How Derrick Williams Can Evolve His Game for Minnesota Timberwolves

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How Derrick Williams Can Evolve His Game for Minnesota Timberwolves
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Derrick Williams is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, in case you've forgotten. Flip Saunders wants you to know that.

"I think he's the one guy that everyone's kind of forgot about and they don't talk much about," he told the Timberwolves' play-by-play voice, Alan Horton.

Saunders has a point. For awhile it didn't seem like Williams would be a part of the team's future. Prior to David Kahn's exodus, he was more known for his trade-rumor cameos than he was his play on the court.

Even now, with the Timberwolves angling for a playoff berth, there's no guarantee he lives up to his No. 2 pick status in time to make the impact they're looking for.

The 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game he's averaged the last two seasons aren't indicative of a draft bust, but they do leave much to be desired. Next year is then huge for him, as it marks a turning point in his career one way or the other.

"This is a big proving year for him, to get out and really do some things." Saunders said. "But I believe he's going to show that he can play a couple of different positions."

If Williams was looking for a definitive blueprint, he's not going to do any better than that. Armed with the knowledge of what Saunders and the Timberwolves need, he can tailor—nay, evolve—his game to fit their plans and escape the cloud of doubt he's currently playing under.

 

Bombs Away....Accurately

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Saunders makes reference to Williams playing multiple positions while also emphasizing one of the team's primary goals was to add an influx of perimeter scoring. Doesn't take a genius to figure out what he means.

USA TODAY Sports

Williams needs to develop into more of a stretch 4 than a traditional power forward. Thus far, he's been left to waffle somewhere between the two.

He hasn't been shy about hoisting up jumpers. Quite the opposite, actually. According to hoopdata.com, more than 54.4 percent of his shots came outside of nine feet last season and 60 percent came outside that range during his rookie campaign.

The problem isn't that he's adverse to navigating the perimeter; it's that he hasn't been effective. Last year he made only 34.5 percent of his shots outside of nine feet; the year before he converted just 24.4 percent of his attempts.

Below you'll find a breakdown of how he fared from each designated area:

Derrick Williams' Shooting Percentages
Season At Rim 3-9 FT 10-15 FT 16-23 FT 3P
2011-12 63.3 20.8 28.6 29.0 26.8
2012-13 63.5 14.3 37.0 34.0 33.2

From hoopdata.com

His mid-to-long-range game is need of some serious refining. So far he's yet to drain even 40 percent of his shots in a single area outside of nine feet. We're not even talking overall, but a single interval. Anything that tells us he has a sweet spot away from the rim would suffice.

That's hardly too much to ask when you consider how often the Timberwolves already use him as a hybrid wingman. Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), 27.5 percent of his offensive possessions came as a spot-up shooter in 2012-13. More than a quarter of his touches came as a shooter, yet he nailed only 36.5 percent of his attempts in those situations. 

Head coach Rick Adelman has already implored him to make faster, more definitive decisions when he catches the ball.

"When he catches the ball, he’s got to be ready to shoot it," he said of Williams back in March, as quoted by the New York Times' Steve McPherson. "Sometimes I think he’s trying to figure out what he’s going to do. He’s got to be ready to take his shot and not worry about it.”

Quick releases are a necessity for shooters. Defenders are going to close out eventually and you must be ready to fire away.

How much thought goes into his jumper below?

None whatsoever. Alexey Shved delivers the ball and it's out of Williams' hands before he has time to think. 

Minnesota won't stop asking him to shoot; Saunders has made that much clear. He'll be expected to score from the perimeter like Kevin Love, Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger. And alongside the drive-and-kick heavy stylings of Ricky Rubio that makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is playing Williams extensively if he can't adjust. Previously the Timberwolves didn't have much in the way of floor spacing, but now they have an opportunity to stretch opposing defenses with artful shooting.

It's up to Williams to fall in line and bury the daggers he's already attempting.

 

Interior Scoring

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Williams can get to the rim off the dribble, but that's not enough.

Tight handles at his size accompanied with consistent outside shooting (neither of which he has yet) make for a dangerous 3. Williams won't be spending all his time at small forward, though. Saunders said "a couple of different positions," not one exclusively.

There will be times when he's at the 4 as more than a stretch forward, when he has the ball on the block with his back to the basket and is unable to take his man off the dribble. There will be times when he needs to post up.

To this point that hasn't been a strength of his. Last season post-ups accounted for only 4.2 percent of his touches, via Synergy, though that number isn't what concerns us. His 33.3 percent clip off them—that's what worries us. Williams is shooting over 63 percent at the rim for his career, so it's unsettling to see such a regrettable conversion rate when he's closer to the basket.

Williams is shooting 53.7 percent in the paint for his career; that's not good (via NBA.com).

Undersized for the power forward position and not LeBron James-like bulky, his disadvantages are obvious. He's not going to overpower, outmuscle or shoot over everyone. Instead he'll have to rely on his explosion, quickness and footwork. 

He has to outmaneuver.

Think of the way Amar'e Stoudemire scores in post. At 6'10" he's taller than Williams, but he's a slender power forward who doesn't count on his strength to get him through. Rather, he uses a vast array of spins, pump fakes and hesitation dribbles to draw defenders off their feet or out of position.

Paging Hakeem Olajuwon.

If Williams is able to become a low-post threat in addition to what he can already do (dunks in transition, paint slashes, etc), he'll be that much more valuable to a Timberwolves team in need of interior scoring.

With Rubio at the point and Minnesota looking to run, not all sets will be run through the post. When they are, Nikola Pekovic will be the primary focus. But interior success doesn't end with him. Or Kevin Love. It can't.

Minnesota finished in the bottom half of points scored in the paint per game last season (41); there is room for Williams to do what he, well, can't really do right now.

Not to mention he needs to expand his offensive horizons anyway. Time was already spent dissecting his three-point woes. Developing into a palatable inside presence decreases his dependency on jump shots, something that, given his perimeter struggles, the Timberwolves should be beyond interested in.

 

More Self-Sufficient

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More than he relies on jumpers, Williams depends on everyone else. Like an offensive parasite of sorts.

Creating his own shot isn't his forte, and while that's not a huge problem next to the ball-dominating Rubio, it's not ideal. Not only have injuries dampened Rubio's first two seasons, Williams figures to see minutes at the 3. Again, Saunders pretty much said so.

Wings who can't consistently create for themselves, whether it be off the dribble, while employing the use of up-fakes or anything else, aren't going to be dominant offensive threats. Especially when they're someone like Williams, whom we've just seen isn't valuable as a spot-up shooter.

Easy looks are great, but can Williams do more?

During the 2012-13 crusade, 76.1 percent of his field goals came off assists. More than three quarters of his made baskets. When the league average is just over 60 percent, according to hoopdata.com.

This hasn't only been an issue since his rookie season when 67.8 percent of his scores came off dimes; it's gotten worse.

Feel free to sound the alarm whenever.

To be sure, the Timberwolves don't need Williams to become an isolation specialist like Joe Johnson. But with the way injuries have impacted the roster these last couple years and given how turbulent a shooter Williams has proved to be, neither side can go on like this.

What do the Timberwolves need more of from Williams most?

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Williams has the speed and athleticism to score on his own. Against traditional power forwards who aren't as mobile, he should be able to score without Rubio, Shved, J.J. Barea or anyone else leading the way.

Points exist outside of transition, lobs and, in Williams' case, the ever-so-rare catch-and-shoot conversion. He just has to find them.

Only then will the Timberwolves find they're smitten by a more self-sustaining Williams.

 

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