by Adam Figman / @afigman

I like this Top 50 thing that we do because it feels like such a fresh start; all of the rankings are performance predictions for the upcoming season, so mild hiccups and set backs in previous years should have little effect on where the players who experienced ’em are placed on this list, as long as we believe said hiccups/set backs are stuck in the past. What’s to come is all that matters.

And Deron Williams is kind of the posterboy for this mindset, no? If there’s anyone we’re supposed to remove from the context of his last couple of basketball-playing years and judge from a completely blank canvas, it’s DWill. Think about all that’s going to be different between ’11-12 and ’12-13 for this guy: New teammates (hello, Joe Johnson, CJ Watson, Mirza Teletovic, Josh Childress, Andray Blatche, Jerry Stackhouse and a full year with Gerald Wallace). Healthy teammates (hello, Bropez). New contract (hello, $$$). New stadium (what up, Brooklyn?).

It’s almost like Kanye and Rhymefest made that one song way back when about Deron Williams’ summer of 2012.

That’s just a convoluted way of saying that this guy is finally getting a new beginning. And with a new beginning will come an enhanced spotlight, and with an enhanced spotlight will come a renewed conversation about what he’s actually capable of on the court, in comparison with his esteemed peers. Which is where we come in.

Williams has had his moments of slightly sustained greatness, taking those late-’00s Utah Jazz squads to the postseason and assisting Team USA during a pair of Gold medal runs. But as of the past couple of years any true greatness—that unbelievable, unforeseeable, OMG wow how is he that fucking good at basketball greatness—has come in very short bursts. A 57-point frenzy here. A 38-point, 8 three-pointer barrage against a helpless Jeremy Lin there. Some insane 4-point plays. Couple of game-winners. A few ridiculous dishes to unsuspecting and occasionally incompetent teammates.

But what we expect from NBA superstars, especially those that get slotted in at points like this (and higher) on lists like this, is firmly sustained greatness. Leading deep Playoff runs; MVP consideration; scoring titles; Defensive Player of the Year awards; Championships. Basically, it’s the ability to say, “Man, _____ is unreal” during bball-focused conversations with friends or strangers, with zero context needed, because it’s that true—and it’s a fact that’s jumping off the television screen every time he’s on it.

It’ll be tough for Williams to jump into that category, if only because the Texas native’s game doesn’t exactly call for that form of fan love. How many people, Nets fans excluded, do you know consider Deron Williams the hands-down best point guard in the game? Certainly a few, but surely not many. He doesn’t have Derrick Rose’s explosiveness, Rajon Rondo’s fiery all-over prowess, Chris Paul’s ability to use every ounce of open space to his advantage or Russell Westbrook’s raw power. Nothing leaps out. But to a degree, he has all of those things, and he has them all at a high enough level that on any given night you might want him on your side over any of the aforementioned names. Lots of nights, actually. He has no tangible weaknesses, at least none that I know of. He’s like the Toyota Camry of amazing point guards, and I promise that was compliment. (The “amazing” part was really important.)

Anyway, look: his placement here, at number seven, makes sense. There probably wouldn’t have been much of an outrage if Williams was slotted a couple spots lower, and there’s probably an argument that could be made that the 6-3 PG is deserving of a position one or two notches higher up.

Seven works, though. He’s sitting above your average All-Star—typing that felt really weird—and beneath the NBA’s uppermost tier. And he’s young enough (at 28) where a great season may push his name up this list next year. No more massive losing streaks, no more pouting. He won’t have a monster statistical jump (seriously, look how consistent these numbers are from year to year; a sudden increase across the board seems unlikely), but it’ll be about what Williams is capable of doing to the franchise’s win column and subsequent postseason run with a whole bunch of new…everything. Here’s guessing a lot.

And here’s to a clean slate.


Where should Deron Williams rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7
20 James Harden Thunder SG 3
19 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 6
18 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
17 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 6
16 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 4
15 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
14 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 3
13 Andrew Bynum Sixers C 2
12 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
11 Kevin Love TWolves PF 1
10 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
9 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 4
8 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 3
7 Deron Williams Nets PG 2

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.