What should we expect from Deron Williams?
Early in his career, D-Will spent four straight years in the thick of the Best PG argument, and was flipped to New Jersey in the midst of a fifth such season. In his first full campaign with the Nets, Williams’ numbers stayed strong while the team won just a third of its games. The following season was a forgettable throwaway for the Nets and Williams. As was the next one. And now here we are.
Williams’ 2013-14 regular season was by a wide margin his worst in the League. His points and field-goal percentage had him right on par with Avery Bradley, Alec Burks and Rodney Stuckey. His assist totals sandwiched him between Jameer Nelson and Raymond Felton, and his assist-to-turnover ratio was the worst among the three.
Brooklyn wedged its way into a second-round matchup with Miami in May, offering a prime chance for Williams to step up against top-shelf competition. But the 30-year-old played a mediocre series, lowlighteded by a goose egg in a Game 2 loss (in which Mirza Teletovic’s heroics had the Nets within a bucket with seven minutes left).
The Nets were without Brook Lopez in that series, but Williams’ supporting cast was actually pretty strong. For all of GM Billy King’s misfirings, he’s done a nice job operating on the fringe of the free-agent market over the past few summers—Shaun Livingston, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson and Teletovic made about $10 million in total last season and the group’s versatility was crucial during the Nets’ mid-season turnaround. Joe Johnson averaged 20 points per game while shooting nearly 55 percent in that series against Miami. Brooklyn was able to hang in there against the Heat, but needed a strong series from Williams and got the opposite.
And it’s all a shame, really, because we’re still teased with glimpses of the old, electric Williams. Occasionally he’ll get a special pep in his step, start hopping around while surveying the defense, and either pop back for an 18-footer or find a cutting teammate with a right-handed laser. We all love that Williams, and maybe he’s got plenty of those plays left in the tank. And maybe Williams’ ankles have been robbing him of his athleticism more than anyone will give him credit for.
Check out some quotes from a recent NY Post piece:
“[Before the surgery], I was just walking around and my ankles would swell up… Any time that happens, that’s bad.”
“[Now] they feel good. I’ve been working out hard every day, getting ready to go.”
“Last year was tough… I missed all of training camp, most of the preseason. … I practiced one time, played nine minutes in a pre-season game and was thrown into the fire at 60 or 70 percent.”
“It’s definitely different this year, and I think it’s great. I’ll be able to participate in training camp. I’ll be practicing with the guys right now, and I’m able to play with the guys before training camp, which is great.”
There’s finally some positive mojo surrounding these Nets. They had a quiet offseason by their standards—though not a great one—essentially swapping out Paul Pierce, Marcus Thornton, Livingston and Blatche for Jarrett Jack and Bojan Bogdanovic, who they drafted in 2011. There figures to be stability in an experienced coaching staff, Lopez is coming back from a broken foot (again) and Mason Plumlee should make a considerable leap in his second year.
It just feels normal, a rarity for this team. Something about the Brooklyn Nets has always felt forced and fabricated. We were told they’d be good and exciting, told the League should be afraid of them, told Williams was a star. But we’ve only seen that stuff in flashes.
A year from now, the Nets will either be a bunch of dudes playing on expiring contracts or a solidified group of veterans that has meshed around a consistent core. We’re entering a season-long tipping point for Brooklyn and its point guard. Let’s see which version of Williams shows up.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.