It’s only the preseason. No matter how impressive a player looks or how far along their skills appear to have come, that phrase must be reiterated to each and every person under the impression that what’s currently transpiring has any form of permanency.
Nevertheless, whether naive or otherwise, I’d be remiss to not ask the following question: is this the new Derrick Williams?
Williams has been a preseason standout, complementing his explosive athleticism with intriguing versatility. The preseason only tells so much about the development of a player, but the former No. 2 overall draft pick is beginning to look like the player he was projected to be.
According to Marc Berman of The New York Post, that all starts with Williams actually wanting to be where he is.
"Williams said he coveted being part of “a rebuilding process’’ and the Knicks franchise’s “prestige.’’“When I got drafted, [the Minnesota Timberwolves] picked me, I didn’t pick them,’’ Williams said. “I chose to be here. Phil wanted me here. Derek Fisher wanted me here. As soon as I was done with the meeting, I called my agent 10 minutes after and said: ‘I’m signing up.’ ’’"
Deductively, keeping Williams’ morale high is a necessity. New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher knows it.
"“We believe if we can make him feel comfortable here and that he’s valued not just as a basketball player but as a man and that we’re behind him 100 percent, we can create a program around him that will help him be at his best,’’ Fisher said."
It’s encouraging to see New York invest in Williams as a human being.
Williams’ quality of play, thus far, has been a reflection of his high morale. He’s been a shining star during the Knicks’ run to a preseason record of 3-0, flashing both athleticism and long-term value.
Stardom may or may not be awaiting, but Williams is positioning himself to have a very nice year in 2015-16.
Williams opened the preseason in acceptable form, scoring six points in 15 minutes. He made two of his four field goal attempts and sank a 3-point field goal.
There were moments of tremendous athletic glory, but Williams’ 1-of-4 performance at the free throw line accurately summarized his career thus far: plenty of upside, but still inconsistent.
In the two games that have followed, Williams has been tremendous.
Williams went off for 23 points in 21 minutes against the Washington Wizards, converting 7-of-11 attempts from the floor. Just two days after going 1-of-4 at the charity stripe, he was a perfect 9-of-9 against Washington.
It’s hard to call that a coincidence.
In the game that followed, Williams committed an unforgivable six turnovers. Fortunately, he also scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, sinking both of his 3-point field goal attempts and all three of his shots from the free throw line.
It’s the preseason, but Williams dominated in back-to-back games—a very encouraging sign.
Time to Develop
For as well as he’s played, it’s far too soon to unequivocally state that Derrick Williams has turned things around. This is undeniable progress, but the former Arizona Wildcats star still has plenty of critics to silence.
As surprising as this may be to some, there’s one person who saw this all coming: franchise player Carmelo Anthony. Per Berman:
"“I don’t think I’m surprised,’’ Anthony said. “You guys don’t see what we’ve seen throughout training camp, practice. It’s paying off. He came into camp in great condition and shape. Coming here really challenged him to see how good a shape he can get in.’’"
Once again, Anthony is publicly supporting his teammates.
There’s no question that, physically, Williams is one of the most impressive players in the NBA. He’s been labeled as a tweener without a true position, but that’s based more in his skill set than his body type.
Undersized for a power forward at 6’8″, Williams’ abundance of strength and explosiveness more than makes up for it. Polishing his abilities will be critical, but every young player must go through that process.
Williams’ former coach at the University of Arizona, Sean Miller, said as much, per Berman:
"“You have to remember, not a lot of people knew who Derrick was as a junior in high school,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told the Daily News. “And as a senior, although he clearly made a huge jump, it wasn’t that he was a McDonald’s All-American. And for that matter, if you look at the ratings, I don’t know if he made the top 100 in his high school class. So if you think about that and then 24 months later you’re the No. 2 pick in the draft, a lot happened in a very quick way for Derrick. And as he left, he left with still a lot to learn.”"
Speaking of 24, Williams just turned that age in May.
It may seem as though he’s been around forever, but Williams is young enough to significantly improve on a yearly basis. That window may be getting smaller, but it exists.
In 2015-16, Williams believes he can thrive in the Triangle Offense.
Learning the System
Derrick Williams may not score 20-plus points per game, but he’s proving how valuable his athleticism can be in the Triangle Offense. Generally based in the halfcourt, having a player who can get out in transition is invaluable.
Shannon Brown provided much of that impact for the 2009 and 2010 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. According to Berman, Williams believes he could do the same for the 2015-16 New York Knicks.
"“That’s something we did lack on the team,’’ Williams said of his high-flying traits. “I can bring that: running in transition, running on the wing, pick and pops, everywhere on the court. That’s why I got drafted, not being stuck in the corner.’’"
Williams has spent most of his NBA career at power forward, but he has the versatility to play the 3. He can defend a number of different positions and is athletic enough to hold his own against most perimeter players.
When being posted up, his 240-pound frame and near 7’2″ wingspan balance out his 6’8″ size.
Exciting as that may be, the questions surrounding Williams have never pertained to his physical capabilities. Instead, they’ve been focused on how hard he’s worked at solidifying his game.
There’s still work to be done, but Williams’ work ethic is already earning him minutes, per Berman.
"“I’m still messing up a lot of the plays — just playing off instinct,’’ Williams said. “Teammates are finding me in open spots and [I’m] knocking down shots. I pretty much know, honestly, half the offense. I’m still making a lot of mistakes. I have to watch a lot of film, have to learn from that. I’m a big film guy.’’"
On the court, it’s Williams’ versatility that’s creating mass appeal.
"“I’m trying to be dynamic, man, and be all over the court,’’ said Williams, who has shot 15-of-23 in the last two contests. “That’s what Coach wants me to do. I take on the challenge of playing two, three spots and want to learn them and show how versatile I am. It’s really showing the first couple of games.’’"
There’s a legitimate possibility that he’ll see in the neighborhood of 25-plus minutes per game during the regular season.
Moving forward, the only thing Williams can do is continue to study the Triangle Offense. The better he understands the system, the more likely it is that he’ll shake the, “Bust,” label.
Entering the first season of a two-year, $8.8 million contract with a 2016-17 player option, Williams and the Knicks appear to be believe in each other. In the NBA, belief can be a powerful thing.
Perhaps that’s why there’s a new Derrick Williams.
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