on this roster doesn't go to waste. If the ball's always in Williams' hands, that talent will inevitably amount to less than it should.
To that end, Bondy now reports that Kidd's goal for this season is "to get [Williams] back to double-digit assists," somewhere Bondy notes that the point guard hasn't been since the 2010-11 campaign.
Williams' ill-conceived transformation into a score-first floor general isn't entirely his fault. It's doubtful that it was even deliberate.
His inefficiency in 2011-12 had a lot to do with playing on a sub-par roster, and his assist average dropping another digit a year later can be blamed in part on playing much of the season with ankle pain.
Kidd seems to believe a healthy, fit and refocused version of the three-time All-Star will pay dividends for a team that's finally been legitimately infused with title-caliber talent. He envisions these guys defying all those aged-based preconceptions and turning into an up-tempo team.
Or anyway, a team that has some tempo.
Only time will tell how that kind of pace suits the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson's aging legs. It will speak volumes about whether Brook Lopez can dominate on an open-court team.
And it will give us an early indication of the extent to which Kidd's legendary transition prowess translates effectively into his schemes as a coach.
According to NBA.com, most of the metrics indicate there's something to Kidd's belief in Williams flying back to the highest tier of assist leaders.
After resting his ankle during the All-Star break, the then 28-year-old started playing his age again. His true shooting percentage jumped eight percentage points after that pause in the action, and his pace and usage rates also rose as head coach P.J. Carlesimo looked to take advantage of his best all-around scorer.
That won't be Kidd's strategy.
The most noticeable difference may be a mandate to get the ball out of Williams' hands once he gets into those in-between zones.
He made 39.7 percent of his jumpers from 16-24 feet out, slightly better than 31.8 percent mark from range. Because those two-point shots count for less, however, his effective field-goal percentage was significantly better from behind the arc—54.4 percent compared to the unchanged 39.7 percent on those mid-range twos.
A healthy dose of moving the ball side-to-side and getting the entire team passing to its full potential could do wonders for Williams' three-point game, where 73.4 percent of his makes were assisted.
For the record, though, Williams was already taking a ton of his shots from behind that three-point line.
Still, making it easier for him to get open looks certainly can't hurt.
That's the genius of getting the ball out of Williams' hands. On the one hand, it creates opportunities for a suddenly very-skilled rotation; and on the other, it means there's a better chance the rock will find its way back into his hands—ideally with an opportune look from deep.
You'll also note from that shot chart that Williams hasn't been getting many looks at the rim.
Playing alongside skilled passers like Pierce and Garnett will give greater incentive to move off the ball, cutting to the basket for some easy looks. That kind of movement makes all the more sense with Lopez and Garnett capable of pulling defenders out of the painted area on account of their range.
As much as giving could translate into receiving, this isn't about making Williams a better scorer—at least for Kidd.
And that's the scary part. It's not that there's anything wrong with pursuing the kind of ensemble model employed by teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers. It's not that attempting to push the pace like the Miami Heat is anything short of laudable.
It's just that Kidd will have to be careful about trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. His philosophy won't be the end of Williams, but that doesn't mean it'll be a new beginning for Brooklyn.
If the Nets are indeed due a new day, it may have more to do with Williams' relationship with Kidd. After all, remaining committed to Kidd's gameplan will have more to do with what's going on in his head than any kind of skill gap.
In July—when onlookers were still grappling with the whether the new coach was a good fit—Kidd had this to say about his expectations of working with Williams (via Newsday's Roderick Boone).
Well, we are a family, so my job is to put guys in position to be successful. His job is to execute that. We are friends, but I'm also friends of [other players]. So I mean, I want those guys to be successful and hopefully they want the same thing for me.
Coaching inexperience notwithstanding, Kidd has the right idea about how to manage his troops. His investment in his individual players' performance should translate into collective dividends as well. And not just in terms of everyone feeling good about themselves.
In the event all these newfangled plans for Fast & Furious 7 go awry, it's hard to imagine Kidd telling all his friends/players to suck it up and deal. Given Williams' reaction to Kidd's hiring, it's even harder to imagine him not doing his part. He described Kidd as more than just a friend, saying in June—per USA Today's Nicole Auerbach—that he, "grew up watching him, trying to emulate him, trying to learn from him."
In short, respecting him.
There's a mutual respect evident in both comments, the kind of respect that serves as a foundation for resurgent careers and title success alike. Thanks to the time they spent together with Team USA back in 2008, that respect is more than lip service.
It doesn't, however, come without risks.
No matter how much Williams idolized his playing days, Kidd hasn't had any coaching days to admire or discount either way. Whether Williams' reputation as an obstinate coach-killer is well-founded, he certainly hasn't done much to dispel the notion.
Should this point-guard partnering fail early and often, fingers will be pointed—potentially some very wealthy, Russian fingers. Kidd's young enough in coach years to rebound from a disaster, especially against the backdrop of a video game-like team building effort.
You can't say the same for Williams, though. This is his last great opportunity at enshrining himself a superstar with the postseason credentials to match. If things go badly, they'll go worst of all for him.
Perhaps that's all the more incentive to ensure things don't go badly, to put the worst of his career behind him. Even if the 2012-13 Nets aren't in fact built to win a championship, theirs is a blueprint that should win serious legacy points for Deron Williams.
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