Will Deron Williams pick up his game right where it left off at the end of last season, when he began again to look like one of the best point guards in the NBA? If his preseason debut is any indication, the answer is “yes.”
Williams “passed every test and cleared every hurdle in a highlight-filled 10-minute cameo” according to the New York Daily News’ Stefan Bondy. He scored 11 points in those 10 minutes, including three treys in a row, helping the Brooklyn Nets over the Miami Heat.
This casts some light on the Nets’ potential in 2013-14, after Williams found himself battling ankle issues once more and in a walking boot mid-September, just when you thought all those creaky issues were finally behind him.
Williams is one of the four title-contingent players on the Nets (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Brook Lopez are the other three). A poor season or postseason by any one of these players will most likely spell the end of any great success—meaning the Eastern Conference or NBA title. The competition dictates such a scenario.
After a down-and-up 2012-13 that saw Williams looking like his old Utah Jazz self following a successful third round of cortisone shots over the All-Star Weekend, the hope was that the point guard would continue the trend into the following season.
Williams “sprained his ankle during an offseason workout in Utah,” and Jason Kidd intimated to ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo that D-Will “could miss the start of the regular season.”
He missed the first six preseason games but now looks on track to make the opening game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Williams’ minutes will probably be limited through the first two or three weeks of the season, but the minor nature of this latest injury—and the fact that it’s not related to his previous problems—bodes well for Brooklyn’s prospects.
Roderick Boone of Newsday had the very latest:
That performance sparked a big dose of optimism. Asked if he's confident he can go in the opener, Williams said: “I should be.” His sprained ankle had nothing to do with last season's ankle problem. "Last year was just joint pain, and inflammation from joints, probably from me being a little heavy," Williams said. "This year, I sprained my ankle."
The disconnect between injuries coupled with a renewed “commitment to health” (per Bondy again) have set the stage for Williams to have perhaps the best season of his career, if all goes well.
The potential is there. This is surely the best cast he’s had surrounding him—including a coach he might even get along with for the very first time in the pros.
So what kind of season does that entail, and how does Deron make it happen?
First, let’s look at some numbers: Williams’ 2009-10 (arguably his best season), 2012-13, career and 2013-14-projection lines, by way of basketball-reference.com. These are per 36 minutes.
Pretty consistent, actually. That 2009-10 season was the highest Williams ranked in MVP voting (ninth).
The projections for the upcoming season have an uptick in points over the other three lines, but not by much. The assumption is opportunity will be distributed more with a starting five that can all score.
The issue is assists. The projections have an uptick there as well, again not by much. This is a bit conservative. Assuming a healthy, slimmed-down Williams is lined up with those other scorers (and a respectable offensive bench), you have to believe his dishes will once again approach double-digits.
Williams breached the 10 AP36 mark three seasons in a row (and 10 APG four seasons in a row) with Utah.
And that’s Coach Kidd’s game plan, too.
Here’s our prediction, assuming a relatively healthy (no devastating or forever-lingering ailments) lineup: D-Will will score 18 points a game—he doesn’t need to score more—and with Kidd’s mentoring, has the chance to lead the league in assists per game at near 11.
This is, in fact, Williams’ best group he’s ever been able to rely on. It’s his opportunity to prove how good a floor general he is.
It’s also very possible Williams will have a lethal season from behind the arc, for several reasons.
First, he was solid last year, even with the bum ankles—38 percent. Secondly, with all the clutter down low in both KG and Lopez, and with Pierce stretching defenses beneath the arc, Williams and Joe Johnson will have much of the long-distance shots to themselves, particularly the sidelines.
This falls right in with Williams’ recent, more successful tendencies as evidenced by his 2012-13 shot chart.
Furthermore, the three-pointer is the new “thing.” Several teams, like the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors utilize long distance as a core weapon. The Nets will need to keep pace with these teams to maximize their wins and playoff seeding.
What about defense? This is supposed to be a tougher Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14. They picked up an identity with that huge trade—in-your-face, head-game, relentless, never-wilt b-ball is on tap. Not like that fizzle in Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls.
It’s easy to see where Garnett and Pierce fall into that mix—they are the impetus—but how does Williams fit?
He’s not known as the best leader or defender, but maybe that’s just been a matter of “effort and positioning. [They] both certainly played roles in his..shortcomings,” suggests Sports Illustrated’s Ben Beecken.
Inspired by an owner who will do seemingly anything to take the reins of New York City and the NBA itself, a coach who knows everything about the point guard position and the most on-court support of his career, Williams may very well put up that season fans have been waiting for—the full realization of Williams’ true potential.
An exciting prospect, indeed.