Derrick Williams: Are We Seeing Things?

Derrick Williams has shown more than just sheer athleticism this season. Keep reading. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

For once, I’m able to write something about everyone’s favorite trade chip — Derrick Williams — and have it not be a long-winded post about why and where he should be traded to. In fact, despite some of his struggles at the rim and rebounding, he’s making it more difficult for the Timberwolves to trade him. Or easier, depending on if you think he’s made his value increase. Mostly, I’m referring to his defense and his shooting from distance, which he has improved both. You can see it on the court, and the numbers back it up.

The biggest issue I had with Derrick playing the three, defense aside,  was that he didn’t have the range to play the position. Even Rick Adelman wasn’t crazy about just giving him minutes there because he had never played the position. My case and point last year was in his .412 FG% and .268% from three. And this season didn’t start out looking any more promising for him, but look below:

Derrick Williams Three Point Shooting by Month: 

November: .333% (12 games)

December: .412% (11 games) 

January: .500% (4 games) 

Admittedly January is a small sample that won’t hold at that high of a mark, but he’s still showing a gradual improvement while taking as many threes per game as he did last season (2.0). This is huge on a team that has a dire need for shooters, and even if Derrick’s .400 average on the season slips another couple of points this season, that’s above average, and greatly helps the Timberwolves. How much does it help them? Well, after last night they’re now 5-1 all-time when Derrick hits three or more threes in a game.

Maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising because he was effective from distance at Arizona once he got the reps he needed. Put his month-to-month splits from last season against this year’s and you’ll see that he’s in a nice rhythm that he didn’t have before:

Derrick Williams Month-by-Month Splits ’11-’12: 

December: .250 (3 games)

January: .267 (18 games)

February: .444 (15 games)

March: .269 (17 games)

April: .167 (13 games)

The comeback of Rubio has probably helped Derrick get better looks at more opportune moments, but he’s still had to step up and hit those shots, which he’s been able to do (Unlike last year with Rubio). Even this year’s sample looks more steady and trustworthy than last year’s did where his month of February just screamed “outlier”. Despite his inability to finish at the rim at times this season, even things like his eFG% and TS% have improved considerably, and could continue to climb as he improves as a finisher.

Remember, I never said he could never play the small forward spot, but that he couldn’t play it now. And if he keeps shooting like this, he could play it well one day.

Even defensively, we’re seeing Williams improve. There have been a couple of instances where I’ve watched Williams and been very impressed by what I’ve seen as far as his growth as a defender. Consider the following:

– As a power forward, Williams has posted a respectable PER of 14.4, but he’s held opposing PF’s to a much worse 9.4 PER. PER is far from a be all and end all, but paired with the eye test, it backs up what we’ve seen from Derrick as a defender this season.

Compare this to last season when he had a 12.2 at the position and opponents posted a 16.6 on him, and yeah, he’s made strides.

– With Williams on the court they surrender 101.5 points per 100 possessions, and 104.4 points per 100 possessions, meaning the team has performed better defensively with him on the court this season. Offensively, they’re actually more effective with him watching the game in it, however.

As I said above, Williams needs to improve as a finisher still, and his defense, while improved, can still get better, but he’s done some nice things of late worthy of recognition. If he ever can get his rebounding up to around his college level, he’ll be even more valuable as a player. The thing to remember with young big men is always patience, and we don’t typically see them peak until around their mid-20’s and Derrick is still just 21.



About Derek James

In addition to writing for Howlin' T-Wolf, Derek James writes about basketball Hardwood Paroxysm in the ESPN TrueHoop Network and covers the Charlotte Bobcats for SB Nation’s Rufus on Fire. Andray Blatche and Isaiah Rider follow him on Twitter.

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