Kevin Love’s injury presents opportunity for Derrick Williams, but is he ready?

With Kevin Love’s injury, Derrick Williams will need to become comfortable as a power forward…fast.

The title to this post isn’t really much of a silver lining for the Timberwolves, is it? “So…we lost a consistent 30-20 threat at power forward, someone who will gobble up every rebound and stretch the floor on offense, and we get to replace him with a second year player who averaged just under five rebounds per game and 26% from 3-point range? Oh good, I feel better already.” *Reaches for the cyanide*

Derek James spent two consecutive days spelling out why Derrick Williams works much better at power forward than he does at small forward, so I won’t reiterate everything he said (click on the links if you haven’t read them, they are well worth your time), but for what it’s worth, he’s absolutely right. Williams may have the athleticism of a small forward, but the Wolves don’t have enough time to develop him at that position. So for Williams, this may be a much needed proverbial toss into the deep end. But is he ready to swim?

A closer look at Williams’ numbers after the jump.

Last season, per Synergy Sports, Derrick Williams wasn’t particularly effective in any of the offensive sets in which the Timberwolves put him. He averaged just 0.73 points per possession in post-up opportunities and 0.76 PPP in isolation. Neither statistic inspires much confidence. Perhaps more disturbing, given the role Minnesota will be asking him to fill: he turned the ball over 18.8% of the time in the post and 15.9% in isolation.

Where we may see some really solid production from Williams is out of the pick and roll. As the P&R Roll Man, Williams’ second most common play, he averaged 0.90 PPP, which bodes well for him in the Wolves new offensive sets. This is interesting, because Williams wasn’t a particularly good screener, often letting the opposing guard slip by without much contact. But because the opposing big would often still try to hedge the screen, and because Williams quite athletic, his first step after the screen was often enough to create some space for an opportunity. It should also be noted that one of the reasons Williams was so effective in the P&R was because, for much of the season, he had Ricky Rubio feeding him easy baskets. Nevertheless, Williams was fairly efficient in these opportunities (84th in the NBA overall), so we can expect to see Williams and Roy/Shved/Barea/Ridnour running pick and rolls together fairly effectively as the season progresses.

For much of the offseason, we speculated on what the Wolves could get for Williams because of his redundant skill-set on Minnesota’s roster. But now the Timberwolves have a need, and Williams has an opportunity to prove his worth. This could unfold in a variety of ways. Here are a few:

  1. The ideal scenario: All Williams needed was an opportunity at a position in which he feels comfortable. He becomes a threat, taking threes when appropriate, but mostly scoring near and around the basket. When Love returns, the team has become deeper, and Williams becomes a more viable option as either a talented scorer off the bench, or he becomes a more intriguing trade asset for teams looking for youth.
  2. The less-ideal-but-still-not-a-total-waste scenario: Williams doesn’t do much for the team from a production standpoint, but he doesn’t take away either, and the offense becomes more spread out and less predictable without Love’s production. Other players have a chance to get more comfortable within the rotation, so when Love comes back, he isn’t expected to carry the entire team on his shoulders quite as much.
  3. The worst-case scenario: Williams is little better than Beasley, an inefficient chucker. A disillusioned and bitter Target Center crowd boos the young, impressionable player, and he settles in an unpleasant groove of shooting mid-range jumpers and three pointers.
  4. The “let’s not even bother” scenario: Adelman doesn’t trust Williams with significant minutes after a lackluster rookie season and eschews him entirely in favor of Dante Cunningham or Andrei Kirilenko (who has played power forward before in his career). This would, for better or worse, mean that Derrick Williams’ career in Minnesota is rapidly drawing to a close.

Obviously, there are several other variations of those options, but that’s the range. The point of this post isn’t to make Timberwolves fans feel better or worse about Love’s injury because, frankly, we all feel terrible about it. And we should. Love was 7th in #NBARank this offseason, and that felt like the correct place for him. Losing a player of that caliber is devastating. Worse: the Wolves are fighting for a playoff spot this year, and with every game played sans their two best players, it feels more and more like an uphill battle to the postseason.

Rather, you can file this post under “Just So You Know.” Williams is far from perfect, but he’s not hopeless, and if we are lucky, this may be an excellent learning experience for him.

Then again, the phrase “if we are lucky” hasn’t really worked out for the Timberwolves over the past two season. So we will see.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

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