Checking in on Derrick Williams

Associated Press

Associated Press

This summer, Derrick Williams has passed his time by starting the #DwillSneakerHunt and it continued Tuesday as he went about hiding hot styles of sneakers around the greater Los Angeles area. Why hide them? So the kids following him on Twitter and Instagram can race to find a new pair of kicks. After all, school is just around the corner. Along with his playful act of charity, Williams has also spent time this summer promoting his clothing store, VII Grand, which opened in February and is located in Tucson, Arizona. When Williams isn’t in Tucson overseeing operations, he’s on the phone almost daily with close friend and store manager Mario Escalente. At age 22, it’s obvious Williams has already spent a lot of effort promoting himself as an entrepreneur, but what has he been doing this offseason to improve himself as a basketball player? After two seasons in the NBA Williams should have developed a more formidable identity in the league by now, right? So far, this hasn’t exactly been the case, although he still has time to prove to the Timberwolves and the rest of the NBA that he was worthy of the second overall selection nearly two years ago.

Williams’ identity crisis begins with his stature, currently listed at 6’8’’ and 241 pounds and perfectly fitting the mold as a “tweener” forward. As he stands right now, he has too much bulk while lacking the proper handles that are necessary in order to have sustained success as a small forward. Contributing to his dilemma, he lacks the height, length and refined post game that is necessary to be an effective power forward. During his time playing for Arizona, Williams used his size as an advantage. He found success by dragging bigger and slower defenders away from the basket which allowed him space away from his opponent. From there, he greatly relied on his athleticism to make up for the fact that he was and is still not a great dribbler. When opposing bigs left Williams open on the perimeter, he punished them by shooting a blistering 56.8% from three during his final season. If opponents tried to stop Williams by assigning him smaller and quicker defenders, he muscled his way inside for an easy layup or dunk, which he converted at a high rate. One of the most notable discrepancies between his success in college and the NBA has been his increased difficulty finishing around the rim, as he continues to face much bigger frontcourts than he previously saw in the Pac-12.

Williams’ progression from his rookie to second season can be attributed to his increased playing time under Coach Adelman. It’s important to assess how players respond to increased minutes, and in Williams’ second season he appeared in 12 more games while playing 498 more minutes than during his rookie season. Now, this is largely a result of the high frequency of injuries that the Wolves roster was hit by last year, especially in the frontcourt. Nonetheless, he was able to improve in every offensive statistical category, as depicted by this graphic:

Derrick Williams totals

The statistic that jumps out to me the most is his significant improvement shooting from 3pt range. Williams made 28 more three-pointers last season than he did during his rookie season and improved by a total of 6.4% on 58 more attempts. After being dubbed as one of the top perimeter shooters in the 2011 Draft, it was a disappointment seeing Derrick struggle so mightily in his rookie season. However, it is clear that he has made shooting one of his priorities last summer as was quietly the second best three-point shooter on the team only behind J.J. Barea.

Williams currently finds himself in a tough spot on the depth chart and in Adelman’s rotation. I can only speculate that he will see most of his time on the floor splitting minutes with fellow SF/PF Dante Cunningham as Kevin Love‘s backup. Cunningham understands his role and has Coach Adelman’s trust as a proven role player.

The center position is occupied by incumbent starter Nikola Pekovic – assuming he re-signs – and rookie Gorgui Dieng and there is currently an abundance of players at the two wing positions. Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved and Kevin Martin will all share time on the wing, with Adelman likely going with a hot-hand on a nightly basis. I touched a bit recently on the starting lineups we could see this season and, unsuprisingly, none of them featured Williams. However, in situations where the Wolves potentially play small by inserting Love at center, Williams could man the power forward spot as he is a respectable rebounder.

It’s only fair I expose my bias: I am a fan of the University of Arizona and have been for a long time. I remember being excited about Loren Woods (yes, Loren Woods) joining the team in the early 2000’s. It’s just one of the reasons I loved bringing in and retaining Budinger. Williams is a Wildcat and I want to see him do well.

Lucy Nicholson/Rueters

Lucy Nicholson/Rueters

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Evan Turner, Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley and Williams were all taken with the No. 2 overall selection dating back to 2008 draft. This year it was Victor Oladipo out of the University of Indiana. If I’m building a team and have these players to select from, I would choose Williams with little hesitation. Beasley has obviously had his chances, Oladipo hasn’t played a minute as a pro, and last season as I compared D-Will to Evan Turner the numbers show that Williams has made more out of his time in the league than the former Ohio State Buckeye. I believe that Williams has outperformed the previously mentioned names taken with the same selection, granted that each player’s situation has been different.

Williams has been labeled a bust by some thus far into his short career and has been the constant subject of trade rumors since coming to Minnesota, however in my opinion he has not received a fair opportunity to demonstrate how valuable he can be to this team. Although his roots stem from the southwest, he has not once spoken against playing in Minnesota. He has a positive attitude and doesn’t shy away from interacting with fans, on and away from the camera. In my opinion, Derrick will need a more defined role in order for him to be able to succeed going forward.

This season should be the most crucial one to Williams’ young career. With the depth that currently surrounds him, he will need to earn the trust of his coach and teammates in order to get consistent minutes on a nightly basis. The chances of his name resurfacing in trade rumors around the deadline are a possibility as the Wolves could look to move him for a player with a more defined skill set or even a future draft selection. Regardless of what happens, I believe that Williams will become a mainstay in the league as long as he remains healthy and shows incremental improvement every season. If it isn’t meant to be with the Timberpups, it’s only a part of the business, but as long as he is here he will be important to the development of the Pups as a team.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 2/22/13

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

The Timberwolves travel to Oklahoma City on Friday night to take on the defending Western Conference champion Thunder.  Minnesota comes into the game off of a victory against Philadelphia Wednesday night to move their record to 20-31 on the season.  The Thunder come into Friday’s game off a loss to the Rockets in Houston the same night, dropping their record to 39-15.

While these two teams are heading in very different directions this season, they tend to match-up well against one another and always seem to be enjoyable games to watch.  That wasn’t necessarily the case when Minnesota traveled to OKC on 1/9, as they were blown out of the building, 106-84.  This could have been a product of the Thunder returning the favor for their loss at the Target Center on 12/20.

A quick note about the trade deadline from Thursday – the Wolves made exactly zero moves to their roster and I have to say that I am not disappointed.  Derrick Williams can only help his trade value from now until the 2013 draft.  The team isn’t good enough to push Ridnour or Barea off to someone else for a short term rental (since we aren’t making the playoffs this season).  Finally, a semi-kudos to the team for not making a salary dump move to save a few dollars in Glen Taylor’s wallet.  Net/net, this team will be very active again this summer and has a full stock of assets to leverage.

While the Wolves stood pat, the Thunder made two minor moves that probably make them a bit stronger for the playoffs.  In separate trades, they sent Eric Maynor to the Blazers for a trade exception and acquired Ronnie Brewer from the Knicks for a 2nd round pick.  (I wonder if James Harden’s explosion Wednesday night aided their desire to make this move and get a little bigger in the back court.)

Oklahoma City remains a powerhouse in the Western Conference and have high aspirations come playoff time.  Led by perennial all-stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team will look to work its way through the Western Conference and once again challenge for the NBA Championship.  Anything less is likely to be seen as a disappointment to fans.

With that mindset, this preview has been done in conjunction with the ‘Welcome to Loud City’ blog on SB Nation.  Here are the questions that we posed to J.A. Sherman from the team’s blog.  He passed along a few Wolves-related questions as well, and you can find those questions and our answers on their site.

Here’s were my questions for Trey …

Thunder Question #1 for Trey:

As a fan of the Thunder, can you please explain the mindset of “championship or bust” to us Wolves fans, who have been continuously tortured since 1989?  Do these expectations make the games easier or harder to watch regularly?  Would you consider anything less than a conference championship a failure? 

Trey:

As a Thunder fan, it’s certainly nice to have “championship or bust expectations.” It’s like being the Yankees of the NBA and the team has only been in the city since 2008. It makes the game easier to watch because you’re always dissecting the team’s play, no matter the opponent. Even if they’re on top for most of the game, it’s still fun to see what Durant and Westbrook are going to do next. Of course there are blowouts and nobody likes watching 48 minutes of a 20-point game, but it’s worth the price for 50-win seasons and Finals appearances.

This season, anything less than a conference championship would have to be considered a disappointment. I doubt there is anybody in the organization that feels any other way. After taking the step last year with their WCF win over San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder would be satisfied with anything less. They’ve got the same two stars and although they sent Harden to Houston, Kevin Martin is still a good enough scorer to give them substantial firepower off the bench.  

 Thunder Question #2 for Trey:

Is there a particular weakness for the Thunder and/or do you fear that there might be something in the current construction of the team that could be exploited down the stretch and in the playoffs?  Coming off Harden’s performance Wednesday, does an elite wing worry you?

Trey:

I think one thing that showed up against Houston and also against the Heat before the All-Star Game is the fact Oklahoma City has problems running their offense while down late in games. I think it becomes too much Durant and Westbrook one-on-one rather than finding a good shot every possession. People tend to blame Westbrook because he’s the point guard. However, it’s just as much Durant’s fault. They both tend to force shots when the team is trailing late. Could a team in the West exploit this? I don’t think so because I’m not sure the Spurs or Clippers can develop big leads against the Thunder and force them into those one-on-one situations.

Well, if you consider LeBron James a wing, which I do, then I would be extremely worried. Harden and LeBron are obviously different players with much different arsenals and Harden is great, but in a seven-game series I’m not worried about him taking over for four victories. However, LeBron has dominated the Thunder this season. They don’t have an answer for him right now and unless newly acquired Ronnie Brewer can give him problems, the Heat could be looking at a second straight Finals victory over the Thunder.

 Thunder Question #3 for Trey:

Rather than ask you a question about Durant or Westbrook, let’s go deep into the rotation.  What are your thoughts on Hasheem Thabeet?  Do you think he has a long term future in the league?  Is there a light bulb there that might go off?  Finally, how would you grade his (limited) performance thus far?  

Trey:

I’m not sure Hasheem Thabeet has a long-term home in Oklahoma City, but he is putting up better numbers than last year’s backup center Nazr Mohammed. He seems to be a popular player in the locker room and usually give Scott Brooks quality minutes, but it’s hard to see him developing into much more than a 10-12 minutes kind of player.

I would give him a B so far this season. Like I said, he’s outplayed Mohammed’s production from a year ago, but with his size and frame you would think he could have more of an impact every night. Unless the Thunder moves Kendrick Perkins for somebody with more of an offensive game in the future, I can’t see the Thunder hanging on to Thabeet. This is already his fourth team since being drafted No. 2 overall by the Grizzlies in 2009 and I doubt it’s his last.

 

To see our Pups-related Q&A, please click here.

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and the Thunder.  Again, you can read more from J.A. at the Welcome to Loud City blog or follow them on Twitter.  As always, you can read more from John on Twitter.