Gone are the days when Deron Williams routinely averaged 18 points and 10 assists per game with the Utah Jazz en route to two All-NBA Second Team appearances. But where has that D-Will gone now that he’s a member of the Brooklyn Nets?
The former Illinois standout was once a mainstay in discussions tabbing the Association’s top-five point guards. Now, one could easily argue that he doesn’t crack the top 10.
The 29-year-old veteran has experienced a collection of minor, nagging injuries, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t still be performing at an elite level.
Players within his age range—like Chris Paul (28), LeBron James (29) and Carmelo Anthony (29)—are still in the middle of their respective primes and playing at MVP-caliber levels.
Additionally, Williams is playing with a solid supporting cast. His teammates include All-Star Joe Johnson and the resurgent Shaun Livingston, as well as proven champions by way of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
In the Game 2 loss against the Toronto Raptors, however, Brooklyn’s floor general finished with just 15 points and five assists in 35 minutes of action. He shot 5-of-15 from the field (33.3 percent), and his Nets fell by a five-point margin.
He wasn’t much better in the Game 1 win either. He did score 24 points, but it took an 8-of-20 shooting night to get there and he only dished out three assists in 39 minutes.
Getting past Toronto is still the first step—and one that presents significant obstacles. But if the Nets are going to become a legit playoff threat in the Eastern Conference, they’ll need far more from Williams than they’re currently getting—especially considering he signed a five-year, $100 million contract just two years ago.
Scoring and Attacking the Rim
The Nets compiled a 7-3 record during the regular season when their point guard scored more than 20 points. It didn’t happen often, but Brooklyn won 70 percent of its games when D-Will eclipsed the 20-point plateau.
Not surprisingly, that same narrative played out in Game 1. Williams scored 24 and helped earn his team a victory despite shooting just 40 percent.
KG and “The Truth” are no longer the scoring threats they were for years with the Boston Celtics. The Nets have had to rely upon a balanced attack from varying sources to put points on the board, but Williams would take quite a bit of pressure off the other members in the rotation if he can resurrect his scoring repertoire.
One such remedy is attacking the basket.
During postseason play in 2014, the veteran floor general is shooting 54.5 percent on drives, according to NBA.com. That mark is an improvement from the 49.7 percent average he posted during the regular season, which may be a sign of good things to come—but note that it's an admittedly small sample size.
On top of those stats, he has yet to miss a free throw. He’s 9-of-9 after two games, so attacking the rim and drawing more contact has to be a primary focus for Williams during the rest of the playoffs. He’s even acknowledged that game plan, per ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk.
“We want to get in the paint, and so a lot of that starts with me and Shaun [Livingston] getting into the paint and making things happen,” he said.
He’s notched 54.5 percent on drives, yet is shooting 37.1 percent overall (including 33.3 percent from beyond the arc). Simply put, Williams’ jump shooting hasn’t been anything to write home about. He needs to continue putting his head down and forcing the issue offensively. That will not only aid his own offensive output, it will also open up passing lanes for him to dish out more assists.
Orchestrating the offense is his responsibility. That job will be made much easier if he’s getting to the charity stripe and keeping opposing defenders on their heels.
Relax and Enjoy Playing
Oftentimes, fans and media members can scrutinize players to the point where we forget about important details. One such element is that NBA players are living out their dream jobs—well, except Andrew Bynum.
Williams has been his own harshest critic during the tough road he’s endured. That’s a mindset he must put behind him if he’s going to ease his way out of the current funk.
“When things get tough, he has a support system to let him know that it’s not the end of the world, and to not be so hard on himself,” Garnett said, per Youngmisuk. “Deron’s biggest problem has been Deron. He’s very, very hard on himself, to the point where you have to pull him to the side and give him some real s---, say some real s--- to him.”
The uncensored KG added that Williams has “the heart of a champion.” That’s something “The Big Ticket” can certainly speak toward.
Nobody in the league will be afforded the opportunity to play forever. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant were faced with that harsh reality during injury-riddled seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Williams needs to enjoy the time he has left and not beat himself up so much for mistakes and lackluster play.
If he’s uptight, his game is going to reflect those inner emotions.
Through all of the offensive struggles, though, his defense has been rock solid. He earned a score of 35/40 in that category, per Bleacher Report’s own Adam Fromal in the NBA 200 series (highly recommended). Fromal wrote the following of the 1-guard’s impact on that end:
D-Will's defensive skills don't often get focused on, but he's left no doubt during the 2013-14 season that he's an above-average stopper in most aspects. Not only are the Nets significantly better at preventing points when he plays, but his off-ball defense got better and better as the season wore on.
In the Raptors series, the Nets point guard has held Kyle Lowry—an All-Star snub—to 37.9 percent shooting. The 28-year-old out of Villanova is also turning the ball over four times per game (far above his regular-season average of 2.5). He’s still scoring 18 points per contest, but Williams has significantly disrupted his efficiency.
The defense is there, the talent is there and, according to Garnett, the “heart” is there.
Living up to his huge contract may not be feasible, but at the very least Williams can loosen up and have fun out on the court. That is his job after all.