Resume: 18.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists (5th in league), 1.0 steal, 36.4 minutes, 317 free throws (10th in league), 44% FG, 38% 3PT, and 86% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 46-32 (3-1 without)… Playoffs: 20.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.0 steal, 41.7 minutes, 43% FG, 40% 3PT, 82% FT, 3-4 record
The final member of the rejuvenated Brooklyn Nets to check into my Top 50 countdown is point guard Deron Williams. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Williams ranks higher than any of his teammates. Only 29 years old, Williams hasn’t shown prolonged signs of regression yet (I say prolonged because the first half of the 2012-13 season Williams didn’t look quite right), and for over half a decade he’s deserved a place in any discussion regarding the top point guards in the league. He’s eighth at his position by my account right now and that’s definitely meant as a compliment seeing as though point guard is the deepest position in the league, and it has been for a couple of years now.
It was just five years ago that Williams and Chris Paul would be mentioned in the same breath any time you talked about the league’s best point guards. They were back to back picks in the 2005 draft. They split time backing up Jason Kidd in the 2008 Summer Olympics and both returned to represent the USA in 2012. For whatever reason, Paul has maintained his spot at the top of the point guard power poll while Williams has dropped down in the rankings over the past few years. Maybe it’s because younger talent has risen to the top. Maybe it’s because of the messy situation he allegedly created when he forced Jerry Sloan out of Utah. Or maybe it has to do with the season and a half of irrelevance he spent in New Jersey (The truth is, it’s all three of those, plus Paul is a better defender, passer, and a decisively better late game scoring option than Williams). Additionally, Williams isn’t the overwhelming personality that Paul is. All you need to do is watch Chris Paul play to see that he’s a natural leader, hard worker, and top dog. You don’t need to read any cutesy stories from local writers to hear about that kind of stuff. Trust me, I’ve seen him in person. Even though he was hobbled and the Clippers were getting their asses kicked, he was still out there with his chest puffed out, barking at officials, and giving whatever he had to give. I’ve seen Williams play in person too and he didn’t have that edge. Rarely, if ever, does he play with that eye of the tiger.
Early in the season Williams looked like a shell of the point guard he was in Utah. I know numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but in this case they do. Look at the statistical difference from pre All-Star weekend to post All-Star weekend:
Pre All-Star Weekend: 16.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 41% FG, 35% 3PT, 86% FT, 4.4 FTA
Post All-Star Weekend: 22.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 48% FG, 42% 3PT, 87% FT, 5.3 FTA
That’s really all you need to know about Deron Williams’ 2012-13 campaign. He came into the season out of shape and seemingly uninterested in playing for Avery Johnson, leading to his dismissal as Nets head coach. After the All-Star break some sort of switch was flipped and he looked like the point guard that along with Carlos Boozer took the Utah Jazz to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. I’ve done my share of cutting down Williams in this write up so far, but make no mistake; he’s one of the best at his position when he’s completely with it.
There isn’t any good reason why Williams shouldn’t be completely with it this year. The Nets brought in Celtics veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to provide a much needed dose of heart, and former head coach P.J. Carlesimo was replaced by the recently retired Jason Kidd. Already there has been a cutesy article written about how Deron Williams is already a better leader. That’s all fine and good. I hope he is. I just need to see it first before I believe it.