Can Derrick Williams Finally Reach NBA Potential with Sacramento Kings?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 26, 2013

Nov 3, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Derrick Williams (7) drives to the basket against New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) in the first quarter  at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not sure there are too many young players in bigger need of a scenery change.

Derrick Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, just hasn't been effective through his first two years in the pros. Blame it on his fit in Minnesota or call him a bust—either way, the pressure is now on Williams to produce in Sacramento, his new home, after he was traded for career 6.8-point-per-game scorer Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Here's what we do know: It wasn't working in Minnesota. Williams was getting less than 15 minutes a game this season, which just isn't enough time to build any sustainable offensive rhythm. Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett won't disagree.

With the Kings set at power forward (Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson, Carl Landry), it appears the plan is to slide Williams into the small-forward slot.

And there lies the question that will hover over Williams' head as he tries to revive his NBA career:

What is Derrick Williams' natural position in the pros?

He played mostly power forward in high school and college. Williams dropped 19.5 points a game as a sophomore at Arizona, where his 6'8.75" size and explosive athleticism translated to easy buckets and unchallengeable looks.

In 2010-11, he was the toughest mismatch in all of college basketball. He shot over 59 percent from the field and attempted 8.7 free throws a game. Big men couldn't defend him off the bounce, and smaller forwards couldn't contain him in the paint.

But most of Williams' offensive production came as a result of post-ups, pick-and-rolls and other finishes around the key off cuts or flashes. He did most of his damage within 15 feet.

Oct 12, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Derrick Williams (7) dunks while defended by Toronto Raptors power forward Tyler Hansbrough (50) in the second quarter at Target Center. Raptors won 104-97. Mandatory Credit: Greg Sm
Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Though he shot a whopping 57 percent from downtown as a sophomore, his outside shooter numbers were deceiving. He only took 74 shots from behind the arc all year—and just about all of them were spot-up opportunities.

With the deeper NBA arc, those spot-up opportunities just haven't been available from 22 feet from the rim anymore. Now, they're open from 25 feet, and Williams has struggled to extend his range.

He shot just 27 percent from downtown as a rookie and 33 percent as a sophomore, compared to the fluky 57 percent he shot as a college sophomore.

Despite his fall-off in terms of perimeter-scoring efficiency in Minnesota, as well as his monstrous physical tools, Williams found himself spending an awful amount of time away from the basket.

In 2012-13, Williams took 369 shots in the paint, compared to 416 out of it. Just to put those numbers in perspective, most power forwards have it the other way it around. Paul Millsap took 552 shots in the paint last year compared to 322 outside it.

It's no surprise Williams is a career 42 percent shooter from the field, while a guy like Millsap has a career low of 49 percent entering his eighth year in the league.

Williams' preference for the perimeter might have something to do with the fact he shot just 58.6 percent at the rim last season. Ty Lawson shot 59 percent at the rim, and he's barely 6'0".

Usually a power forward is defined by his ability to score around the basket. But for whatever reason, Williams hasn't been able to consistently convert his interior opportunities. Sometimes players just aren't able to adjust to the new size and strength of their opponents.

In college, Williams relied heavily on finding the stripe and easy buckets at the rim. In the pros, he hasn't been getting whistles or those uncontested finishes—and it's killing his offensive efficiency.

If Williams is going to shoot below league average at the rim, then he better be a darn good shooter from outside. And that hasn't been the case so far.

The Fit and Role in Sacramento

Based on the Kings' current roster, it doesn't look like Williams will have the choice of playing inside or out. Sacramento is already loaded up front with 4's and 5's.

As a wing, Williams' challenges will center on his ability to generate offense on the perimeter, whether that's separating for a jumper in the mid-range:

Or taking his man off the dribble from the arc to the rack:

These are the types of plays Williams is going to have to make as an on-ball scoring small forward.

Without the ball, he'll be spread out around the arc, so spot-up jump-shooting opportunities should find him. Knocking those down would go a long way toward maximizing his purpose on the floor.

He's also going to have to improve his passing and awareness. Williams has averaged less than one assist per game in each of his first two seasons.

A wing is required to make the extra pass and the entry pass. If Williams isn't able to execute or recognize his cue, he'll hurt the team's offensive fluidity—something he did in Minnesota when the ball would stick to his hands.

For Williams to be effective as a King, learning to play within the offense will be vital. That's knowing when to stay aggressive as a scorer versus moving the ball to keep the possession flowing.

Williams still has plenty of untapped talent bottled up. He's making the transition from the 4 to the 3, and that's going to take some time.

It may also never happen, something Minnesota is apparently betting on. But the risk was worth the reward for the Kings.

The bottom line is that Williams is a tremendous athlete, serviceable rebounder, capable shooter and borderline tweener.

If he's going to make it in Sacramento, finding that niche as a forward will be the top task to tackle. Given how the Kings' roster is constructed, that's likely to mean improving his perimeter-scoring efficiency as a small forward or wing.


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