#TwolfRank: #8 Derrick Williams

Credit: LandmarkTemporary.com

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the seventh part in this roster-long series and we are officially halfway through. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

I really can’t believe this is my first time writing about Derrick Williams this summer. Especially since I seemingly spent all last summer debating his weight and what fucking position he was going to playing during the upcoming season. Which of course went from me saying that I didn’t see him being a small forward now based on what I had seen, to what some interpreted as: “Why do u h8 him? He’s still young and can git better…looser!”

Which of course led to many exasperated sighs and facepalms as I had to explain that I was not holding a referendum on a player’s career after just one season, but that he wasn’t showing that he could be a small forward right now. I mean, small forwards typically have to shoot from distance, which he struggled to do in his rookie year and that’s all I had to go on. And at that time he looked like a better power forward, so that’s what I said and– my word, why was this so important to people anyway? If he’s good who cares where he plays?

I never said he could never, ever, ever be one no matter how hard he tried. Hell, he could become a firefighter, mailman or own a landscape company. Maybe he could even be a small forward. Or still a power forward.

It really became the epitome of an internet argument: I get asked a question about the present and give an answer about the present that magically morphs into a conversation about what Derrick will be doing in five years. It’s like the summer heat had gotten to everyone, causing a surge in heat stroke cases as reading comprehension levels plummeted.

I’m not saying that it wasn’t my comprehension that was in question, either, because it’s entirely possible.

And stop telling me young players get better, because I know that. Besides, that wasn’t even the question.

Really, I had no idea and neither did the people asking me had no idea if he’ll ever be one. But that stopped no one from wanting to launch a full-scale debate over it. The funny thing is that I spoke to Demetri McCamey who was on the Timberwolves’ summer league team and he re-buffed me when I asked if he was a point guard, shooting guard or combo guard. His answer: They, positions, don’t matter– it’s all basketball. You may enter a set at a certain spot, but as the play unfurls, your role changes. And, consequently, shooting guards, power forwards, small forwards…etc. all become irrelevant and things like Basketball IQ and a player’s ability to adapt to the game situation become far more important.

Anyway, Derrick’s rookie season left us with more questions than answers, which is not exactly what you want out of a number two overall pick.

The first question was his shooting, and really his ability to shoot efficiently from anywhere. No, really:

Williams 12

Courtesy of basketball-reference.com

As you can see he struggled as a rookie from everywhere. Remember, .632 percent at the rim only sounds high; league average is typically right around .700 percent. Most of Williams’ struggles were attributable to him being as to dribble or create a shot for himself in any manner. Which is also usually a characteristic of an NBA small forward, as well as being able to stretch the floor. And as a result he barely managed to eke out a .400% field goal percentage — which is still bad for a power forward, even, if we’re still talking about positions — in addition to not being able to shoot .300 percent from three.

In season two we needed to see some improvement for Williams for the good of the team, and it came, as incrementally as possible.

Williams 13

Courtesy of basketball-reference.com

The first thing that immediately stands out is the fact that he managed to shoot a lower field goal percentage within three feet of the rim despite taking 100 more attempts from that spot, which is impressive in its own way. He even managed to get worse from within 3-10 feet of the hoop which, again, is amazing since these are supposed to be higher percentage, ergo, easier shots.

You’d be more upset if he didn’t improve his midrange game up to a respectable near-forty percent, up from barely-thirty in his rookie season. The same thing for the next two spots– improvement — most notably his three point percentage from year 1 to year 2. All of this is good and encouraging for a player with aspirations of being a perimeter player someday. Except the missing shots within three feet of the basket thing; quit bricking dunks!

And did you notice?

I know you saw it.

You didn’t? I mentioned it earlier.

Yes, that!

Last season the Timberwolves figured that less of Derrick handling the ball and being asked to make something happen with that ball, the better. A lot more of his shots were assisted in his sophomore year, and I mean a lot– in some cases 20-30 percent, especially from 16 ft.-<3pt. This means that Derrick was employed as a catch-and-shoot player instead of being a creator. On top of that Derrick also did well as a cutter and in transition, managing to be efficient and keep the offense moving. Basically this is a nice way of saying that he played best when he played within the offense, which is like calling a quarterback a game manager. It’s a compliment, even if a little backhanded.

In fact, in Isolation plays last season, Williams shot just .295 percent and just a 0.64 points per possessions  in such situations (per MySynergySports.com), ranking 182 in the NBA. Even in post-ups, he managed a 0.71 PPP and made just a third of his shots, good for 132 in the entire league.

Even the fact that Derrick was asked to create less this season led to a slightly lower Turnover Percentage despite winding up with a higher Usage Rating. Ball-handling is another area he will have to continue to improve upon, but in the mean time he can still be used effectively in other ways that ISO’s and Post-Ups. This is perhaps the most encouraging sign for a player who had efficiency concerns coming into the season and hopefully this trend will carry into year three.

To review, Derrick passively involved in the offense, good; Derrick actively involved, not-so-good. Yet, anyway.

The other issue was his defense, which he worked hard to address in the offseason and it wound up paying off. No matter which category it is, Derrick just about improved in all of them, according to Synergy. As a rookie, he had a 0.89 ppp against Isolations, which became a 0.70 last season. He also improved in hand-offs and both pick ‘n roll man and ball handler situations. As a whole he dropped his ppp from 0.95 to 0.91, which is notable improvement.

Although points per possession is not kind to Williams in the post, his post defense last season is actually defensible, no pun intended. There was a slight uptick in that metric as a whole and his Defensive Rating showed little if any improvement, but it reflects in his Defensive Win Shares as well as the court. See, with the plethora of injuries the team suffered, Williams was often asked to guard bigger and more athletic players, like the Detroit’s Greg Monroe. This is problematic because no matter how much you try, it will be tough if you’re less athletic, shorter and weaker than the person backing you down. And often times Williams would body up his opponent on the block properly only to have them back him down and flip the ball in over his head. The team tried to send help, but that’s risky to do for an entire game and tough to do when you send that help after the opponent picks up his dribble. Really, that’s a matchup that Williams shouldn’t have to see again unless there are more injuries, which there shouldn’t be.

Williams made some good strides last season, certainly more deserving of this ranking. Still, he hasn’t truly carved out a role yet, but it appears he’s something. Whether he’s a power or small forward not only doesn’t matter too much, but it’s also way too early to tell. While Williams needs to continue to improve the things he did last season, he needs to continue to do so while also improving his other weaknesses. For now, #8 is fair for Williams for now. Maybe not for always, but for now.

#TwolfRank Comments:

@OmidFerdowsi: @DerekJamesNBA Some lions need more time than others to adapt to their new environment. I think he’s finally adapted to his and is ready.

@88mugsy88: @DerekJamesNBA he can dunk two handed, not one handed though

@88mugsy88: @DerekJamesNBA he likes shoes

@Moesquare: @DerekJamesNBA He has a D in his name, and D is for Dunk

%d bloggers like this: