At the 2011 draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves made Derrick Williams the second overall selection. When you are chosen that high, the expectation is that you become an all star. Despite concerns over what the 6″8 Williams natural position would be, Timberwolves General Manager David Kahn was enamored by the athletic gifts of one of the most talented players in a draft where the back-half of the lottery was much stronger than what teams are looking for at the top of the draft.
In college, the Arizona product proved he could both beat defenders off the dribble as well as overpower them down low. While most of Williams’ points came in the paint, he did display good mechanics on his jump shot. This gave Kahn further hope that Williams could play next to Kevin Love, giving the team an athletic threat from the perimeter, who could attack the basket. Defensively, the vision was for him to combine with Love and Nikola Pekovic to create a swarming front-court that would terrorize ball-handlers who dared to enter the paint.
In a lockout shortened season, Williams’ rookie campaign was not an overwhelming success, but there were positives.
He averaged close to nine points and five rebounds per game, playing 21.5 minutes a night and was a part of some of Minnesota’s most successful lineups, mostly seeing time as a power forward. Using a baseline of five-man lineups that played at least 50 minutes, Williams was a part of Minnesota’s third-highest rated offensive lineup, a unit that scored 106.6 points per 100 possessions. Using the same baseline, he was also a member of the Wolves second and third best defensive units, groups that yielded 96.6 points and a less-than-stellar 105.2 points per 100 possessions. Which helps explain why the Wolves went 26-40. Williams also earned All-Rookie second team honors, per NBA.com.
However, beyond the numbers, was the obvious fact that he was not going to be able to serve as an effective compliment to Love. He also struggled to create his own shot and had difficulty staying in front of quicker perimeter players and often struggled with bigger post-up players.
In his second season, Williams’ numbers only improved marginally and as a result, he fell out favor in Minnesota. Kahn attempted to construct several deals that centered around Williams and would net the Wolves a big name, most notably Pau Gasol. However, there were no takers and eleven games in to the 2013-2014 season, the former second overall pick was dealt to Sacramento in exchange for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
In 16 games with the Kings, Williams is starting to do what he was unable to in his second season in Minnesota, turn the corner. He is averaging 25 minutes per contest and scoring 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Offensively, he seems more engaged, working primarily from the perimeter, where he is often given one side of the court to try and operate from. Williams true shooting percentage and efficiency field goal percentage have both risen to career highs, 56 percent and 50.9 percent respectively, per NBA.com. Under Mike Malone, he is also doing a better job of running out on the break, scoring what to this point is a career-high, 23.7 percent of his points off of turnovers, per NBA.com.
However, Williams is still experiencing many of the same defensive problems he had in Minnesota. His defensive rating is a career worst 108, per NBA.com. Primarily defending power forwards, stretch-fours are having no difficulty shooting over the undersized Williams and despite his strength and high level of athleticism, there seems to be next-to-nothing that he can do to stop a jump hook, even if it is being released by a big man with minimal elevation.
While very much a work in progress, Sacramento offers Williams an uptempo style of offense that he can succeed in and he is clearly benefitting from the change of scenery. At this point in time, there is nothing to suggest that Williams will live up to the hype that comes with being the second overall pick but it will be exciting to monitor his growth and to watch him continue carving out his niche, for a Sacramento franchise that is hoping he can be an important part of its turnaround.