Seeing LeBron James run to the rim through the defense and finish an alley-oop slam with one hand is always something to behold, but the slow motion replay from behind the glass is what makes this one particularly special.
He was drafted with the 15th pick of the second round.
“I used to have to run through everybody,” Williams said. “Now, I don’t feel like I do. Just trying to outsmart guys.”
The last guard drafted directly out of high school, Williams has quietly refined his game. His athleticism has declined with age, but gone too is a recklessness to his play. He largely makes the plays he can and doesn’t try to make the ones he can’t.
Williams is the Lakers’ best player. As a result, he’s also one of the league’s bigger trade chips as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.
He leads the Lakers with 18.6 points per game, and they come in just 24.2 minutes per game. He makes that time count with a historic combination of volume and efficiency.
Both his usage percentage (30.6) and true shooting percentage (60.9) lead the team. The only regularly-used players to produce full seasons with a usage percentage of at least 30 and a true shooting percentage of at least 60 are or will be Hall of Famers:
- Michael Jordan (four times)
- Kevin Durant (four times)
- LeBron James (four times)
- Larry Bird
- Karl Malone
- Shaquille O’Neal
- Yao Ming
- James Harden
- Stephen Curry
Williams flies under the radar, because he usually comes off the bench for Los Angeles — though that offers special opportunity for recognition later in the season.
Already a Sixth Man of the Year winner (2015 with the Raptors), Williams leads eligible players in win shares this season:
Williams and Dwight Powell (Mavericks) are the only reserves leading their teams in win shares.
In fact, Williams has been so much better than his teammates, he could maintain his team lead even if traded. His 5.1 win shares rank well ahead of the 3.3 by Nick Young (another trade candidate) and 2.2 by Larry Nance Jr.
But there’s still a relatively high likelihood he gets moved. The Lakers are focusing more on player development, and the 30-year-old Williams could help a team ready to win now.
He’s locked in for a bargain $7 million next season. So, his more-than-just-a-rental status could help the Lakers land a first-round pick.
“I just go out and play,” Williams said. “I let the powers make deals or if they don’t.”
There’s a patience in Williams’ game that has developed in recent years. He attributes some of it to a torn ACL in 2013. No longer as quick, the pick-and-roll ace has been forced to play smarter.
Williams has mostly eliminated long 2s from his game, getting more shots at the rim, 3-pointers and free throws. His craftiness fits the modern game.
But there are still concerns about how he’ll translate to a better team.
He’s a defensive liability, and his size limits paths to reliability on that end. Not only is he 6-foot-1, he often needs to play shooting guard because his playmaking for others is only so-so for a point guard.
But as poor as he’s been defensively (400th of 450 players in defensive real plus-minus), he has been even better offensively (13th in offensive real plus-minus behind only All-Stars and Nikola Jokic). Still, he relies heavily on drawing fouls, and his tricks might not be so effective during a playoff series with plenty of time to scout him.
There are risks in acquiring Williams. But getting another player having a special season — like, say, Jimmy Butler — would be tremendously more costly. As long as a team has a plan to accentuate Williams’ strengths and hide his weaknesses, he might be one of the best bargains on the trade market.
So, if he wants to stay in Indiana, his potential paths look relatively straightforward:
If he makes an All-NBA team this season, he can sign a designated-veteran-player extension that would kick in in 2018-19 and projects be worth about $209 million over five years (about $42 million annually).
If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team this season, he can wait to sign and try again to make one next season. If he does, he can sign a new contract in 2018 that would be worth the same $209 million or so over the same five-year period.
I think it’s this simple: If he becomes eligible to become a designated veteran player, he’ll sign then. If not, 2018 free agency projects to offer a choice of about $179 million over five years (about $36 million annually) to re-sign or about $133 million over four years (about $33 million annually) to sign elsewhere — a more difficult decision.
George says he’s not thinking about earning the higher max.
“You want to be one of the best,” George said. “And that’s the only motivation. You want to be All-NBA. That’s what you strive for. That’s what you want to play for, to be recognized as one of the league’s best players.”
That’s no small challenge for George, who was one of 12 All-Star forwards this year, joining:
- LeBron James
- Kawhi Leonard
- Kevin Durant
- Anthony Davis
- Jimmy Butler
- Draymond Green
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Gordon Hayward
- Paul Millsap
- Kevin Love
- Carmelo Anthony
With only six All-NBA forward spots, George faces long odds this season — and no easy path next season.
But at least eligibility for the higher max coincides with one of his goals.
“It’s nice. It’s nice,” George said. “But that’s not the motivation you want to play for”
Drama in LA?
The team already did its part, pledging to spend “whatever it takes” to re-sign those two stars. Now, it appears the players are getting in line.
Griffin reportedly plans to re-sign quickly this summer. And it seems Paul will follow suit.
He’ll opt out of his final $24.26 million and ink a new deal with the Clippers for north of $200 million. While Knicks fan often dream of a Carmelo Anthony-Paul tandem, it’s not going to happen. Sources close to the process said that it’s already been verbally agreed to and it’s simply a function of the calendar and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicking in.
If Paul demands the biggest deal possible — and why wouldn’t he? — it projects to be worth more than $207 million over five years.
But he can’t sign until July. That leaves the door open for things to sour with the Clippers and other teams to make pitches. Planning to re-sign is one — important — thing. Actually doing it is another.
The Clippers should turn their attention to J.J. Redick, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. They’ll have his Bird Rights, so they can exceed the cap to re-sign him. However, capped out even if he leaves, they will have no mechanism to adequately replace him.
A team with Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can’t afford to take that large of a step back. If Paul and Griffin re-sign, that gives Redick tremendous leverage.
That’s why Sacramento settled for the Pelicans’ meager package. The Kings, Divac said, feared the offers would only get worse as the trade deadline approaches.
This whole experience leaves Divac sounding jilted.
Sam Amick of USA Today:
The guy who declared publicly just two weeks ago that Cousins wouldn’t be traded is talking about not trusting agents? OK.
Divac reportedly told Cousins’ camp late Sunday afternoon that the center wouldn’t be traded and then reached a deal just a few hours later. There are conflicting accounts of how well Sacramento informed Cousins privately of their true intentions, but Divac public statements are enough to show hypocrisy here. The only question is precisely how hypocritical he’s being.
Cousins missed out on a lot of money — a projected $30 million or so — as a result of this trade. His agents were doing their job when they tried to scuttle a deal. Cousins never owed it to Sacramento to facilitate his own exit.
The Kings want to change their culture without Cousins, but they’re so far not setting a tone of trustworthiness.