Lou Williams is known for doing one thing exceptionally well—scoring buckets with the flash of a superhero, albeit in the body of a 175-pound humanoid.
The 10-year guard was officially signed by the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, per Lakers.com. His presence will bring instant offense to a team that averaged just 98.5 points per game during its 21-61 season.
He is, after all, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, collecting the honor after a stellar season with the Toronto Raptors.
But how will a ball-happy shooter who’s generously listed at 6’1” fit into a backcourt that includes uber-legend Kobe Bryant, No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, the NBA All-Rookie First Team selection?
The simplest solution is to move Bryant to small forward for a meaningful number of minutes. It will save wear and tear on those aged and battered legs and will also put Mamba into sweet spots on the wing, where he can execute his patented pump-fake fall-away jumpers.
This is by no means a novel idea—Bryant has dabbled on the wing throughout his career, including 32 percent of his playing time during the 2012-13 season.
As Forum Blue and Gold’s Darius Soriano writes, that will open up the shooting guard option off the bench for the 28-year-old Williams:
He will likely be the team’s 3rd guard, playing next to Russell and Clarkson whenever one of them is on the bench. Lou can work on or off the ball and should allow for both Russell and Clarkson to lead possessions as the PG, but also move away from the action either off-screens or as a secondary handler when the ball gets swung to them in spot up situations.
This will also create opportunities for Williams and Bryant to spend time on the floor together. During an interview with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, Williams expressed hope for a learning experience with the five-time champion:
It’ll be an amazing experience. A lot of guys don’t get the chance to play with one of the best players in the world. I’m excited, especially with him playing the same position that I play, so hopefully I’ll be able to learn from him. I’m looking forward to just being around him. Greatness is contagious.
But the newest Laker guard will also have to adapt to head coach Byron Scott’s system—and that could be a challenge.
Williams has always been a 2-guard in a point guard’s body, and he’s learned to compensate for his lack of height by shooting off the dribble with a fast, high release. He’s not, however, a guy who’s known for sharing the rock or for defensive prowess—two traits known to be valued by Scott.
In fact, during his interview with Kennedy, Williams acknowledged the role that defense played in Toronto's decision to let him walk during free agency.
“I think they wanted to go in a different direction and become more of a defensive-minded team,” Williams said. “With the way that the playoffs ended, I think it left a sour taste in management’s mouth and they went out and picked up defensive players.”
Williams is coming off a career year that showcased his best attribute—scoring the ball. He averaged 15.5 points in 25.2 minutes per game and was also adept at picking up fouls while letting it fly, which led to plenty of and-ones. Williams had 4.9 free-throw attempts per game this season, second only to DeMar DeRozan on the Raptors roster.
If all this sounds a little familiar, it may be due to Williams’ penchant for taking contested shots in a manner similar to another guy whose bench scoring once impressed the Lakers’ front office.
That would be Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who landed a four-year contract in L.A. after his standout 2013-14 season. Young, of course, is five inches taller and followed up a good season with a not-so-good one, including running afoul of Scott and his preference for unselfish principles.
Now, Young is the subject of trade rumors, while Williams is preparing to become the team’s next relief gunner. The table below shows how the best season for each player matches up.
|Comparative stats, best seasons for Williams and Young|
Swaggy might have been a tad more efficient a couple of years ago, but Lou Will is hot off his SMOY award, as well as serving as Drake’s lyrical inspiration for “6 Man.” Each player’s calling card is instant offense, but Williams’ more recent success must have swayed the Lakers’ front office.
Drafted out of high school as the 45th overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2005, Williams averaged 1.9 points in 4.8 minutes per game that season as a backup point guard behind another diminutive baller—Allen Iverson.
Williams’ role increased over a seven-year run in Philadelphia, culminating in the 2011-12 season during which he led the team in scoring despite not starting a single game. That summer, he signed with the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent.
But Atlanta turned out to be a less than optimal experience—Williams tore his ACL halfway through the season, resulting in reconstructive surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation.
“I didn’t think I was going to be the same player,” Williams said in April, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. “I knew I wasn't going to have the foot speed I once had, I knew I wasn't going to be able to jump as high. But it taught me to be smart and I worked on different parts of my game.”
Williams was traded from the Hawks to the Raptors last summer in a salary-dump afterthought. That led to a career-best season for the motivated guard, who now takes his journey west to a team in transition.
Entering his 11th NBA season, Williams will be part of a small group of veterans that includes fellow new arrivals Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass, as well as Bryant as the incumbent. The Lakers’ coaching staff will look to find the right balance, integrating experience with a youth brigade led by Russell, Clarkson and last year’s No. 7 pick, Julius Randle.
What the result will be is anyone’s guess. This is a team with plenty of potential firepower and fueled by a head coach with a conservative approach.
But Williams was signed based on his body of work—a decade of free-styling through the NBA and an appetite for launching basket-seeking missiles. More buckets, more better for this new Lakers squad.
Now it’s just up to Scott to loosen the reins and let his horses run.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.