Derrick Williams Addition Helps Knicks Pick-and-Roll


While the addition of Williams remains confusing, the new signee could offer solid production as a pick-and-roll man—something the Knicks experimented with at the end of last season. 

I’m still rather uncertain of what to make of this move. The New York Knicks signed Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, to a two-year deal worth $10 million. All is not guaranteed however, as Williams has a player option for the second year of his contract.

That last blurb still makes me wonder what the Knicks were thinking.

Up to this point in his career, Williams has been a huge disappointment, failing to live up to that No. 2 overall billing when he entered into the league. On paper, many believed that Williams would eventually become a mismatch forward, capable of overpowering small forwards and going around power forwards.

In his last season at Arizona, he also flashed a capable shot from beyond the arc, providing some draft analysts with ammunition in claiming Williams, and not then-Duke Blue Devils guard Kyrie Irving, was the No. 1 player in the draft class.

Four seasons later, Williams is still trying to figure it out on both sides of the floor.  Defensively, he’s a mess. Per, Sacramento 11 points better—eleven!—when Williams was on the bench and’s player tracking had him with a difference percentage of 3.5.

In that 3.5 difference, Williams allowed opponents to convert at a rate of 71.4 percent on shot attempts from less than six feet—11.0 percentage points higher than the 60.4 average.

Offensively, he isn’t much better.

Over his four year career, Williams has yet to sport a true shooting percentage over 54 percent and a field goal percentage above 45 percent. The 56 percent he shot from three in his final season at Arizona turned out to be a blip rather than a trend, as Williams has been a poor three-point shooter for much of his NBA career, converting just 31 percent thus far.

He isn’t a phenomenal driver, and he’s still developmental at best as a corner three shooter.

Add all that up, then add that the Knicks gave him $10 million on the third day of free agency with a player option for the second season, removing any chance of getting him at a solid price if he does figure it out—you know, something Atlanta did with DeMarre Carroll in 2013 and Justin Holiday yesterday—and I feel secure in saying that this wasn’t my favorite offseason acquisition.

His play on the court will dictate it from there, but today, this wasn’t a great contract.

For all of the problems with this move, I like that Phil Jackson and Steve Mills are taking a chance on a player, even if that player is someone that many believe has one foot out of the league. Williams is still young at 24 years old, and was in some pretty negative places for his development—the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings, respectively.

Admittedly, there are some small things that I’m curious to see develop in his game. With so much uncertainty on the backend of the roster, Williams will get every chance to prove that he belongs in the NBA.

Offensively, he has more or less thrived when the ball is passed to him in positions of strength, almost like a garbage man of sorts. According to’s play type data, Williams was solid as a cutter and in transition. As a cutter, Williams shot 62 percent from the floor and had a turnover percentage of just 4.2 percent on 71 total possessions. Move over to transition statistics and Williams finished on 68 percent of his shots last season.

Having someone who can get in position to finish and thrive without plays being called for him is great, let alone someone who can excel as a cutter in an offense predicated on passing and movement.

He’s also good from shooting from the left corner, exceeding the league average in the last two seasons. Developing into a solid corner shooter would be a huge plus in Williams’ development, as it would make him into a floor spacer and a threat in both the pick and roll and pick and pop.

However, Williams has done minimal damage from that area, with just 45 attempts this past season according to If Williams could up the usage from that area, as well as improve from the right side—32.2 percent last year—he’d become an interesting player.

His best work was, oddly enough, as a roll man on the pick and roll.’s play type data had Williams finishing on 50 percent of his shot attempts from that area, but he also garnered the second-highest free throw frequency from them at 33.6 percent.

The combination of above average success as a roll man, combined with the ability to get free points from the play makes it one of the more interesting dynamics in the signing.

Late last season, in a piece written by Ian Begley of ESPN New York, it was mentioned that Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was experimenting with the pick-and-roll. The Knicks finished last in pick-and-roll ball handler frequency (10.9 percent) and 14th in roll man frequency (6.8 percent), but used more of it as the season closed.

Williams, someone who thrives in that role, would be a welcomed addition to a team that, while wanting to run more triangle-based offense, isn’t afraid to flex a bit, using some different offensive principles to find success.

The Knicks are still looking to run the triangle offense next. Two recent additions, as well as Begley’s article from late last season, suggest that Fisher is not afraid of mixing it up and is interested in running some more pick and rolls.

The addition of Williams gives them a successful, yet undersized, roll man who can finish and draw contact. The second is the draft day acquisition of Jerian Grant. Grant was a solid all-around point guard at Notre Dame, but did an excellent job of attacking and directing the offense out of the pick-and-roll.

Over the course of his four seasons at Notre Dame, Grant became a dynamic point guard – capable of operating any offensive system. Under head coach Mike Brey, the Fighting Irish ran multiple pro-level offensive sets with Grant at the helm. His ability to shoot—surprisingly, Grant was a great shooter before his senior season, hitting over 35 percent of his threes as a sophomore and junior—and attack the basket off the pick-and-roll makes him dangerous as an offensive threat.

His passing ability makes him a perfect fit for a Knicks team that would like to incorporate that into the offense next season.

As for Williams, he helps as a pick-and-roll finisher. If he can continue developing a three-point shot and improve a bit on the defensive end, he would become an interesting player for the Knicks moving forward.

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