The Sacramento Kings had several issues to deal with following their 113-104 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. The Kings had failed to build on the momentum of Tuesday's win at Houston. Their scoring depth was pathetic—six of the 11 Kings to play in the game finished with a combined four points on 2-of-16 shooting.
But after the game, Kings head coach Mike Malone was mostly interested in the play of forward Derrick Williams. Williams wasn't among the six players who couldn't score—he had 11 points in the game on 4-of-7 shooting. Malone hopes that Williams will see even more shots in the future.
Per The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones:
I talked to Derrick (Thursday) morning, and I’ve got to try to get him some more looks so he can play and be aggressive. It’s been real tough on Derrick, but I know he’s going to keep on competing.
What, pray tell, has been so tough on Derrick? The third-year forward has been on the ride of a lifetime in 2013-14, and the season isn't even half over yet. In the course of just three months, Williams has gone from little-used bench player in Minnesota to starter in Sacramento, then back to the bench following the Kings' trade for Rudy Gay. Williams got out from a bad situation, was given the opportunity of his career and then had that opportunity snatched away from him...all in the span of nine games.
Now that Williams finds himself back on the bench, his coach (and Kings fans) are hoping that he can put the disappointment behind him, raise his game and become the player he was expected to be coming out of the University of Arizona.
The Roller Coaster
On Nov. 26, Williams, the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, was traded to Sacramento for Luc Mbah a Moute, a former second-round pick. The trade ended a disappointing and controversial two-year stint in Minnesota, where Williams never quite seemed to get the playing time commensurate with his draft position.
According to Basketball Reference, Williams ranks 12th among all third-year players in career minutes. He ranks just 20th out of all third-year players in 2013-14 minutes. That's not quite what you would expect from the second pick in the draft.
His season got off to a miserable start on Oct. 30, when he didn't play a single minute of Minnesota's season-opening overtime win against Orlando.
After the game, Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman brushed off the media's concern that Williams might need more playing time, per ESPN1500's Nate Sandell: "I don't worry about him as much as you guys [in the media] do," Adelman said. "No, really. He's going to get a chance to play when it looks like a good opportunity for him."
It had been clear for some time that Adelman wasn't particularly interested in Williams' development. Williams needed a change of scenery, and he got it, thanks to the trade.
The previous Kings regime, the much-maligned Maloofs, traded away the fifth pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Thomas Robinson, in an attempt to dump salary. In trading for Williams, the new Kings were attempting to rectify the mistakes of the past. They now had another highly regarded prospect at the forward position, a player with serious upside, a player they could develop.
Sacramento made it clear from the start that it didn't acquire Williams simply for depth. Williams started seven of his first eight games in Sacramento. More importantly, the Kings made it a point to feature Williams in the offense. His touches rose, his scoring rose and his confidence rose.
The new Derrick Williams era culminated in a Dec. 9 victory against Dallas, when he scored a career-high 31 points. Fellow Sacramento big DeMarcus Cousins scored 32 in that game, and Kings fans were giddy at the thought of their potent new frontcourt duo.
But the new Derrick Williams era disappeared just as quickly as it began. That very evening, Dec. 9, Sacramento acquired high-scoring, high-paid forward Rudy Gay in a trade with the Toronto Raptors. Williams started just one more game for the Kings.
|Derrick Williams' 2013-14 Splits|
|Sacramento, Pre-Gay Trade||7||28.5||4.9||9.1||.531||5.4||12.9|
|Sacramento, Post-Gay Trade||11||22.7||2.1||5.1||.411||2.5||6.6|
Since the Gay trade, Williams' touches have fallen back in line with what he was getting in Minnesota. You can see why a 22-year-old might become discouraged—he was looking for a fresh start in Sacramento, and now he's right back where he started (on the court, at least).
The Rudy Gay Effect
Rudy Gay might be the most polarizing player in the NBA. He can give a team 20 points a game. He's athletic and dynamic. But he has become an incredibly inefficient volume scorer over the past few years, and more statistically-inclined NBA fans have noticed that his teams usually play much better with him on the bench (or on another roster).
While it's still early, evidence suggests the same thing might be happening in Sacramento. The Kings have been scoring fewer points and giving up more points while playing Gay than they do while playing Williams.
|Kings with Derrick Williams vs. with Rudy Gay|
|Kings w/ Williams on Court||18||106.1||109.1||-3.0|
|Kings w/ Gay on Court||11||105.4||111.8||-6.4|
Gay is a black hole for field-goal attempts. While he's shooting at a decent rate—49.1 percent—the offense tends to stagnate when he's in the game.
Perhaps the time has come for a radical solution. Coach Mike Malone demonstrated that he is still committed to Williams' development. Well, Williams was clearly playing with more confidence and getting more touches when he was starting. Maybe the time has come to start Williams over Gay.
The solution works on two levels. A volume scorer like Gay might be better suited to the second unit, particularly on a team like Sacramento, which lacks bench scoring. In the post-Manu Ginobili NBA, coming off the bench is no longer the stigma it once was. It shouldn't affect the confidence of a veteran like Gay.
In the meantime, Williams would probably like a chance to play alongside Isaiah Thomas and Cousins, acting as a third scoring option instead of being asked to assume a heavier burden on the bench. It's a win-win scenario.
Players like Williams, Cousins and Thomas are the future of the Kings. Sacramento doesn't have a prayer of making the playoffs either way, so perhaps the time has come to pay more attention to Williams' development.