Thursday, May 10th, 2007 at 11:52 am  |  32 responses

Deron Williams: Giant Steps

John Stockton is gone, but Deron Williams has the Utah Jazz making sweet music yet again.

The following feature appeared in SLAM 107. We feel that in light of last night’s performance and big shots down the stretch, it is relevant to post today.

By Bonsu Thompson

It’s never about Deron Williams. At least not initially. Not that the Utah Jazz point guard doesn’t deserve the focus or isn’t capable of delivering a feature performance. It’s just that, for some reason, the second-year pro has spent most of his basketball life being slept-on, bypassed as a third or fourth fiddle. Just once he’d like to be graded ahead of his peers, be in somebody’s “one of the best point guards” conversation.

“I’ve always been the underdog,” says Deron from a Detroit hotel room, relaxing before tip-off at The Palace. “I’m talking since high school. I had Bracey Wright on my team in high school—he was a McDonald’s All-American and I didn’t get picked for it or any of the other All-Star games. I thought that I was one of the best point guards in the nation in high school and in college. I just got overlooked.”

It’s a shame, since Deron is one of the reasons Utah is currently classed among the West’s top-tier teams. He is the NBA sophomore who led a squad—that on most nights runs a 4X4 offense (featuring four forwards: Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Matt Harpring and Carlos Boozer)—to a franchise-best 12-1 start. During that historic November run, Williams played the Robin to Boozer’s Batman by contributing five double-doubles. The first he acquired on opening night (18 and 10). The second (26 and 14) came 10 days later but was trumped the very next night by the third (27 and 15).

Going into February, Deron is the engine behind the League’s fourth-best record (28-14). After almost doubling his rookie term’s dime and bucket averages while upping his shooting percentage by four percent, he should contend for this year’s Most Improved Player. “I definitely have more confidence in my second year just because of what I went through my whole rookie season with ups and downs,” says Williams. “I worked this off-season and pushed myself to perform better than last year. I came back and did better than I planned.”

Even on the marquee for tonight’s game, Deron’s name is an afterthought. This evening’s big draw is Chris Webber playing his first game as a Piston. The sub-attractions: Whether Boozer continues his high-caliber play or if Chauncey Billups returns to form after a calf injury that sidelined him for eight games. Speaking of Chauncey, who’s now on everyone’s lips as a true star, would you guess that DW’s numbers (17 ppg and 9 apg) are just as good as CB’s (18 ppg and 7 apg)?

On this brisk Michigan afternoon, Deron isn’t even a priority in his own head. Individual success is the furthest thing from his mind. Right now, his team is in a slump, having dropped four straight games, and according to Williams, it’s time to “stop the bleeding.” Since the 6-3, 205-pound guard’s January play hasn’t been up to the level of his November and December productivity, he’s taking the struggles personally. “I’m not playing as well as I think I should be,” he self-assesses before returning to his ‘No-I-in-team’ mind state. “We’re just not playing the same basketball. We gotta get on track. We gotta get that confidence back.”

Maybe his concentration on the concept of “team” has facilitated the continuous eclipsing of Deron’s star. Adidas marketing aside, for fans it is about the superstar. They want filled box scores as well as post-field goal rituals. Gilbert Arenas pumping his chest like a tribal warrior. Shaq getting back on D like a human 747. Off top, can anyone remember what Deron’s NBA 2K7 character does after a lay-up?

Who cares, really? Deron isn’t some blue-collar player who occasionally gets his on the court. Every level that the former Big Ten standout has hooped on, he’s been one of the best and won as a result. In his entire high school career at The Colony (TX) HS, Williams lost just three games. The aforementioned Wright got the love, though. Williams’ three years at Illinois (a career capped by a stellar ’05 Tournament and eventual NCAA Chip trip that would’ve probably recognized Williams as MOP had the Illini beat UNC) totaled just 15 Ls. Although he left college the only player to lead the Big Ten in assists for three straight years, backcourt mate Dee Brown got the props. “Maybe I wasn’t flashy and I didn’t score as much but I really didn’t need to on my team,” says Williams, who plays substantially more NBA minutes than Wright (Minnesota) and Brown (now his backup with Utah). “I only lost 15 games in college so obviously what I was doing worked.”

When it was time for Deron to take his collection of All-Big Ten awards and the ’05 Chicago Regional MOP trophy to The Greatest Show on Earth, he found that he had some believers out there. While some questioned his build and speed, Deron blew up during pre-Draft workouts, impressing the Jazz enough that they tabbed him with the third overall pick. Bigger-rep players Raymond Felton and Chris Paul followed.

Yes, D’s physique looks more round than swift. But if you’ve ever seen a Jazz fast break, you know he’s anything but slow. Though a definite below-the-rim player, Deron packs a diverse offensive game that can net him two points with a floater or three with a near-bench bomb. Then there’s his snappy first step and speed that seems to increase past mid-court. When a defender sees Deron gunning toward ’em with that high yet controlled dribble—almost like the rock is a handball (a la D’s all-time favorite player, Jason Kidd)—they don’t know whether to defend the trey, the drive or the pass. “Being deceptive works to my advantage because guys think they can press me a little more and then [I] blow by them,” he says matter of factly. “I like to push the ball. It’s a big strength of my game. Coach [Jerry Sloan] definitely loves us to do that so it works.”

As a rookie, Williams was utilized immediately at the one, finishing the season averaging 29 minutes, 11 points and a team-leading 4.5 assists per game, all while topping his entire freshman class in three-point efficiency. At the end, he was named to the All-Rookie First Team.

It wasn’t originally supposed to be about Deron Williams in Utah, either. Before he arrived in Salt Lake City, the Jazz thought they had found John Stockton’s predecessor in Carlos Arroyo. The franchise figured since Puerto Rico’s finest played with Stockton during the Gonzaga God’s final two seasons and almost single-handedly dethroned the US Men’s National Team in ’04, he was their guy. Instead, Arroyo proved to be Coach Sloan’s headache. Enter Williams and his relatively impressive first season, though Utah bought some insurance for this season in the form of multiple ring winner Derek Fisher.

But we’re more than halfway through this season and there’s no doubt this is Deron Williams’ team to run. There’s even an ebb-n-flow of rumbles about D’s potential to be the franchise’s next #12. “John Stockton will never be forgotten in Utah,” says Williams, who worked out with the future Hall of Famer over the summer. “They got a statue of him in front of our arena. He’s one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game so I don’t think of myself as the next John
Stockton.” Deron pauses and then adds: “I’m still trying to become Deron Williams, really.”

That goal will be reached much quicker if the Jazz make this year’s Playoffs. There’s no better way to burn your name in the heads of bball lovers than flourishing in the NBA’s second season.

Absent from the postseason since ’03, Utah is looking like a shoo-in. But Deron has some concerns. He knows his team doesn’t want to just qualify for the Playoffs; they want to reincarnate its heavyweight contender days. The young guard feels in order for the Jazz to send home the A’s elite, they need to remember what got them in this great position. “It just seems that we need to get back to Jazz basketball,” he says. “Especially in the offense. When we do that we’re hard to beat because a lot of teams don’t like to defend our stuff. We have a lot of movement in our offense, we aren’t selfish. Look at a team like Dallas, how they move their ball. It’s a thing of beauty.”

But Williams’ team criticism falls on both ends of the court. While the Jazz’ strength is its offense, its weakness is its D. “We gave up a lot of 50 point games [this season]. Michael Redd had 50 [against us], Gilbert had 50, Kobe had 60, Ray Allen had 50. We gotta find a way to stop these scorers.”

Deron got his wish. The bleeding has stopped. Utah defeated the home team Pistons, 100-99. Webber was barely a factor after tip-off, Boozer finished with a solid 20 and nine and Billups lead his team with 26 and seven. But the unassuming Deron was the star of this game. Worker Number 8 put up a career-high 31 points with 10 dimes on the side. Still, it was the “W” that turned his milestone gold. That marquee appears upside down now.

It seems that a new day is near for Mr. Williams. One that will bring anticipation and expectation before the Grade A performance. Notoriety. The Playoffs. Maybe then he’ll develop a signature two-step after reverse laying an opponent flat. Probably won’t happen. Deron is comfortable being slept-on, then waking people up. Though his ball club is on the verge of regaining their once West Coast dominance, the playmaker can’t see the dim light raying on him any different. “People still don’t know my name. I go to [visiting] arenas, sometimes the announcers will call me Duh-RON. I have to make the PR people go and correct them,” he says. “So although a lot more people notice my game now, I still consider myself an underdog.”

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Who is Bonsu Thompson?

  • http://mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Max Airington

    I think he’s Malcolm Jamaal Warner in disguise.

  • #1 jazz fan

    Deron williams is the best point gaurd we have had scince John Stocton, with him the jazz can go all the way.

  • DubsGonDoIt

    What no picture of him pointing up to “God”??? Ridiculous.

  • Reggie Evans

    Does this mean that Deron Williams should be winning MVPs?

  • fabio

    might he be the best “true” pg since kidd? don’t exactly know as what to qualify nash.

  • Delaney Rudd

    I was in the bathroom stall of a club once and who to my right is taking a piss? None other than Deron Williams. I was wearing this t-shirt that read “Caution: Educated Immigrant” Deron looked over at me and said “funny t-shirt man, where are you from?” I said “oh I’m from Brazil” d-will said “cool I play with a brazilian Araujo” I said “I know he really sucks” d-will just started laughing after that I just wished him luck on the season….

  • deestarbuckz

    Remember how the “experts” said that the Jazz made a huge mistake by picking Williams over Paul? Oh well… I still hate Utah! GO CAVS!!!

  • jj

    D Will has caught up with CP. Really. All those explanations that Dwill fitted in utah better than CP would… well it seems they weren’t so farr off after all. What a season this guy’s had. I said it in another forum, he should have won the Most Improved Player award…

  • Kev

    @Delaney Rudd – conversations with a stranger while taking a piss? ….
    funny story tho

  • will

    “Before he arrived in Salt Lake City, the Jazz thought they had found John Stockton’s predecessor in Carlos Arroyo. ”

    Is he trying to sound like Reggie Miller?

  • *be equal*

    can someone tell me why d-will didn’t win most improved please?? when he was drafted i was pretty disappointed the jazz didn’t take cp3 but now i know why… he’s a true point guard that can score when needed and he has great chemistry with the rest of his team, i’m lookin at another decade in the playoffs for my jazz

  • The rod

    Saw him bring illini to the ncaa chip game and expect him to repeat in the nba..the guy is a leader,and shuold be considered for mvp ’cause he’s for the jazz what nash is for the suns…Deron Rulez!

  • Univ of IL Alum

    Saw fellow Illini Deron W & Dee Brown play a couple times at the Assembly Hall in Champaign. Nice to see them in the NBA on the same team. Hope Dee’s OK after last night’s injury.

  • Ikemob22

    So is he blk or white these days now that he is the man?

  • http://www.russonline.com shu

    UTAH COVER? The trend will continue, with who is actually “THE GUY” in Utah? Booz or DWill? Not that it matters much because Malone would never have scored so many without Stock, and Stock wouldn’t be the all-time assists leader w/o a finisher like Malone. I just hope coach Sloan sticks around until he’s 90 so that he can see all those guys blossom to their full potential. UTAH COVER!

  • slim

    If Utah gets past GSW….give them a cover…otherwise just give the warriors a cover lmao

  • Alex

    Jeez, if he was so underrated in college why was he the 3rd pick in the draft? How was he overlooked?

  • Magoo

    Isn’t it against guy code to initiate converstaion while taking a piss?? Continuing a conversation that was begun while entering the bathroom is totally acceptable, this however crosses the line. Oh well, Deron is going to be a superstar in the league. Glad to see him excelling after watching him play at the UofI for three years. He seems to be very humble as well…it’s a shame we don’t see more of that in today’s players.

  • http://www.friendster.com/sesa Sesa

    is this the same article that I read on SLAM 108?
    why are you guys posting this?

  • Rob

    Good to see Deron living up to the potential We all knew what type of player he was. It’s good that now the rest of the world now knows.

    Go Illini!!

  • http://slamonline.com/online/2007/05/sure-shot-4/#comment Fadi Qader

    Deron Williams has so much potential…he is the type of point guard that could play with power and can beat you from the outside………….sort of like Baron Davis.

  • http://yahoo.com Matthew (second coming: new era point god)

    It is obvious that Deron Williams is on his way to becoming the next best point gurad in the league. In my opinion he is the best point guard in the league today (better than Nash). After everyone saying Utah made a mistake drafting him so high over Felton and Paul, well look at where they are, at home watching Deron Williams lead his Utah Jazz to a championship. He is my favorite point guard and will be for a long time. In fact I feel the same way that he does, being the underdog all of the time. But the more people don’t believe in you, the more people you have and will prove wrong. Don’t worry Deron I’ve believed in you since the Illionois days and I still do. It is time we give Mr. Williams his R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!!!!!

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Sesa, read the top of the post!

  • Todd Davis

    Utah Jazz: This Time Around Will Be Different:
    A New Decade and a New Team

    There is no question about. This current Jazz team is a mirror image of Coach Jerry Sloan’s masterpiece in 97’ when they reached the NBA finals. They are no doubt a replica of the team that lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in six hard fought games, but this Jazz team wants their story to have a different ending; a happy ending that is. They are more versatile than a decade ago, equipping their team with more athleticism, speed, and size. This is great news for all you die-hard Jazz fans out their in Salt Lake. Power forward Carlos Boozer is a clone of the mailman Karl Malone, possessing incredible passing skills, great court savvy, and an effective mid range jump shot that cripples his defenders. Move off him and give him a little space he’ll bury you with his patent fade away twelve footer on the elbow, and play too tight he will burn you with a spin move to the rim. This former Dukee has brought back the lost art of shooting the fade away that Hakeem the Dream and Karl Malone imprinted on the game in the mid 1990’s. Boozer’s 24 points and 12 rebounds a game is just below Malone’s stats when the Jazz made their trip to the finals ten years ago. Interesting isn’t it? And who knows, maybe this new mailman will deliver a long overdue championship. Utah’s first mailman never made the big delivery, and Boozer knows he can take care of some unfinished business. It’s time to wake up and realize that this team is capable of holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy. They can win playing in the slow half court game as proven with their first round victory over the scrappy Rocket defense, and they can win in the up-tempo run and gun Warrior brand of ball. Whether or not the Jazz play the up tempo Suns or the grind it out Spurs in the next round is trivial, they have already proven themselves as a team that can play either brand of ball to perfection. At the head of this Jazz offensive onslaught lies one of the up and coming stars in this league, Point guard Deron Williams. Just be honest and don’t lie, nobody believed that the Jazz could ever replace arguably the greatest point guard of all time in John Stockton. Just take a look at these numbers and tell me what you think. William’s play as of late has definitely made people question their beliefs. If you put the Stockton of 97’ against the Williams of 07’ you will see that the Deron’s statistics are better. Shocking isn’t it? He is averaging 18 points per game compared to Stockton’s 12, and is identical in the assist category with 8 per game. This little kid from Parkersburg West Virginia has not only met the expectations set before him, he has exceeded them. Maybe there will be a new favorite point guard in Utah? Only time will tell. Now on to the all important perimeter shooting. Tell the truth, nobody believed that Coach Sloan could replace his two long range sharp shooters Jeff Hornacek and Howard Eisley, guess again. This time around there is three long bombers that might jack it up when least expected: Gordon Giricek, Mehmet Okur, and Derek Fisher. So, when Boozer is facing double and triple teams in the low post he has no hesitance in kicking it out to these pure shooters for trays. The Jazz force the opposing team to pick their poison on almost every offensive position, and their inside out game has proven to be amazingly effective in these playoffs. Okur is really only one of two big men in the league, the other being Nowitzki, that can step behind the ark and bury the three at any given moment. This Jazz team is stacked with incredible offensive talent as proven with their rank of 7 in the league with a little over a hundred points per game. Their knack for putting the ball in the hole is not the only factor contributing to this team’s run at the title. Defensively the Jazz are rock solid as well. Kirilenko or AK 47 gives the leading scorers on opposing teams fits with his abnormally long arms that block countless shots. Just like Teashawn Prince for Detroit, this lanky small forward has the ability come out of nowhere to steal loose balls and reject once easy dunks. Matt Harpring also wreaks havoc on whomever he guards, utilizing his large upper body to keep slashers from driving the lane and getting easy buckets in the lane. Harpring is one of the most physical players in the league; sometimes I feel like I’m even watching an NFL
    football game. He does all the intangibles that don’t show up in the box score, but his team knows how vital he is to their winning ways. The final piece to this Jazz defense is of course, Boozer. Although undersized for his position, Carlos owns the boards in every game. He reads the shot and anticipates where the ball is going after it hits the rim better than anybody in the league. Well, almost everybody at least. Ben Wallace is still a freak when it comes to snatching balls of the rim.
    The bottom line is that Coach Sloan finally rebuilt his championship team of ten years ago right under our very eyes, and many of us probably did not realize it. This new Jazz team marches to the tune of a different beat, and its now time to appreciate their versatility. Don’t be surprised if this under the radar team lies on top of the basketball world at the end of June.

  • http://slamonline.com Bezo

    Who’s Ryan Jones?

  • Huse

    Williams is better than Stockton

  • http://www.myspace.com/3timechamp Thomas

    maybe against the Sonics!! but not the Spurs.

  • nickfinney

    i think deron williams is the best point gaurd in the league and i think next year and for years after that he will be an all-star

  • http://SLAMONLINE D.J.E

    Deron William is my favorite basketball player to me he’s an all-star I would love to play basketball with him

  • http://slamonline.com dwill fan

    chris paul sucks

  • K-RAS

    D-Will is the best point guard int he NBA and the jazz are way better than the crappy spurs D-Will could take the spurs himself + Chris Paul SUCKS!!!